The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be nominating 10 films for the next Academy Awards, said Academy President Sid Ganis in a press conference Wednesday.

The decision marks a return to the first years of the Oscars, when an average of ten nominees were chosen each year for the top prize. The last time the Academy nominated that number was in 1943 (the winner was “Casablanca”).

“We will be casting our net wider,” said Ganis. “And in casting that net wider, who knows what will turn up?”

Ganis said the decision was based on the hope that more nominations will leave room for films that are usually left out of the top honors but are well-regarded in other categories. He demonstrated the new plans using the crop of films nominated for Best Picture in 1939, which are part of a retrospective the Academy is currently running. That year held ten nominations, including masterpieces: “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Ganis said that it would have been virtually impossible to narrow these films down to five contenders in 1939, as would have been the case if they were nominated today.

“I can only bet that each of us would answer that question differently,” said Ganis, “but one thing is obvious: Whichever five movies you selected, you’d be losing five extraordinary films.”

No category of film will be restricted from the Best Picture category. In recent tradition, comedies, documentaries, foreign film and summer blockbusters have been ignored in favor of a specific category of dramatic feature films, deemed “Oscar-bait” by film insiders. Ganis said his hope was that wider category will allow for more genres of film and a more open-minded approach to what is considered Oscar-worthy.

“It may make it more interesting, and less cloistered,” Ganis said. “It will be more open with more possibilities and more potential.”

The changes will go into effect for next year’s 82nd Academy Awards. The nominees will be announced in February 2010.

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Emma Johnson is a Blast Magazine critic whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe

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