Oscar nominees to be ranked in order of preference

A seismic shift has hit Oscar voting in the expanded best picture category.

Under rules unveiled Monday, the 5,800 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters will rank the 10 nominated films in order of preference — a process that will replace the decades-old practice of simply voting for a single nominee.

“Instead of just marking an ‘X’ to indicate which one picture they believe to be the best, members will indicate their second, third and further preferences as well,” Academy president Tom Sherak said. “PricewaterhouseCoopers will then be able to establish the best picture recipient with the strongest support of a majority of our electorate.”

Key aspect of the change is that it gives significantly more weight to the films ranked second and third on the ballots. And that’s a revision likely to provoke plenty of scrambling and grousing among studios as they seek to fine-tune their campaigns in coming months.

Under the new system, it’s conceivable that the picture winner could be a film that did not get the most first-place votes — particularly if it received a large number of second- and third-place support.

The Acad disclosed the details of the changes two months after the board of governors’ surprise decision to double the category to 10 nominees. AMPAS noted Monday that the picture balloting will employ the same preferential voting system used in the Oscar nomination process.

“The system has long been used in the round of voting which determines the nominees in most categories, but it has not been used on the final ballot for best picture since 1945,” the org said Monday. “With 10 nominees, the preferential system is one that best allows the collective judgment of all voting members to be most accurately represented.”

The new system will require voters to rank each of the 10 nominees on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being best.

The process calls for PricewaterhouseCoopers to first determine if one nominee has more than 50% of the first-place votes, which would make that film the winner. If no film has achieved that threshold, films will be eliminated progressively, based on which is ranked first on the fewest number of ballots.

When a film is eliminated, the pic ranked second on those ballots will be accorded a first-place vote. Films will be eliminated until a single movie has a majority of the first-place votes and becomes the best picture winner.

Oscar voting in the other categories will continue to employ the single-vote process in which the nominee with the most votes gets the trophy.

When the decision was announced June 24 to expand the picture category to 10 nominees, then-Acad prexy Sid Ganis said the move “may make it more interesting and less cloistered.”

AMPAS said Monday that in 1934 and 1935, there were 12 nominees for best picture and the preferential system was used to determine the winner. From 1936-43, there were 10 picture nominees, with the preferential system used for final balloting.

The preferential system was last used in 1944 and 1945 in the pictre category, although there were only five nominees by then.

Nominations will be announced Feb. 2 with the 82nd Academy Awards set for March 7.

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