Why Do Golden Globes, Academy Awards Find Different Winners?

Issue 56A - Golden Globes Preview: Golden Globes Dinner
Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank via AP Images

Unique membership and voting procedures mean blockbusters often fare better at Globes than with Oscar.

When The Hurt Locker won the Oscar for best picture in March after losing out in the best drama category at the Golden Globes, it wasn’t a coincidence; it reflected the differing membership of the awarding bodies -- and their significantly different voting procedures.

Those procedures will be at the forefront of awards strategists’ minds as they try to position this year’s front-runners -- including The King’s Speech, Inception, The Social Network and 127 Hours -- to scoop the top prize at both events (an honor accorded five times during the past 10 years).

While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at most recent count had 5,770 voting members across all fields, from producing and directing to sound and art direction, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is a tiny group of 90 correspondents for media outlets around the world. And they have opted for a voting system so simple it seems like basic math compared to the Academy’s Euclidian geometry.

One of the most fundamental differences is in the nominating stage. Every member of the HFPA gets to nominate in each category, whereas the Academy restricts nominating to its respective branches -- meaning members of the directing branch select the five directors, etc. The result is that earning an Oscar nomination is truly, as the Academy likes to boast, recognition by one’s peers.

In some categories, the Oscars and Globes differ when it comes to which films are being voted on. Any producer can submit a foreign-language film for Globes consideration, but the Academy allows only one film per country, and it must be selected by the country’s official film body.

The result is that the HFPA, so often criticized for clubbiness, has avoided the controversy that dogged the foreign-language Oscar process, an issue that led the Academy to modify its rules last year.

The Globes has more easy outs to fix potential problems. It recently enacted a change that gives the HFPA the right to alter the category in which a film has been entered, if another is deemed more appropriate (unlike the Oscars, the Globes gives two top awards, for drama and comedy/musical).

To dissuade studios from submitting in a less-competitive category, like comedy instead of drama, an HFPA subcommittee can vote to override a decision about the designation. This could make a big difference for a film like The Kids Are All Right, which Focus Features is hesitantly presenting as a comedy.

Also, the HFPA has a simple first-past-the-post system for each category. That means in this year’s best drama race, whichever film gets the most first-place votes is the winner. It’s irrelevant whether one movie is cited on 70 percent of the nomination ballots and another a mere 3 percent.

Imagine this scenario: Blue Valentine is adored by 10 HFPA members but shunned by everyone else. Doesn’t matter; if every member likes The King’s Speech but nobody ranks it No. 1, it will finish behind Valentine in the voting.

Contrast that with the Academy’s method of selecting its best picture.

In that category, members rank their choices. In the probable event that no film receives at least 50 percent of top votes, the film ranked first on the fewest number of ballots is eliminated. Its ballots are then redistributed into the remaining piles, based on whichever film is ranked second on those ballots. The process repeats until a film emerges with at least 50 percent. The process is designed to identify not the top vote-getter, like the Globes, but rather the film gathering the largest consensus among the Academy.

The Globes often draws criticism for being too beholden to the influence of lobbying. Critics cite past scandals involving gifts to HFPA members with the implication that voters repay those favors in kind.

Andy Sale, an Ernst & Young partner who oversees vote tabulation for the Globes, says those issues are in the past.

“Part of the integrity of the process is making sure voting members are voting without bias,” he says. “The HFPA prides itself on being objective.”

Still, because the Globes has a relatively small voting membership and uses a simple balloting system, those who study voting behavior -- like Justin Wolfers, an economist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania -- believe it “provides an incentive for the members to vote strategically, rather than sincerely, so as to ensure that they don’t waste their vote.”

That could explain why bigger films often do better at the Globes. Last year, the HFPA went with Avatar instead of the critical favorite Hurt Locker. Voters might have calculated that its odds of success were better and threw their top votes toward the film, knowing their second-place votes would be counted only in case of a tie. This year, if history repeats itself, that formula would favor Inception, which has one of the larger budgets among the contenders, star power and plenty of lobbying backbone.

Whatever the wisdom of its choices, predicting Oscar really isn’t the goal of the Globes, which prides itself on being the party of the year.

Ballots due:
Dec. 10
Noms announced: Dec. 14
Awards ceremony: Jan. 16

Andrew Garfield
Supporting actor, The Social Network

Will the HFPA’s voting system help or hurt Andrew Garfield, who plays Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network? If awards were given for the most amount of takes, certainly Garfield and the rest of his Network co-stars would be shoo-ins:

David [Fincher] cares enough to work himself and the people around him to their limits. His ethos is if we’re all here on-set together and being given the opportunity to make a film, we need to squeeze every drop of juice out of ourselves. We need to go home exhausted every day. That is in tune with who I am. Usually actors on a film set get four or five takes to get it right; with this film, we had 50 takes to get it wrong. He wanted to give the actors every opportunity and space to create honest characters.”           

-- Christy Grosz