In 2009, the Academy decided to change their voting rules for Best Picture. They did this to be able to include more than five contenders after The Dark Knight was shut out in 2008.  While preferential balloting has always been used to find the nominees in most categories, only in 2009 did the preferential ballot come into play to pick the winner of Best Picture.

But there was another change that impacts the nominees.  In 2009 and 2010, Academy members were asked to pick ten and not five Best Picture contenders.  That gave them a lot more freedom in what they might choose, from big movies to small movies, foreign films to domestic, critically acclaimed or popular.  But members complained that they didn’t want to be bothered with ten, that they far preferred choosing only five.  In 2011, the Academy changed their rule again so that Academy members would choose only five. They would pick the winners the same way, with a complicated voting procedure that essentially means a film needs a good number of number one votes to get in, but they would extend the cut-off so that if there were films that came close to making it in could still get in. So far, we’ve had two years with nine nominees.  I expect this year, with so many great films in the race, to also have nine.  Apparently it’s mathematically difficult to get ten.   Preferential balloting rewards films that are passionately loved, even if they are also passionately hated.

Faithful readers will remember last year’s Rotten Tomatoes test.  The least divisive film has a better chance of winning that the most divisive. You calculate this by counting not the positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (almost every review is positive) but the negative reviews because you have to really hate a movie to get a rotten over there.  


Amour–11 rotten
Argo–11 rotten
Zero Dark Thirty — 14 rotten
Silver Linings Playbook — 16 rotten
Lincoln — 21 rotten
Beasts of the Southern wild — 25 rotten
Life of Pi – 25 rotten
Django Unchained–26 rotten
Les Miserables — 63 rotten


The Artist – 4 rotten
Hugo – 13
Moneyball – 13
Midnight in Paris – 14
The Descendants – 26
Tree of Life – 43
The Help – 48
War Horse – 49
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – 94


Toy Story 3 – 3
Winter’s Bone – 9
True Grit – 10
The Social network-11
The King’s Speech–12  
The Kids Are All Right – 14
127 Hours – 14
The Fighter–22
Black Swan — 34


Up – 5
The Hurt Locker – 6
An Education – 11
Precious – 19
A Serious Man – 22
Up in the Air – 25
District 9 – 27
Inglourious Basterds – 31
Avatar – 49
The Blind Side – 66

It doesn’t always follow that the film with the lowest rotten score wins but believe me, it sure helps.  You have to calculate it by the rotten reviews it got at the time of the Oscar race. Many reviews are added in the ensuing years but those include backlash reviews and the like and thus, are useless.  A consensus vote needs a lot of non-haters.

When there were five Best Picture nominees the Academy employed the weighted ballot so your chances of having am more divisive film win were higher.  Here are some random scores of winners:

2007–No Country for Old Men – 13 / 232
2003 –Return of the King – 14 / 254
2008 –Slumdog Millionaire – 14 / 229
2006 –The Departed – 18 / 231
2004 –Million Dollar Baby – 21 / 229
2002–Chicago – 29 / 218
2003 –Crash – 39 / 197
2001–A Beautiful Mind — 42 / 186

Crash with 39, A Beautiful Mind with 42 might not have won with a preferential ballot.  Fellowship of the Ring might have beaten A Beautiful Mind and Brokeback might have beaten Crash.

Now let’s look at this year, keeping in mind that there aren’t that many reviews yet of the newer films.  In a month’s time there will be a hundred more reviews of each film.  We will check back in at the end of January to see how it has shaken out.  But these are the standings now:

Her – 7 / 91
12 Years a Slave – 8 / 204
Gravity – 8 / 289
Fruitale Station – 9 / 155
Dallas Buyers Club – 11 / 163
Inside Llewyn Davis – 11 / 167
All is Lost – 12 / 183
American Hustle – 12 / 203
Philomena – 13 / 160
Captain Phillips – 15 / 226
Nebraska – 15 / 172
The Wolf of Wall Street – 34 / 151
Saving Mr. Banks – 36 / 187
The Butler – 44 / 162

And other films on the fringes:

Short Term 12 2 / 133
In a World 9 / 105
Before Midnight 3 / 170
Enough Said 7 / 160
Rush 23 / 200
Prisoners 40 / 219
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 72 / 137
Lone Survivor 18 / 49


With a preferential ballot, you can see which movies have the edge. Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Nebraska and which ones don’t.

