How Oscar Nomination Balloting Works

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There will be more and more Oscar race talk over the next couple weeks as the last few big non-Oscar award sets are nominated and announced. But the process of getting the actual Oscar nominations together remains a mystery to many spectators. With an incredibly broad field of possible choices, among which a select few are already highlighted by studio campaigns and other awards, how does a film get nominated?

If you’re in the know about this, no need to read further. But if you want to know how Academy members have to actually assemble their ballot, read on. It’s probably not quite the process you expect.

John August is taking part in the voting process for the first time. He’ll be casting votes for Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, and he’s put together a blog post that explains the basics of the process pretty well.

His rundown emphasizes a couple of big points. First, the ballot isn’t weighted. In some voting systems your top pick might give ten points to a film, the second pic nine, and so forth down the list of ten films. In this case, he says, each ballot really casts only one vote for one film. “That film will be the one you ranked first, unless your number one pick has the smallest number of votes and is thus out of the running. In that case, they count your second pick,” and so on.

The upshot of this system is that “You might think your favorite movie is a longshot for a nomination, but that film could get enough second- or third-place votes to put it in the top 10. And if it doesn’t, your vote will go to your next-highest choice.”

It’s an interesting system, by which each voter can assemble a list of films that (hopefully) represents the ranking they feel is deserved, and have that translate in some reliable way to a vote cast for the highest possible film on the list. Is it fair? Probably not, but what would be? The list of possible nominations is huge, and while it realistically boils down to just a few pictures each year, in theory this system allows dark horses to stick around.

Nomination ballots are due by 5pm (PST, I assume) on January 23. Check out the full post by August for some more details, and read the comments, too. As usual for his blog, they’re a good extension of the original piece.

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