This year, the Oscars are likely to be all about La La Land. The romantic musical has received 14 nominations, tying the record held by Titanic and All About Eve. Many critics have the film pinned for the most coveted Best Picture award. But some have railed against the praise the movie has received. But how are the Oscar winners chosen? Is it all based on merit or is there more at play?
When it comes down to it, all of the nominations and winners are selected by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Academy has more than 6,000 members. All of them have worked in the movie business in some capacity at some point in their careers. Aside from Best Picture, all of the winners are chosen by popular vote. So, each Academy member votes for one nominee and whichever nominee receives the most votes wins.
Every single member of the Academy votes for Best Picture.
But, again except for Best Picture, all of the awards are voted on by their peers. Meaning, only actresses can vote for Best Actress, only directors can vote in the directing category and so on. However, every single member of the Academy votes for Best Picture.
The Best Picture voting process is a little different. Instead of by popular vote, the winner is chosen through preferential voting. This practice came about in 2009 when there were 10 Best Picture nominees. This year, there are nine. Preferential voting is a little more complicated. Instead of voting only for the nominee they want to win, Academy members rank each nominee from 1 to 9.
When the votes are tallied, all of the first choice votes are counted first. If any film receives more than 51 percent of the vote, then it wins Best Picture. This eventuality is pretty rare. In reality, no film will probably receive enough votes to win in the first round.
In this eventuality, the movie that received the least first choice votes is eliminated and its ballots are reappointed to the second choice pick. Counting these second choice ballots with the first choice ballots for the other films, whichever nominee receives at least 51 percent will win. If not, the next film with the lowest votes is eliminated. This process continues on and on until there is one nominee with 51 percent of the votes.
The Academy instituted preferential voting in order to ensure that the Best Picture winner had the broadest support among all of the members. In the years since preferential voting has been in place, half of the Best Picture films that won were about the film industry. That isn’t too surprising. Of course, people working in the movie industry would appreciate films about their work.
However, some of the criticism against preferential voting is that it rewards movies that aren’t really controversial. La La Land was well received by critics and audiences, but it doesn’t really break new ground in the art form. There are other films nominated for Best Picture that could be considered more compelling or explorative than La La Land. But then again, maybe if the nominee gets the broadest support within the Academy, the movie deserves to win. What do you think?