This year would be a good year to have ten contenders rather than what it is now, which is a random number between 5 and 10, depending on how many films get number one votes.


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  • Al Robinson

    All I can say after seeing the current list, and their scores is:


  • Anthony B.

    Looking at the numbers of the nominated films (or the ones in contention, as far as this year), it seems this year and 2010 are two of the “better” recent years (better meaning full of films that are not terribly divisive).

    Of the 10 nominees in 2010, seven had 14 or fewer rotten scores, whereas every other year listed had only three or fewer with such universal acclaim (if we can equate lack of rotten scores to acclaim).

    For the films Sasha listed as in contention this year, nine of them fall into that category, and Nebraska and Captain Phillips are right there with 15.

    I guess that’s a long way of saying this is a pretty darn good year.

    @ Al Robinson: ditto the Fruitvale Station love.

  • Tony

    WoWS won’t win BP, and that’s as it should be; it’s not the best picture of the year. I always have a hard time picking what is “the best,” but I find it much easier to make a shortlist of contenders — and WoWS isn’t on it.

  • david

    Rotten tomatoes test?? Well then Short Term 12 should be included in the best picture contenders
    Short Term 12 only 2% rotten

  • Tony

    ^ She’s focusing on films with a realistic chance of being nominated.
    I double-checked Scorsese’s filmography, and sure enough, he’s only directed TWO movies driven by a woman (or women) in FOUR decades — “Alice Doesn’t Love Here Anymore” and “The Age of Innocence.” Goose egg in the past twenty years.

  • JPNS Viewer

    Somehow, this year, for instance, I never got round to checking out RT site on my own; I guess I just didn’t really care about it, to be honest.
    And from what Sasha has strategically highlighted re the RT negative scores, to me it feels just right to have ignored it all along basically.
    I meant, 26 negative reviews [that much?!] reportedly for The Descendants — give me a break . . . . . What’s more: 25 minus-words for what could have been the Academy’s most commendable option for Best Picture (instead of Argo) Life of Pi — again, give me a break. Then, compared to both The Descendants [how could you not like/love, for instance, the Goodbye My Love scene?] and Life of Pi, you’ve got a relatively overrated flick like Moneyball with merely 13 negative reviews.
    Inception: 39 negative reviews [Seriously, hate much, dudes?!].
    And so on.

    Thanks for a good read, Sasha.

    Side note: #Hustle#, as well as #Phillips# (the latest #Hobbit#, #Walter Mitty#, etc.), is currently playing in this host country. I plan to go see both of them during weekdays (at noon or late night) after New Year’s day to take advantage of the empty house and the gigantic, digital cinematic experience, etc. Expect to love both of them.
    (For now, I think I’ll wait for [the latest] Hobbit, and Walter Mitty, on legit DVD for rent. Just saying.)

  • The Great Dane

    Maybe somebody should list the contenders from the last couple of years that DIDN’T get nominated to see how many rotten they had. Maybe it would help us determine the chances for a nomination for the contenders this year. 🙂

  • Tony

    The change had a lot to do with “The Dark Knight,” but also “Wall-E.”

    I don’t think any BP nominee in the 21st Century has grossed under $6M. “Winter’s Bone” finished its run before nominations; “Amour” had barely started before nominations. Those two are the lowest grossing nominees, I believe.

  • Short Term 12 does have a realistic chance at being nominated, Tony.

  • Morpheos

    A SEPARATION’s 99% out of over 140 reviews didn’t get that film a nomination. So how much does it really matter? And is it too late to dub the Oscars ” The Best Campaign Award”?

  • Rey

    Differences on how many people reviewed some of these films seem a little too much to ignore.

    12 years were reviewed by 204 critics, gravity 289. Both have 8 rottens.

    And as for short term 12, barely over 100 reviews.

  • david

    Thank you paddy mullholland

  • Bob Burns

    FWIW, Before Midnight has 3 rotten, of 170 reviews.

  • david

    Fwiw Short Term 12 133 reviews 2 rotten

  • Tony

    You’re keeping hope alive, which is fine. It’ll definitely have to be the exception to the rule, because its run ended with $1M.

