I think the Academy Awards often receive a bad rap. People complain that the show is too long, too boring, too self-indulgent, and sometimes not diverse enough. Those things might all be true from time-to-time, but I still try to watch.
There’s just something about watching talented filmmakers come together to celebrate the movies of the past year that has interested me for as long as I can remember. I saw more than thirty new movies in 2018, but the Oscars have interested me just as much in years in which I haven’t seen any movies.
Less interesting to me are the complaints about which films and artists didn’t win, and the complaints about people left off of the In Memoriam montage. The same people who complain that the ceremony is too long will complain that some B-list actor failed to receive the proper funereal recognition.
I read many complaints about the selection of Green Book as Best Picture. I won’t get into the myriad objections, but from what I read online it seems very few people thought it was the best picture of the year, which begs the question, “Then how did it win the Best Picture Oscar?”
Turns out, Green Book’s victory might have been an inadvertent consequence of the system used to tally the Academy’s Best Picture votes. The system makes it possible for a lesser film to win the biggest prize.
First, between five and ten films are nominated for Best Picture, based on the number of nominations received from the Academy. All 7000-plus members of the Academy vote for Best Picture. Films must be nominated by at least 5% of the members in order to receive a Best Picture nomination.
Then in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, all 7,000-plus members submit ballots that rank each of the Best Picture nominees. This year there were eight nominees, so each voter would have ranked the films 1-8.
The ballots are counted according to the number of first-place votes received. The film that collects first-place votes equal to 50%-plus-one of the total votes cast is declared Best Picture.
(I’m going to pretend there are only 100 members of the Academy for purposes of clarity, but it would work the same in the real Academy with 7000 members, just bigger numbers. But in our example 51 first-place votes are required for victory.)
Let’s pretend the votes break down as follows after the initial count:
There are three clear favorites that are all celebrated by a single first-place vote. It would make sense to assume after the first round of voting that one of these three films will win Best Picture.
Not so fast.
In round two, the film that received the fewest first-place votes, Vice, is eliminated. And the six ballots that ranked Vice first are then reapportioned to the film listed in second place on each ballot. Let’s pretend that each of those Vice-loving voters listed Green Book as their second-place choice. So those votes then go to Green Book as first-place votes, and the votes are tallied again.
With those additional six votes, these are the totals:
BlacKkKlansman is now in last place, so its nine first-place votes are reapportioned. Let’s pretend that each of those BlacKkKlansman-loving voters listed Green Book as their second-place choice. Those votes go to Green Book as first-place votes, and the totals after three rounds of voting are:
Green Book is making progress, but it still doesn’t have 51 votes.
And since A Star Is Born has the fewest votes in that round, its votes are reapportioned. And guess what, all of those votes chose Green Book as their second choice. So all ten of those votes go to Green Book.
Tally the votes again, and then after four rounds the totals are:
Still not there.
Let’s eliminate the last place film again. So long The Favourite. I’ll give you one guess as to which film those voters chose as their second-place film. Yep, Green Book!
So all twelve of those votes go to Green Book, which pushes it over the hump. 51 votes and the Best Picture Oscar.
Despite 86% of Academy members asserting that Green Book wasn’t the best picture, it won Best Picture.
This is somewhat of a far-fetched example. It’s unlikely that all of those ballots would choose Green Book as the second-place film, but it does show how a film that’s not widely thought of as the best could be chosen as the best.
However, Green Book wouldn’t even have had to be chosen as second-place on all of those ballots. Look at the voting after the second round:
BlacKkKlansman is being eliminated. It’s possible that Vice was actually chosen second on all nine of those ballots, and that Green Book was chosen third. But since Vice has already been eliminated, those third place Green Book votes count as first place.
And after the third round it’s possible that everyone who chose A Star is Born as their first choice, also chose Vice as second, and BlacKkKlansman as third. But since all of those films have been eliminated, Green Book gets all ten of those first-place votes, despite being chosen as the fourth-place film.
If this kept up through the next two rounds, then Green Book would win Best Picture despite 71% of voters not even choosing it among their top three films!
Despite such silliness, I suspect that the Academy won’t soon change their voting procedure.
But perhaps I’ll begin my own campaign to force such a change. And I’ll film my struggle, turn it into a documentary, and become the first documentary to win a Best Picture Oscar.
I know just how I can do it!
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