Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I understand how to vote for Best Picture Oscar; it's the counting that has me confused

For a minute there, I thought the Motion Picture Academy was going to make voting for the best picture Oscar identical to the manner in which the nominees are chosen.

The best picture nomination process works as follows: Each voter gets a ballot on which they are to select five best picture nominees (this year it will be 10) in order of preference. In figuring up the nominees, five points were awarded each picture ranked No. 1, four points for No. 2 and so on. This year I'm figuring it will be 10 points for the picture ranked No. 1, nine for No. 2 and so on. The five (this year 10) pictures with the most points (not the same as the most votes) are the nominees.

Simple enough.

Earlier this week came the announcement that on the final ballot this year, voters will be asked to rank the 10 nominees in order of preference on their ballots. That was OK, too, until I learned the manner of tabulating the winner is not going to be on the same point system by which the nominees are selected.

See if you can follow this twisted process: The best picture ballot will be detachable from the rest of the ballot. Once they are detached, they will be placed in up to 10 separate stacks depending on which picture was named No. 1. If one stack contains over 50 percent of the returned ballots, it will be declared the winner. Now I'm willing to bet that in the last 20 years, we have only had three films that would have surpassed that 50-percent threshold: Schindler's List in 1993, Titanic in 1996 and Slumdog Millionaire last year.

So, in the likely event that no film gets 50 percent, the stack with the smallest number of ballots will be redistributed according to which film is listed as No. 2 on each of the ballots in that stack. If none of the remaining nine stacks has one with at least 50 percent of the total ballots, the process will be repeated until finally there is one stack with at least 50 percent of the total ballots.

The reason behind this tabulation change is that the Academy didn't want people to think that the winner would have captured the Oscar with 10 percent plus one of all the votes cast. Why, I don't know. I have always said that the main problem with any award process like this is that, even with five nominees, it was possible that the winner could take home the award with just 21 percent of the vote. Translated that means that a whopping 79 percent did not think that winning nominee deserved the award. So why are we quibbling over 10 percent, just because the Academy decided to double the number of nominees for the top award?

Here's the other problem I have with this system. Every time, the Academy reduces the number of "stacks," it reduces the possibility that the picture named No. 1 on most of the ballots will win the Oscar and more likely that a film listed as No. 2 or No. 3 on most of the ballots will win, which nullifies the reason for handing out the award in the first place. I'm betting that if this system had been in place in 2006, Little Miss Sunshine would have undeservedly won the Oscar instead of The Departed and quite possibly Michael Clayton would have won the following year instead of No Country for Old Men. On the plus side, however, it would have meant Brokeback Mountain would have defeated Crash in 2005 and either the more deserving Traffic or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would have won over Gladiator in 2000.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's Instant Runoff Voting . . . complicated but not really impenetrable rocket science.