Oscar Watch: Strive for Five.

Heath Ledger in 2008's 'The Dark Knight,' the movie that got us where we are today. (Warner Bros.)

Heath Ledger in 2008’s ‘The Dark Knight.’ (Warner Bros.)

It takes courage to admit a mistake, and the time has come for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to acknowledge its five-year-old doozy. I’m referring, of course, to the still-wet-behind-the-ears policy of allowing more films to be nominated for Best Picture. It was a bad idea when it was launched, and nothing good has come of it since.

Recap: When The Dark Knight failed to net a Best Picture nomination in 2009, fans and critics were united in strenuous disapproval against an Oscar mindset that no longer seemed to reward quality films – only highbrow quality films. Cinematic excellence doesn’t only have to come from a book written by Jane Austen, they reasoned; it could, in fact, come from a comic book.

The Academy, bless its heart, listened – and promptly did the wrong thing. In 2010 it was announced that the Best Picture category would be expanded to 10 nominees up from the five slots that had been the norm for decades. Sure enough, films like District 9 and Avatar were suddenly Best Picture contenders; I doubt anyone expected they would win, but it was nice to see them being recognized, I guess.

Five years later, the 10-film policy has been modified a bit: Now up to 10 films can be nominated, ensuring that only the titles receiving a certain percentage of the highest praise can make the cut. This rule change was designed to discourage outsiders from thinking that AMPAS had simply lowered its standards to let more movies into the big game.

But how can we not think that anyway? Either more great films have been made each year since the 10-film rule was implemented, or they’ve allowed more not-quite-great films to falsely assume the mantle of greatness. Which is more likely? And to make matters worse, the whole unspoken reason for the change – to allow more unusual-by-Oscar-standards films to be recognized – has quickly fallen by the wayside. This year’s slate is of a predictable type: Of the eight nominees, four are Oscar-friendly biopics; and three of the other four are all from past nominees and/or winners. Only Whiplash stands out as a remarkable indie – though not popular enough to increase viewership on the telecast next week — and the only major award it’s expected to win is Best Supporting Actor.

If the last five years have taught us anything, it’s that expanding the Best Picture field invites more problems than it solves. Advocates for certain films will always be upset when their favorite isn’t nominated – and that dissatisfaction only increases as the number of nominated movies goes up. It’s time for AMPAS to go back to the five-film Best Picture limit. The Oscars will never please everyone, so let’s at least let them be true to themselves.