Sunday, February 7, 2010
In discussing yesterday why The Hurt Locker would win top the prizes at the Oscars, I explained how voting for Best Picture now involves ranking the 10 nominees in order of preference rather than just picking one as they did in the past. This small change will have a significant effect on the results, and I think it is enough to give the edge to The Hurt Locker. I also pointed out that the breakdown of the voting results is never made public by the two accountants at PriceWaterhouseCoopers that are responsible for all tabulations.
This got me thinking that it would be interesting to see how it might look if the results were revealed. It also occurred to me that the voting of the Academy might not be all that different from critics and knowledgeable filmgoers. Many people – myself included – often make the mistake of thinking that the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is a single entity. It is not. It consists of 5,777 film industry professionals and all of them have their own bias. But they understand the craft and they know the business.
As for the rest of us, popular opinion differs because the average viewer is younger, less knowledgeable, doesn’t see as many films, has a narrower range of tastes, and therefore prefers more commercial work. But film critics and passionate filmgoers are likely to be more discerning in their opinions, more aware of artistic quality rather than easy entertainment.
So if film-savvy people ran a vote like the Academy, the results might not be all that different. I’ve often thought that the difference between an individual critic’s picks for the Oscars and the actual results would be almost eliminated if we compiled the picks of thousands of critics for comparison. Now, I have no intention of doing that, but I am willing to tabulate your rankings of the Best Picture nominees to see how the elimination process works out.
To recap: accountants at PriceWaterhouseCoopers divide the ballots into piles according to their first picks. To win, you need 50% + 1 votes. If any film accomplishes that in one round, then it’s immediately decided. If not, then the film with the least votes gets eliminated and its ballots redistributed according to their next choices. This step of elimination and redistribution is repeated as many times as necessary until a nominee receives a majority.
So I invite all you cineastes and savvy filmgoers to submit your ranking in the comments section below. On Tuesday, March 2, the Academy’s actual deadline for voting, I’ll take whatever responses I have and go through the process as they would. Then I’ll report back to you on the results. I’ll also award a prize – a DVD of the 2010 Oscar-winning film of your choice to a randomly selected voter.
To get started, here is my own ranking. For me, Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker would be tied for top spot because they are both perfect films – they could not be improved, and any tinkering would do more damage than good. But I would put Up in the Air first because it hasn’t gotten the acclaim that I think it deserves. My third and fourth choice would also be a tie between the sci-fi films. But I would give the edge to Avatar just because it is so groundbreaking, such an impressive accomplishment. I thought Up was terrific, but not among Pixar’s very best. An Education and Inglourious Basterds were good but flawed. The last two I didn’t care for: For me, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire and The Blind Side were manipulative, phony feel-good movies that were insubstantial and vaguely racist.
As I haven’t yet seen A Serious Man, I’ve placed it in the middle with an asterisk. I recommend that you do the same. Otherwise, you risk having a movie you didn’t like end up being higher ranked and becoming your counted vote.
1. Up in the Air
2. The Hurt Locker
4. District 9
6. A Serious Man *
7. An Education
8. Inglourious Basterds
9. Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire
10. The Blind Side
So think about it – let me know your order of ranking and your reasons why. How would you rank the Best Picture nominees?