LOS ANGELES Academy Awards organizers have introduced an element of mystery into next year's Oscar ceremony by deciding that anywhere between five and 10 movies will compete for the coveted best picture prize.
The actual number of nominees will not be revealed until nominations are announced on January 24.
The new rule, announced after a late-night board meeting on Tuesday, follows a decision two years ago to double the number of nominees to 10 in a bid to increase ratings.
That move seemed to work, as crowd-pleasing films such as "Inception," "The Blind Side" and "Up" got a shot at the top prize (although they did not win).
On the other hand, some Oscar observers complained that the expansion devalued the significance of a best picture nomination and allowed undeserving pictures to sneak onto the ballot.
"A best picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit," said Bruce Davis, the executive director of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. "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."
In order to ensure a nomination under the new system, a picture will have to receive at least five percent of first-place votes.
The new system will pose a dilemma for the studios as they wonder how much money they should spend lobbying for a particular movie if the field is tightened.
On the other hand the "new twist" -- as the Academy described it -- will help the Oscars battle awards-season fatigue.
By the time the nominations are announced, front-runners have already emerged at ceremonies for the Critics Choice Movie Awards and the Golden Globes.
The 84th annual Academy Awards will be presented in Hollywood on February 26.
(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb)