How New Best Picture Oscar Voting Will Work

To produce 5 to 10 nominees, Academy alters voting procedures.
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With the "new twist" it is introducing into the best picture Oscar race, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will also adopt a slightly modified nominating procedure to decide the nominees in its top category.

The Academy's board of governors voted Tuesday night to adopt a new rule: having opened the best picture race to 10 nominees two years ago, the Academy is now adopting a stricter standard that will result in anywhere from five to 10 nominees when nominations are announced on Jan. 24.

To secure a nomination, a picture will have collect at least five percent of the first-place votes cast.

That, in turn, affects the nominating process. For the past two years, each Academy member filled out a form, listing their ten best films, in order of preference from one to 10.

This time around, in the case of the best picture ballot, each member will be given a ballot with 5 open slots, which they will be asked to fill in with five movies, again ranked by preference.

As Bruce Davis, the outgoing executive director of the Academy explained: "What we're doing here is analyzing the first-place support."

The vote count, which will be conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, is actually a modified version of the preferential voting system that the Academy already employs.

 Here's how it will work in the case of the best picture category.

  • First, all the ballots are separated into separate stacks according to which film is listed as a first choice.
  • Second, any movies that reach the five percent threshold are automatic nominees. Their stacks are then redistributed to their second or third choices according to a mathmatical formula. Their second or third choices count as partial votes when added to the remaining stacks.
  • Third, at the opposite ends of the spectrum, those movies that have received less than one percent of the vote also see their stacks redistributed to their second if still available, or third choice if still available, etc.

At that point, the redistribution stops. The movies that have reached the five percent mark all become nominees.

According to Davis, the accountants, using the vote counts from past years, have worked through various scenarios, and the count results in 5 to ten nominees.

On most ballots, the number one movie carries the real wight, although second and third choices could well come into play. Fourth and fifth choices will play a much more minimal role in the selection process.

"We think this is going to be enjoyable, and maybe more in line with what we hoped to accomplish when we went to ten nominees," Davis said.

The accountants  reviewed past votes, going back to see what would have happened using this new approach in the years when only five nominees were chosen. And Davis observed, "It really jumped out at us that while there were films that enjoyed wide support, it was clear there were years where there was not substantial support for ten pictures. So why be obligated to list ten, if the members clearly indicated they preferred 8 pictures? It maintains the honor of being a best-picture nominee."

If the new system had been in effect from 2001 to 2008 (before the expansion to a slate of 10), there would have been years that yielded five, six, seven, eight and nine nominees, the Academy reported.

Interestingly, after PricewaterhouseCoopers did its historical research, it did not tell the Academy's execs which year would have yeilded what number, and it did not identify any films, just identifying them as picture one, picture two, etc. Finally, when it comes time to vote for the best picture Oscar, voters will again rank their favorites among the nominees in order of preference.