  • david

    I’ll have the last laugh when brie Larson gets an Oscar nomination

  • Jeremy

    I just don’t see Wolf of Wall Street winning much of anything. Leo stands a good chance of not being nominated for his greatest performance, and I know some of you bigger Leo fans don’t want to hear that, but this is where we’re at now. In a crowded year with so much more liked(on in this case, films with less passionate hatred/dislike), how can you compete? It can squeeze into the BP 9 horse race and maaaaybe Marty gets a nod for BD, but that’s it. It’ll get invited to the party, a seat at the table, the host will be very welcoming and cordial…but the goody bag will be lookin’ mighty empty after its all over.

  • Gabriel

    Omg, I dont ever complain about some obsessions but whats up with the Short Term 12 comments? Why dont you bring Before Midnight with its 170 reviews and 3 rottens?

    Even better, why dont you just discuss the films that Sasha brought? Jeez

  • Wolf Of Wall Street is an absolute beast of a film. It is BY FAR the best comedy of the year, and the best thing that Leo has ever done. Sure it feels long at points, but the excessive length is thematically correct for this story, so I can’t really knock it for that. I’m having trouble fitting it into my year end list, however. I’ve kind of settled into the list as it stood and this year felt pretty full already with great work, and then this movie just comes barreling in at the last second saying “Fuck You!”

    It clearly demands a space to be cleared, but where do you put this movie? All I can say is that I’m actually glad I saw this movie removed from the rush of everything else, because it really does feel like its in a class all its own. It might not be my favorite film this year, but it stands out in a way nothing else can. Shit, it kind of sounds like its my favorite, though.

  • Pepper

    Short Term 12 didn’t send screeners to AMPAS voters, so it would be very surprising if it were nominated.

  • Crash with 39, A Beautiful Mind with 42 might not have won with a preferential ballot. Fellowship of the Ring might have beaten A Beautiful Mind and Brokeback might have beaten Crash.

    But that would be a good thing. So maybe it’s best if they choose the least offensive film?

    Now let’s look at this year, keeping in mind that there aren’t that many reviews yet of the newer films.

    I think this is going to be the key this year. The Olympics delay has made them release movies so late. I don’t think we can go by normal years. If anything we should check the models from back when the Oscars were in March.

  • david

    Not true I know someone who’s an ampas member and received a screener for short term 12

  • rufussondheim

    I’m not so sure this is a valid way of looking at things, but if it comes down to two films and they are fighting on those last couple of ballots to gain the majority of votes it certainly helps if you are less hated than the other film so instead of looking over the entire roster it’s probably better to look at only the top 2 or 3 contenders and we’ll know who they are when the nominations come out and we examine the total number of nominations for each film.

    I suspect the top three films for nominations will be 12 years, American Hustle and Gravity in that order, each gaining 9 or more nominations. If Gravity can muscle into the final 2, I suspect it will win since it’s hard to hate that film, it’s so masterfully done and it takes the least risks but I think it’s the number 3 here. So, using this method, it looks like it’s 12 Years that will be winning BP.

  • Sasha Stone

    That’s fine, I’ll add them but then I have to add every film made this year – Enough Said, In a World, etc. This is only a generalized way of looking at the contenders…

  • Pepper

    David, was the person a member of one of the trade unions? They did send it to SAG and maybe PGA. But that doesn’t reach all of the people who vote for Best Picture, and even all the members of the Actors’ Branch aren’t members of SAG.

  • david

    Yes he does work for one of the trade unions!!! How do u know this stuff u work for A.M.PA.S???

  • If Gravity can muscle into the final 2, I suspect it will win since it’s hard to hate that film


  • Tell me SHORT TERM 12 has ‘realistic’ chances of being nominated after it shows up in the Golden Globe noms, BFCAs, DGAs, PGAs, WGAs, SAGs…

    Yeah, not realistic at all.

  • Patrick

    “I suspect the top three films for nominations will be 12 years, American Hustle and Gravity in that order, each gaining 9 or more nominations. If Gravity can muscle into the final 2, I suspect it will win since it’s hard to hate that film, it’s so masterfully done and it takes the least risks but I think it’s the number 3 here.”

    @rufussondheim, actually, I’m pretty sure Gravity will be a close 2nd in nominations:
    – 12 Years A Slave (11 nods: pic, dir, editing, cinematography, prod design, actor, supp actor, supp actress, screenplay, costume, score)
    – Gravity (10 nods: pic, dir, editing, cinematography, prod design, actress, score, sound editing, sound mixing, vfx)
    – American Hustle (8 nods: pic, dir, editing, supp actor, supp actress, screenplay, costume, makeup)

  • Bryce Forestieri

    Are we going to have a WTF acting nomination? (Jacki Weaver in SLP)Unlikely in such a year, right? How about George Clooney for GRAVITY? I could be down with that.

