Oscar 2011: Nine Films for Best Picture

Nine films received best picture Oscar nominations Tuesday, the first year in which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences allowed for the number to vary between five and 10.

The films that made the Academy’s list are “The Artist,” “The Descendants,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “The Help,” “Hugo,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Moneyball,” “The Tree of Life” and “War Horse.”

Nearly two-thirds of the time the film that leads in nominations ends up winning best picture, the most recent example being last year: “The Kings Speech” had a leading 12 noms that resulted in four statuettes, including the big prize of best picture.

The animation category wound up with five pics again after just three were singled out last year because the Academy ruled that just 15 pics were eligible. DreamWorks Animation nabbed two with “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Puss In Boots.” Paramount’s “Rango,” GKIDS’ “A Cat in Paris” and “Chico & Rita” rounded out the rest.

Although several of the nominated pictures have been popping up as favorites among critics groups, guild awards and the Golden Globes, Tuesday’s nominations end what has been months of speculation about a murky Oscar race that has left prognosticators with few real frontrunners.

“The Artist,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, adds 10 Oscar noms to the Producers Guild of America best picture award it earned last weekend, best comedy/musical at the Golden Globes, and more than a dozen critics groups’ awards over the last two months. Director Michel Hazanavicius is up for a Directors Guild of America award, and the film’s cast has a Screen Actors Guild acting ensemble nom. The DGA and SAG ceremonies take place this weekend.

If “The Artist” were to win on Feb. 26, it would be the first black-and-white silent film to earn a best picture Oscar since “Wings” took home the prize at the first annual Academy Awards in 1929

Ten films have been nominated for the past two years, but the Academy changed the rules in June to make it possible for five to 10 pics to receive noms based on whether they receive at least 5% of the first-place votes cast on nomination ballots.

“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,” said Bruce Davis, the academy’s retiring executive director.

Academy president Tom Sherak and 2010 Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence, who will next be seen in Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games,” announced the nominations at a 5:30 a.m. press conference from the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at Academy headquarters in Beverly Hills.

Final ballots will be mailed to voters on Feb. 1 and are due back to the Academy by 5 p.m. Feb. 21 for PricewaterhouseCoopers to tally.

The 84th annual Academy Awards will be televised live by ABC on Feb. 26 from the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland and broadcast to more than 200 countries around the world. Billy Crystal returns as host.