Just when you thought the Oscars ceremony couldn’t possibly get any longer, the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences today announced plans to increase the number of films in the Best Picture category from five to ten.

“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,” said Sid Ganis, president of the Academy.

There’s a general feeling that the Academy has taken this decision in the wake of heavy criticism over the exclusion of The Dark Knight from last year’s Best Picture race. There was also some speculation that the Best Animated Feature category might now be cancelled as a result, with the wider field allowing Pixar films, for example, to enter the running.

But that category remains, with Ganis claiming that the expansion was also taken as a way to return to the Oscars’ roots – the first 16 Academy Awards all featured more than five Best Picture nominees. The last ceremony to do so was in 1943, when Casablanca won the big prize.

“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,” added Ganis. “I can’t wait to see what that list of ten looks like when the nominees are announced in February.”

Well, one thing’s for sure – Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen won’t be on that list, unless they expand the category to include 1000 films. And probably not even then.

What’s Movieblaze’s feeling on this? Well, it’s hard not to feel that this is purely a cosmetic change, and something of a condescending one at that; a way of patting films like The Dark Knight on the head and saying, ‘see? You made it to the final ten! Well done! Now run along and play, while the real movies vie for the big award’. After all, the argument is clear: if a film didn’t get enough votes to make the top five nominations, then it doesn’t stand a chance of winning.

But maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised. After all, you’ve got to be in it to win it, and had The Dark Knight been in the running last year, things may – just may – have been slightly different.

One thing’s for sure, though: with ten Best Picture nominations to get through, bring a cushion for next year’s event. You’re going to need it.