As a norm and for most of his history, the Oscars have 5-slot nominations for most of their categories as a way to make it more manageable for voters. Too many possibilities could split the votes and lead to no favorite, which would not feed the advertising machine properly. This has lead to years when two many people have the same weight for a nomination (Could anyone tell me why Redford, Thompson Isaac, Phoenix and Hanks did not get a nomination this year, other than the staple 5-slot norm?) or when there are not enough contenders (some years, the song category goes down to three).
Of course, the academy changes their policies every once in a while, like the year after Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for 8 minutes of screen time (she does not hold the shortest performance record though. That would go to Beatrice Straight winning for 5 minutes 40 seconds (of mostly a “one-monologue” performance in “Network”), which prompted a reaction in the media about how short could a performance be to deserve an Oscar, or when the ‘Best Song’ nominee had to be a song related to the actual movie and not simply a musical companion to the closing titles of a movie, and, of course, the year after Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ got out of the competition, raising the limit to 10 for 2009. "Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize," AMPAS President Sid Ganis said in a press conference. Two years later the rule changed again and now there is a limit between 5 and 10, in which a film nominated must earn either 5% of first-place rankings or 5% after an abbreviated variation of the single transferable vote nominating process used for nominations in other major categories. The Academy executive director Bruce Davis said at that time: "A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn't feel an obligation to round out the number."
So we come to 2013, an extraordinary year. The crop of movies is vast and varied and the 9 nominees reflect it clearly. Sadly, the favoritism keeps working against other deserving films. Do you really believe ‘Philomena’ or ‘Her’ have a chance, even if they are wonderful films? And if we are talking about merit for the limit of 10, why did ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ or ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ get snubbed, after being in most of Best Films of 2013 lists by critics and the support of the audience? I believe it’s still a mystery. The only truth is, there’s always the sure thing (this year it comes to three: ‘12 Years a Slave’, ‘Gravity’ and ‘American Hustle’), the runner up (‘The Wolf of Wall Street’) and then the empty handed (‘Her’, ‘Nebraska’, ‘Philomena’, Captain Phillips’ and ‘Dallas Buyers Club’).
The winner is always considered to be the representation of the state of American Films, a film that is serious, with a good message and that raises decisive topics, in short: An Important Film.
Here is a little bit about each of the nominees, for your consideration. No matter which one wins, they’re all deserving of your time. Go see them at the movies (and also those who were close to be nominated like my favorite film of the year ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’).