In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made several big changes to the category Best Picture. Most people remember that the field expanded from five films to up to 10 films.
The nomination process features several new wrinkles, but it is the ballot for final Oscar voting that really changed things up. If you plan on betting on the Oscars at one of the New Jersey sportsbooks, you’ll want to know how this ballot works. More importantly, you’ll want to know which films it favors.
New Best Picture rules
How can there be five to 10 films nominated, you ask? The top five films automatically make the cut. Any movies that generate more than 5 percent of nomination balloting get a spot as well. That is unless there are more than 10, in which case the top 10 vote-getters get in. If there are only six movies with more than 5 percent of the vote, there are only six nominees.
When it comes to final Oscars voting, which started this week, the Best Picture race uses what is called a preferential ballot. Here is what that entails:
- Each one of the more than 7,000 members of the Academy ranks the eight nominees this year in order of preference. The No. 1 pick is the voters’ favorite, while eight goes to their least favorite.
- Once ballots are in, they are sorted based on what the top choice on the ballot is. There is a Roma pile, a Vice pile, and so on. If one movie has 50 percent of the first-place votes, Price Waterhouse Cooper declares a winner and calls it a day. This rarely happens. Instead, the voting moves to the second round.
- The accountants then take the pile of the movie with the fewest first-place votes (cough cough, Vice, cough cough). They then redistribute the votes based on what is second on the ballot’s list of films. If there is no majority, they repeat the process. They remove the lowest vote-getter and redistribute.
- If the ballots in this round list Vice/the eighth-place movie as second, the accountants move down to third on the list, as that movie is out of the race.
Why does this ballot matter to bettors?
This process completely changes the way movies find a path to Best Picture. It is not as much a contest of making the most-loved movie of the year. Instead, it is about making the least-disliked film of the year. Just take a look at some recent winners, and you’ll see what I mean.
In 2010, the mundane and inoffensive The King’s Speech won Best Picture. Meanwhile, more daring movies like Inception, The Social Network, and, Black Swan came up short. While The King’s Speech was good and enjoyed by all, in hindsight, these other films have all fared better critically.
By being inoffensive though, the movie managed to sail to victory. Since then, other movies traveled a similar path to victory. The Artist was likely not the top vote-getter in the first round of balloting, but it was likely in so many top-threes, it overcame the gap to take the win.
Just last year, The Shape of Water prevailed over the beloved, but polarizing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MO. Mostly because of its universal message and high-quality technical achievements had more mass appeal.
Which 2019 Oscar nominees benefit from preferential balloting?
Now for the important part: How to use this information to best bet on Best Picture.
This year, more than others, the chances there will be several rounds of voting and eliminating. Roma is the favorite, sure, but this race is more wide open than usual.
Key prognosticators go in several directions. The Producers Guild backs Green Book, while the Director’s Guild backs Roma. Meanwhile, the Golden Globes threw its weight behind Bohemian Rhapsody, while the Screen Actors Guild went with Black Panther.
Let’s start by eliminating the movies that have groups that love them and groups that loathe them:
- Green Book
- Bohemian Rhapsody
To quickly sum up why these guys stand little chance:
- Green Book is a classic-style film with a classic approach to racism that rubs many of the newer, younger Academy voters the wrong way.
- Bohemian Rhapsody producers had to fire the director Bryan Singer mid-shoot because he went off the grid and verbally abused his cast and crew. Oh, there is also the problem of Singer’s dozens of allegations of sexual assault, too.
- Vice is not out of the running for political reasons. It is just got mostly terrible reviews, indicating a large chunk of people hated it.
That leaves the following:
- Black Panther
- The Favourite
- A Star Is Born
All of these, save for Roma and Black Panther, have a solid number of people who like their movie. It is difficult to see any of them starting with a big chunk of first-place ballots though. There will be a ton of top three votes, but will that be enough? It is possible, certainly, but there are other categories where these movies will win. That might cause voters to put them in the middle of the pack rankings-wise.
Roma has serious fans, giving it the base of No. 1 votes it needs to surge to 50 percent first. However, a foreign film has never won Best Picture. A lengthy, black-and-white foreign film is just as hard of a sell now as it was in 1975. There is a chance that people understand the prestige of the film even if they did not like it themselves though. This movie probably has the head start it needs to win.
There is an intriguing Option B though.
Basically, no one dislikes Black Panther. There might be some older Academy veterans who can’t deign to rank a comic book movie very high. There are plenty more people though that will put Black Panther in their top three.
How do we know that? Because the Marvel movie won at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Actors make up the largest branch of the Academy, so what they are sold on stands a decent chance of winning. Plus, with the influx in membership in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, the new, more open-minded voters might use the inclusion of the box office success as a chance to make a statement that the Academy is ready to reward innovation, new voices and unexpected films.