Movieline Explains: How The Preferential Voting System For Best Picture Actually Works


No shortage of ink, of both the virtual and finger-staining varieties, has been spilled discussing the Academy's move to ten Best Picture nominees this year, a change that marks the first time since the wild, experimentation-happy period of 1932-1943 that we've had more than five films in contention for Hollywood's most prized statuette. (One day, when the story of this paradigm-exploding Oscar season is written, the eureka moment when new AMPAS president Tom Sherak squealed, "Let's nominate evvvverrrytthhhing!" to a mixture of thunderous applause and joyous weeping by the Academy's inner circle, will be its most moving chapter.) As you probably know, the decision to double the Best Picture field has necessitated the adoption of a "preferential voting" system, a safeguard for avoiding a mathematical nightmare scenario in which so many contenders split the vote that the Oscar is handed over to a winner that's earned a scandalously low percentage of check-marks. But how exactly does this preferential voting system work?, you are probably asking yourself, if you care way too much about how famous people are handed shiny trinkets. It sounds very complicated! Well, it is!

While other Oscarologists have already taken a crack at explaining it, we at Movieline have decided to go Deep Inside Oscar™ and venture even further into the Best Picture Code. Below, find for the first time the mind-bending intricacies of how the final Oscar is actually awarded.

The Basics

As The Wrap's Steve Pond succinctly explains:

Voters will be asked to rank the nominees in order of preference, one through 10. Those ballots will then be tallied using the preferential system... in which the film with the fewest Number One votes will be eliminated, and its votes redistributed based on the film listed second on those ballots. Eventually, one film will wind up with more than 50 percent of the vote, and will be named the Academy's Best Picture of 2009.

In theory, the above system should provide a relatively straightforward way of awarding Best Picture. But due to the power of certain constituencies within the sprawling, squabble-ridden Academy, a set of often-convoluted conditions must be obeyed before a lower-ranked film's ballots can be redistributed to the bigger piles, a process that proves so complex that only a top-shelf accounting firm can handle the tabulation.

The Special Conditions

· If Avatar is listed in the number one slot, the ballot is placed in a pile labeled "Easily Distracted By Groundbreaking Visuals, Record-Setting Box Office, And Six-Legged Horses," where it will be sneered at by the accountants maintaining the much smaller An Education and A Serious Man piles, then urinated upon by the supervisor assigned to the Inglourious Basterds pile.

· If The Hurt Locker is in the number one slot, it may be placed in either the "Hey, Did You Know This Was Directed By A Woman? Crazy!" pile, or the "Hey, Have You Heard That The Director, A Lady, Used To Be Married To Jimbo Cameron?" pile. At the end of the tabulation process, these two stacks will be combined into a single "Holy Crap, I Think This Thing Is Actually Going To Beat Avatar" pile.

· If Up in the Air is ranked at the top, the ballot is taken to a separate room, where an accountant screams "Overrated!" at the ballot-sorter, who then exits to place it in its first-place pile.

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