A Modest Proposal For Simplifying Oscar Balloting
If and/or when your little ones ever ask you that embarrassing question about how Oscar nominees are made, you can either do what millions of parents before you have done -- nervously deflect the query until you're ready to broach the intimate subject -- or you can do what The Wrap did and solicit an answer from the Academy itself. Your kids will remain profoundly confused in any case, but that's to be expected at their age. What isn't as expected is for you to be worse off than you were before reading the balloting rules. Isn't there a way to simplify this? Of course there is, and it's after the jump.
Steve Pond's analysis makes sense up to a point -- a very specific point, in fact, where Pond and his guides from PricewaterhouseCoopers lead readers to the "magic number" of votes for Best Picture nominees: 501. That's a total derived from 5,500 ballots divided by 11, or the number of Best Picture slots plus one, because... well, I just don't know. But what follows is clear enough:
With that number  in hand, you sort all the ballots into stacks, according to each voter's number-one choice. If any film has reached the magic number, it's a nominee, and you take its stack of ballots off the table.
That's the end of round one. To start round two, you look at the stacks that remain on the table, and eliminate the film with the smallest number of votes. You pick up that pile of ballots, and redistribute them according to the film ranked second on each of those ballots.
If a particular ballot's number-two choice has already been eliminated, or has already secured a nomination, then you go to the number-three choice, or you move as far down the ballot as is necessary to find a film that's still in contention.
Got it? Fantastic, because that's the most anyone but an accountant or an advanced statistics professor is likely to absorb before the real mathematics start. Because, you see, the magic number changes after every few rounds. That shift somehow winds up involving variations of this formula: (3,975 / (7+1) + 1). Then there's the "surplus rule," which dictates that extra votes among top nominees trickle down to the films just below them. It's not clear why, and even the vast majority of Academy members themselves don't know (or seem to care) how it all adds up.
Anyway, the problem here isn't that movies are reduced to calculus. It's that all these formulas do is reinforce a critical consensus while ascribing some false sense of objectivity to the Academy. Do we really need to go through all this numerological jive to know that pundit culture doesn't consider excellent 2009 films like Moon or The Messenger to be in the same Best Picture league as An Education or Up?
Ultimately this paradox goes back to awards "expert" Pete Hammond's disgraceful comments about Academy screenings earlier this fall, when he suggested that voters were turned off by modest indies that didn't have the same awards-season gloss as Invictus or The Road. At the time it reflected an "outside-in" mode of tastemaking -- pundits to voters, not the other way around. You could argue that that's how the Oscars have always worked, and you could very well be right. But if so, then why do we need a "surplus rule," anyway, other than to ensure that Up in the Air's extra votes go to Precious and not, say, some brilliant obscurity like That Evening Sun? The wealth is being redistributed to the wrong people. It's literally a rigged game.
So here's my suggestion: Since we obviously can't cancel the Oscars (Adam Shankman and Marlon Wayans are too far along in the planning stages), but because the Academy has clearly and conclusively abdicated its responsibility to a) pundits and b) accountants, let's just:
1. Shred the Academy bylaws into a million pieces.
2. Distribute ballots to members soliciting 10 Best Picture nominees (or e-mail a PDF, whichever's cheaper).
3. Assign 10 bylaw shreds for first-place votes, nine shreds for second-place votes, etc.
4. Attribute shreds to every movie nominated in every slot, no matter how few ballots. (Ex: Precious gets 98,544 shreds, Paul Blart: Mall Cop gets 11, etc.)
5. Pour shreds in a big, upside-down, hollowed-out Oscar for drawing at random.
6. Skip drawing, award Best Picture to Avatar anyway.
Easier, no? Anyone have an alternative?
· Revealed: How Oscar Nominee Ballots Are Counted [The Wrap]