On February 2nd, at 5:30 a.m. PST the Academy will announce its final list of Oscar hopefuls. But how are the nominees selected? Raffle? Some kind of barbaric fire ritual? Screenwriter/blogger John August gives us the answer. The final list of ten nominees is actually pruned down from a few hundred potential films (274 this year) by preferential voting rather than by a plurality. That way, a movie needs more than 10% of the total votes to be nominated. Preferential voting essentially lessens the chance of a wasted vote by giving each voter a series of fall back choices instead of one all or nothing shot. Australia uses the same system for political elections.
Hit the jump to see a breakdown of the system.
It’s kind of a confusing concept so I’ll try to give a practical example. My list of the ten best movies of the year looks like this.
1. The Hurt Locker
4. Inglourious Basterds
5. District 9
7. Up In The Air
10. (500) Days of Summer
According to my ballot, The Hurt Locker is my choice as the absolute best picture of the year. Ideally, several other people would feel the same way and it would make the final list of nominations. At that point, my job in the process is over and my ballot has served its purpose. However, if there aren’t enough votes for Locker, then it gets removed from the running and Up becomes my defacto choice for the best film of the year. If Up didn’t get enough votes, then Moon would get my vote and so on until I had a valid choice. Each of my selections carry the same weight in terms of the final tally, but since only the one top valid selection from my list will count towards a nomination it’s necessary to rank them from best to the less-best.
The way the system is set up, no film can ever be nominated without at least one first-place vote. So even if every voter put Up as their number two choice, it wouldn’t make it to the final ballot.
A plurality system, on the other hand, would simply tally all of the number one votes and the ten most popular titles would appear on the final ballot. So my list would look like this:
The Hurt Locker
If The Hurt Locker doesn’t receive enough votes to make the final ballot, I would get no second choice. The Oscars have used the preferential system to select nominees since 1936, but this year the winner will be decided by preferential voting for the first time since 1945. Hopefully this will prevent another Shakespeare In Love from beating out another Saving Private Ryan.
So there you have it, the mystery of Oscar nominations has been revealed.