You would think doubling a film’s chances for an ACADEMY AWARD nomination would thrill everyone in HOLLYWOOD, where an OSCAR is the highest form of ego stroking in a town of inflated egos.

Yet attitudes among stars, filmmakers and executives range from cautious optimism to harsh disagreement over the big change at next March’s OSCARS: 10 BEST PICTURE nominees instead of the usual five.

The ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURE ARTS & SCIENCES is experimenting with the expanded slate as OSCAR organizers hope to stoke more interest in the awards show and spread the prestige around to different kinds of films.

It’s not without precedent. From 1931 to 1943, the academy generally had 10 BEST PICTURE contenders and as many as 12 some years.

Since then, though, it’s been only five. Many in Hollywood wonder if doubling the field will cheapen the honour of scoring a nomination for the biggest prize in show business.

“I think it’s terrible. My knee jerk reaction is that it’s a really bad idea. We’ll see, but I think 10 just dilutes it too much,” said MATT DAMON, an OSCAR winner for the GOOD WILL HUNTING screenplay he wrote with buddy BEN AFFLECK.

This month’s VENICE, TORONTO and TELLURIDE fests traditionally mark the start of awards season, as studios begin trotting out their big guns for the OSCARS.

“Generally, for the five films that get nominated, people will make time to see those movies,” commented MATT, who stars in STEVEN SODERBERGH’S TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL entry THE INFORMANT!

“Whereas 10, it just seems like, what aren’t they nominating?”

“I hope it doesn’t devalue the nomination because to be nominated for best film is obviously an incredible honour,” stated PETER JACKSON.

“If it’s the same honour with double the number of nominees, I’m not sure. I don’t know. I guess time will tell.”

ACADEMY officials say they would not mind seeing the occasional documentary or foreign language film score a BEST PICTURE nomination. But the switch to 10 nominees mainly springs from OSCAR planners’ efforts to popularize the show amidst generally declining TV ratings over the last 25 years, as smaller, sober dramas have come to dominate instead of big studio productions.

Lighter films occasionally sneak in – the road trip romp LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE or the bittersweet comedy JUNO. Yet the BEST PICTURE lineup most often fills up with broody films such as last year’s MILK, THE READER and FROST/NIXON – critical but not commercial triumphs.

“It used to be actually that very big box office movies tended to be the ones that won,” commented Chris Weitz, director of this fall’s TWILIGHT vampire sequel NEW MOON and a 2002 OSCAR nominee for the ABOUT A BOY screenplay.

“Studios are now spending money on things they see as giant blockbusters rather than necessarily spending a lot of money on big historical epics that might do well at the OSCARS.”

“We’re trying to do something that will make the award no different than it is now, but give people the chance to somehow be involved more in the awards,” remarked TOM SHERAK, ACADEMY president.

“We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if by doing this, a comedy got nominated? Wouldn’t it be great if a populist movie got nominated?‘ ”

That idea also could backfire if OSCAR voters nominate 10 sober dramas instead of five, giving audiences at home no more reason to watch. OSCAR attention often translates to better box office and DVD sales, though, so distributors of those bleak heartbreaking dramas don’t mind the expanded BEST PICTURE category.

Most in HOLLYWOOD have a wait and see attitude about the BEST PICTURE change over and TOM SHERAK said if 10 nominees don’t work, the ACADEMY can always switch back to five.

“If I have the amazing fortune to be nominated, then I think it’s a good idea,” joked JASON REITMAN, who directed GEORGE CLOONEY in the Toronto premiere UP IN THE AIR, the filmmaker’s follow up to his 2007 BEST PICTURE nominee JUNO.

The success of the ACADEMY’S experiment depends on what movies actually get nominated, he said.

If a film that’s “wonderful but goes unseen” finds a wider audience because of a BEST PICTURE spot, the change will be worthwhile.

Not so, he said, “if Saw VI takes the 10th spot.”

For this year at least, awards watchers will have to extend their list of candidates to include more films.

“The thing that could be very, very, very exciting is if it breaks the kind of lethargy that’s easy to fall into with the Academy, when you have the same five or six films that are mentioned at these times. You kind of know it’s usually between two of the five,” stated QUENTIN TARANTINO, an OSCAR winner for his PULP FICTION screenplay who has the Second World War saga INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS up for awards consideration this year.

“There’s rarely a ringer. There’s rarely a Juno in there. It usually is these good, serious movies battling it out in the serious movie competition, as opposed to the movies for all competition.”

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