In an extraordinary move to investigate how the year might play out, The Wrap’s Steve Pond approached the Broadcast Film Critics to use their ballots to figure out how this year’s Oscar race might go.  Now, keep in mind that there were only 250 voting members of the BFCA, where there are upwards of 6,000 Oscar voters, give or take several hundred.  But, here’s the thing.  Each branch is divided up to find the nominees for every category except Best Picture.  It it therefore theoretically logical that this experiment could apply to each of the branches within the Academy and that there might not be that much of a difference in terms of how many films get through the first round.

A large majority of the Broadcast Film Critics’ more than 250 critics cast ballots, which asked them to rank their favorite movies, one through five. On those ballots, 33 different films received first-place votes.

Under the Oscar system, the race is immediately narrowed to those 33 films; every other movie is out of the running, no matter how many second- or third-place votes it received.

Once the initial count was made, the number of votes required to guarantee a nomination was determined. This is done by dividing the number of votes by 11, and then adding one (or if the result is not a whole number, adding whatever fraction is needed to make it one).

Example: If 250 members had voted, 23 votes would have guaranteed a nomination, because it would be impossible for more than 10 films to receive that many votes.

According to CMM, only one film received enough votes to secure a nomination in this way.

(I don’t know which film this is, and neither do the BFCA officials who passed me the information. But it’s easy to take an educated guess and figure that it’s probably “The Artist,” since that film has won the lion’s share of the critics’ awards handed out so far this season.)

The next step in the Oscar process is to determine if any film got 20 percent more votes than it needed to secure that nomination. If so, it triggers the “surplus rule,” and its votes are redistributed, and the film ranked second on each ballot gets a percentage of that vote.

(Another example: If a film gets twice as many votes as it needs, each of its ballots counts 50 percent for the first-place film and 50 percent for the voter’s second choice.)

The one film that qualified in the first round [cough cough The Artist cough cough], according to CMM, did indeed trigger the surplus rule.

And here’s the bummer part:

After its votes were redistributed, Britton then went back to the rest of the ballots. At this point, she looked for any movie that received less than 1 percent of the vote. That’d be two votes if more than 200 voters cast ballots, one vote if fewer than 200 did so.

According to Britton, 10 of the 33 films fell below the 1 percent threshold. Those 10 then had their ballots redistributed, with the vote going to the film ranked second on the ballot, assuming that film was among the 22 movies still in the running. (If it wasn’t, she would move down the ballot until she found a movie that was.)

When those ballots were redistributed, CMM then looked at what was left. At this point, under the Oscar system, any movie with more than 5 percent of the vote would became a nominee; any movie with less than that would not.

So, asks Steve, will the Oscars play out this way and result in only eight?  In a very strong year, there would likely be, at the most, nine.  I looked back at the race for a decade to see how many nominees I thought they’d go for and the numbers varied, depending on how many times that film showed up in the various guild awards and how many branches nominated it for a prize.  The Academy themselves have said that if they’d used this system over the past ten years they’d have come up with a different number for every year but the most that could be gotten in any year was nine.

As for this year, the Oscar story has only been partly told. We’ve made it through the critics phase, and the box office phase.  Two films still have yet to be finally told and that’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I’d throw War Horse in there because it hasn’t yet opened, and I’d throw The Artist in there because its box office story hasn’t yet been told either. I doubt we’re looking at blazing  box office numbers as with The King’s Speech, but can awards buzz alone drive it high?

We’ve only heard from one guild so far and that’s SAG. They confirmed some of what we already knew, with no major surprises.  The only thing to watch there is whether the films that didn’t get any acting nods, like Hugo and War Horse, can still go all the way to a win.  The DGA and the PGA, respectively, are the most important among the guilds.  When Tom Hooper won the DGA last year it was like Slumdog Millionaire winning the SAG ensemble.  That was the moment the Oscar race was over.  You can’t expect Academy members to ever respond to that kind of thing because, essentially, they’re all voting at roughly the same time.  It used to be there was time to ruminate before heading into the Oscars in March.  Now, ballots come, everything has to be seen quickly and decided upon right then and there.  And thus, you tend to see the same people winning over and over again.

But no one is ever going to look back at 2010 and believe that The King’s Speech was the year’s best film. Not with The Social Network, Black Swan, The Fighter and True Grit in the race.  It’s just the way the whole orgy plays out — not Ms. Right, but Ms. Right Now.

If nothing happens to change the race — I’m hoping a Dragon Tattoo happens to change the race — but that’s  just be wishful thinking.  Here is how most people will say it will play out – keep in mind that when you’re dealing with that kind of voting — those numbers needed you are never going to see a lot of variety.

Starting with the sure things:

The Artist
The Descendants
Hugo
The Help
Moneyball
War Horse
Midnight in Paris
Tree of Life or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

There might be some but not enough:

Harry Potter
Bridesmaids
The Ides of March

The DGA will be  most helpful this year in determining Best Picture — and I assume that will go:

Michel Hazanavicius
Martin Scorsese
Alexander Payne
Steven Spielberg
Woody Allen or Terrence Malick
Wishful thinking: David Fincher or Bennett Miller