The Oscar Warrior: The New 5% Rule

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Probably the biggest hubbub about this year’s Oscar race was back in June when AMPAS announced they would be changing the Best Picture category once again. Instead of the five nominees that had become standard practice until the last two years, when it was bumped up to ten, the number of Best Picture candidates would involve a sliding scale that could end up offering anywhere between five and ten candidates. Essentially, it was decided that “five percent of first place votes should be the minimum in order to receive a nomination.”

This changes the game for a number of reasons, the most important one being that no one will know how many movies are up for Best Picture until the nominations are announced. (Not only that, but they won’t be announcing the nominations in alphabetical order anymore, creating even more suspense.) This also means that only movies that get a good amount of support among the Academy’s membership, movies that enough members absolutely love enough to put as their first choice, will get through.

More than that, it means that the accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers won’t have to do as much fancy footwork while tabulating the ballots for Best Picture. In the previous system of vote counting, when ballots come in the counters would divide them up into piles by the first place votes and those movies which have over 10% of first place votes (with ten nominations) would automatically be considered part of the running. They then go to the piles of ballots with the lowest number of first place votes (below a certain number) and they’re divided up among the other piles by their second place votes.

In this case, they can literally discount any piles containing ballots with less than 5% of the first place votes needed to make the grade. If you figure the Academy currently has roughly 6,000 members, that means any movie with less than 300 first place votes, is automatically excised from the running. We assume these ballots will then have their second place votes distributed among the other ballots rather than being removed entirely or else why bother to have everyone nominate ten films? But this new system does mean that some number of movies with only scattered support will not make the cut.

But that’s what it comes down to. If 301 Academy members don’t put a movie on their ballot as their first choice, then it’s done and history as far as getting a nomination, which also means that movies many members consider of high quality but aren’t considered worthy of their first place vote are toast, while some of the more crowd-pleasing movies (like The Artist, like The Help) could get an inordinate number of first place votes, putting them well ahead of the pack and thereby limiting the chances for other movies to get into the Best Picture race at all. Movies that have split or polarized audiences may still get enough first place votes to get in, but ones that only have a small but strong following or one considered good enough for second or third place votes just doesn’t stand a chance.

It’s not a great system because it means that movies from the past few years like Winter’s Bone and 127 Hours and District 9 and even Precious may never have even been considered Oscar-worthy movies, which is a real shame, especially for those movies that could really use a boost that a Best Picture nomination gets them.

To be honest, we doubt a system like this can supply ten nominees and we think this year, we might end up with just eight or nine Best Picture nominees. To see what we think might make it into the category, we’ll be looking at our preview of the Oscar Best Picture race sometime in the next couple weeks.

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