It hasn't been since Million Dollar Baby, a 2004 film, that a film has been nominated for the big 5. The "Big 5" is the idea of films that get nominated in Oscar's big 5 categories - Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Lead Actress and the appropriate writing category (original screenplay or adapted screenplay).
In the history of film 40 films hold this honor, and three films the honor of winning all five the nominations. Those three films are: It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
When I think about these films, and the lack of films falling into this category it seems to me the biggest limitation is that more than ever it seems like critically acclaimed films have two lead performances by a male and a female. And even when they do, one performance is classified as supporting.
And I guess that's where sometimes, the lower classification of the lesser-lead seems to shift these results. In the The Artist, I would consider that there is a female lead in the film in the role of Peppy Miller played by Bérénice Bejo. Yet instead, this role is widely considered supporting, whether by virtue of the award bodies, or the awards campaign.
So instead in the lead category for females we see females that aren't co-lead to another male, but instead lead the show, and and any male performance is supporting. This is especially true of performances by Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, Glen Close in Albert Nobbs, or Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn.
The same is true for the male lead performances. George Clooney's role is clearly the lead in The Descendents, but in many ways Shailene Woodley has a lead female performance as well, and yet she's considered supporting.
Forget the idea of "Big 5," if we just talk lead actor and lead actress nominations, the last time this happened was for the 2005 film Walk The Line, when Reese Witherspoon was nominated (and won) alongside the nominated Joaquin Phoenix.
I can tell you now in advance of the Oscar nominations, that 2011 had no "Big 5" film. Who knows when we'll see the next "Big 5" film.