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Q. How are the Oscar Nominations Determined?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences takes a hierarchical approach to determining its Oscar nominees, instead of a straight-forward counting of ballots. It's a difficult-to-describe process called a Preferential Voting System, and its goal is to reflect the breadth and depth of Academy support.

Each year, the Academy publishes a list of qualifying movies, from which the nearly 6,000 members select their top five choices in each category on ballots, ranked first to fifth. All members of the Academy vote for Best Picture, while the other categories are mostly voted on by their respective branches (e.g., only actors vote in the acting categories).

Ballots are mailed to PricewaterhouseCoopers, an accounting firm that has tabulated ballots for 73 of the past 79 years of the awards. The ballots are counted by hand in an intentionally low-tech manner.

Using Best Picture as the example, ballots are first sorted by voters' No. 1 movie choices, and only these initial movies are in the running for a nomination.

PricewaterhouseCoopers then mathematically determines the number of ballots (i.e., votes) a movie needs to qualify for a nomination. In any given category, two or three nominees are often determined at this point.

Next, a complicated process of elimination begins. First, the movie with the least number of ballots is eliminated and its ballots are redistributed among the remaining movies, according to each ballot's next available choice. If the No. 2 choice is not for a remaining movie, then the No. 3 choice is used and so on. If no choice matches a remaining movie, the ballot is not counted toward any movie.

The eliminations and redistributions continue, and when one of the remaining movies reaches the qualifying number of ballots, it is nominated. Further redistributed ballots go only to those choices still in the running for a nomination, not those already nominated.

PricewaterhouseCoopers repeats the eliminations and redistributions until five nominees have been determined. After the nominations have been announced, the voting process becomes simple to decide the winner: the nominee with the most votes wins.

The Preferential Voting System may explain how a movie can be popular with the Academy but never receive a Best Picture nomination. For example, Dreamgirls and Cold Mountain were acclaimed movies that garnered multiple major nominations in their respective years but failed to make the cut for Best Picture.

Hypothetically, if all voters ranked Dreamgirls or Cold Mountain as their No. 2 choice, neither would be nominated for Best Picture since they didn't receive the required No. 1 choice from anyone. The Academy calls it "Best Picture," and a movie rating a strong No. 2 presumably doesn't qualify even though there are five slots to fill for the category.

Source: Brad Oltmanns, Managing Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers' Los Angeles office.

RELATED LINKS
Full List of Nominations and Their Grosses
Official Web site of the Academy Awards
PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Academy Awards

Filed by Sean Saulsbury on February 15, 2007


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