  • Never in my life, Bryce. If George Clooney gets an Oscar nomination for Gravity, I might quit this thing altogether.

  • david

    Paddy and Bryce
    How bout an unexpected nomination I’ve got 2 Keith Stanfield or John Gallagher Jr for best supporting actor that would really be one of those (I didn’t see that coming) moments

  • Jerry Grant

    Clooney getting a nom for “Gravity” would be like Alan Arkin getting a nom for “Argo” (wtfwtfwtf)

  • Unlikely hood

    Tony – good points. ST12 won’t get a BP nod. Wall-e was a clear factor in the expansion.

    These scores give me hope. Her, Fruitvale and 12YAS are my favorite films of the year. Guess I’m just middlebrow or non-hatey that way

  • Pj

    Wow! If Captain Phillips was with a different studio, it may have Argoed it’s way to a win. But for now it is second fiddle to Hustle.

  • Bob Burns

    the characters in Hustle are more likable than in Wolf.

    the best scene in Wolf was Chandler on the subway….. about as direct/obvious as the “War is a Drug” slide that opened Hurt Locker. How can anybody think Wolf glorifies those awful people?

  • I realize The Wolf of Wall Street has some sick wit injected into it, but I testify under oath that my movie date and I did not laugh at one single chunk of fratboy humor. I’m too disgusted to laugh at that sort person. I don’t find them funny.

    We were at noon matinee the day after Christmas with about 45 other people in the audience and I barely heard a chuckle or snicker from anyone all around us. There was a couple in the row ahead of us, around 55-60 years old, who laughed at Jonah Hill a few times and someone behind us said “Stupid” during the briefcase handoff debacle.

    I think The Wolf of Wall Street is magnificently poisonous. Loved the freakin hell out of it. But I don’t see this shit as comedy fodder. I’m revolted by it. There’s no character in the movie who’s not pathetic. Not even the impotent ‘good guys.’

    Boldest sickest darkest movie I’ve seen in many years. Genius.

  • alan

    bryce I’m with you on the clooney nom for gravity cuz if the academy REALLy likes gravity as many have claimed then you never know but it would be shocking and its my NGNG pick.

  • Oh I laughed and laughed. Especially when Jonah said about driving you know who to the woods and saying “You’re free now.” I swear I doubled over so hard I almost hit my forehead with my knee. I can laugh at stuff like that though. It’s like laughing at stupid people. I’ve told you guys before that I was an Andrew Dice Clay fan from way back. If there was any hope in the supporting actor category I’d be pushing for him to get a nod for BLUE JASMINE. Anyway, when I was a fan back in the day I was laughing at the Diceman, not with him. That’s what I always thought you were supposed to be doing. You do get those people who laugh with the idiot characters but that’s because they’re idiots too. I do believe that Clay got locked into the character just for that reason. Too many of his fans were “dicemen”.

    That’s part of the backlash on WOWS (is there a T or not?) I think Academy members are worried that idiot people will emulate the behavior of Jordan Belfort the way rappers look up to Tony Montana. That probably is going to happen. There are no count people all over this world. You make a movie showing how wretched someone is and dingbats are going to want to be like them. With SCARFACE, I never understood how anyone could watch that film (Scarface spoilers) see such an unattractive person become a paranoid who’s locked in his house, ends up killing his beloved sister, and winds up bullet-ridden face down in his pool and think “Oh wow, I wanna be like that guy!”. But it happens. You can’t blame brilliant filmmakers for the stupidity in this world. I do believe you’re supposed to laugh at the shenanigans in WOWS in a “can you believe these people?” kind of way.

  • I find Wolf Of Wall Street to be a comedy, but not in the yuk-yuk style. More like an absurdist comedy the way something like Clockwork Orange or Withnail And I is (not equating the movies, though).

    Lots and lots of people laughed lots and lots of times, hard, during my viewing in a packed house in Miami Beach last night. So it certainly played for big laughs where I was. But while I do agree with you Ryan and it didn’t quite play that way for me personally, I recognize the absurd, bizarro humor of it all, so my description of it being a comedy still stands.

