Earlier today, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences issued a press release announcing that starting in 2010, they will expand the field of Best Picture nominees to ten films.

What are they thinking?

This decision will completely undermine the integrity of the process whereby the Academy rewards excellence in film. For sixty-six years, the Academy has recognized five Best Picture nominees. During this time, when a film is awarded one of the coveted five nomination slots, there is no doubt it has achieved a remarkable honor. People remember and cherish films that have been nominated for Best Picture. It is a tag that stays with the film forever. It is a symbol of excellence that shows that a film has distinguished itself from all others.

What the Academy has done today is to severely tarnish this idea. With a plentiful ten films up for Best Picture every year, no longer will people view all the nominated films with as much respect and reverence. The value of a Best Picture nomination will be severely diluted.

No doubt there are many excellent films distributed every year. And on the surface, it may appear that the Academy is doing something wonderful, by opening its doors to let more people in. But this is not what the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences should be about. The Academy is about rewarding exceptional art, not just good films, but the best of the best. Under the current system, quality films still receive plenty of recognition. Just because a film is not nominated for Best Picture does not mean it is not a very good film. People still embrace and love these films just the same.

And if the purpose of this decision is to stem controversy, then this decision fails as well. People will still be arguing over the eleventh film left out just as they argued about the sixth.

One can only speculate about the Academy’s true motives for this decision. We hope that the predominant reason is to recognize more films. But as we explain above, this rationale is seriously flawed. There are other possible motives that are more disturbing. By having more films up for Best Picture, ratings for the show may increase. Imagine if this rule had been in effect last year. Surely “The Dark Knight” would have made the cut, and as a result, more people would have watched the show. Certainly, with an expansion of the Best Picture field, more commercially popular films will be in the mix, prompting more interest.

Is it really worth it? Is it really worth messing with the integrity of the Best Picture selection process so that some people can make a little bit more money?

For sixty-six years, films have competed vigorously for the special honor of being one of the five best films of the year. Now the Academy wants to take that away. Fortunately, there are still 254 days for the Academy to realize their mistake and reverse this decision. We will be watching intently.