In a bold move, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced that the number of Best Picture Oscar nominees will rise to 10, doubling the field from the current five contenders.

Sid Ganis, AMPAS president, announced the news today in Beverly Hills. “After more than six decades, the Academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year,” Ganis said in a statement. “The final outcome, of course, will be the same - one Best Picture winner - but the race to the finish line will feature 10, not just five, great movies from 2009.”

The move will likely diversify the field to include more commercial fare along with the specialty films that have dominated the race in recent years. Also, a greater number of films will stand to benefit economically at the box office or on other platforms (DVD, download) from the Oscar season bounce.

The Oscars previously had 10 Best Picture nominees for nine years, ending in 1943 when Casablanca won. There were eight nominees in 1931-1932 and 12 nominees in 1934-1935.

“Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going 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,” commented Ganis. “I can’t wait to see what that list of ten looks like when the nominees are announced in February.”

The change starts with the 82nd Oscars, to be held March 7, 2010. The 10 Best Picture nominees will be announced with the other nominations on February 2, 2010.

AMPAS is currently running a bicoastal screening series showing the 10 Best Picture nominees from 1939, including classics such as Mr Smith Goes To Washington, Stagecoach,The Wizard of Oz and that year’s winner Gone With The Wind.