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The Rotten Tomatoes Test

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.  

2012

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

2011

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

2010

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
Inception–39

2009:

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.