  • Everybody is going to say they laughed. I’m glad you did. I want everybody to have fun.

    I’m confessing that I didn’t laugh so you’ll all wonder if I’m alright emotionally, and be nicer to me.

  • I can’t explain why nobody else at our screening laughed, but maybe this was a contributing factor:

    The 55-ish couple in the row in front of us? They were together but they left 2 empty seats between them, possibly because they were large people. They talked in a normal tone of voice all through the trailers and were still talking with the studio logo came up for the movie.

    Rather than seethe any longer, I sort of yelled out: “If you two plan on talking all the way through the movie then I wish you’d move closer together.”

    The older guy said: “Okay,” and sheepishly he shut up
    His older female companion snapped at me: “The movie hasn’t even started yet,” but then she shut up too.

    I was with a black friend and he was the only black person for miles around.

    So I wonder, maybe everybody was afraid to laugh for the next 3 hours.

    This is a true story, I swear on the bible.

  • I snapped at guy for playing with his phone during AMERICAN HUSTLE. He stopped. I’m tiny and I was wearing my pom-pom hat but I’m black on the inside.

    And there were two Philomenas sitting behind me talking non-stop when I saw PHILOMENA yesterday. I thought about saying something but the movie was awful so I didn’t give a shit.

  • maybe you’re tiny but you’ve scared me a few times just with the tone of your phrasing.

  • Kane

    Swear on the bible huh Ryan? I believe the story 😉

  • Tony

    Two large people with TWO empty seats between them? OMG, how large were they?

    I’ve often wondered: How do people who speak a language in which intonation changes the meaning of words, e.g., Mandarin, whisper? (Even with context added, there must be a little confusion.)

  • Tony

    LOL, Kane. (I wasn’t gonna go there!)

  • oh sorry, I mean Bible capital B.
    you believe the story because you know me by now, Bible or not.

  • Mel

    Patrick, I doubt Bradley Cooper gets nominated for Supporting Actor. That is far from a sure thing.

  • Bob Burns

    you’d have to be pretty goddam stupid to miss Scorsese’s disgust.

  • Buford T Justice

    I regards to Sasha’s column , Gravity is the least devisive with the rotten tomatoe test when considering the % of reviews ; this should come as no surprise and is Gravities best selling point , that it is so audience accessable…however , it’s like a high tech , white knuckle roller coaster ride that leaves your knees a shakin and heart a beating , but 24 hours later has little staying power
    It would have been best for Gravity if it had been released as late as possible and then could have remained relatively fresh in voters minds as it seems to me that it ages badly and as it receeds into the past loses it’s potency and becomes stale

    12YAS is no pleasure ride , but just hard work to get through , that gives us much food for thought and seems to age like a fine wine as it gives us a painful glimpse into the dark past , but also dovetails wisely into the politics of the here and now

    I think 12 YAS ,if released last year ,would have beaten both Argo and Lincoln ; in fact I suspect it would of beaten both Slumdog and the Kings Speech and possibly even the Artist with it’s ode to Hollywood

  • Buford T Justice

    I think 12YAS will win , although it’s not safe enough to bet the farm on , but what is safe enough to bet the farm on is that the B P winner will be 12 YAS, Gravity or American Hustle

    12 YAS 40%
    GRAVITY 35%
    AMERICAN HUSTLE 25% sounds about right

  • rufussondheim

    I don’t think Gravity fades at all over time, those indelible final images are a triumph. It’s great stuff. What will hurt Gravity is that unless you see it in an IMAX theater, those final images might not have their proper impact.

    I think this is 12 Years to lose, but American Hustle is closing in on it. But to see if AH really has a shot we’ll have to wait until nomination morning. If it can gets only one acting nomination it will be a non-player. If it gets 4, it will win. 3 acting noms I’d mark it the favorite, if it gets two then it will be the slight underdog.

  • Buford T Justice

    American Hustle is not going to win one single acting Oscar

    Blanchett is winning B A …LETO wins BSA…..Nyongo BSActress and EJIOFOR /DICAPRIO wins B A

  • SallyinChicago

    Did anyone read this scathing article in the LaWeekly? Not good for WoW.
    Read the comments — very divisive.

  • Kane

    You’re right Ryan. Couldn’t let a good opportunity go astray 🙂

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