One of the biggest surprises this year is what number Best Picture will land on. There seem to be eight very strong films heading into the race:
Midnight in Paris
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The only one that feels on shaky ground in War Horse and it might be supplanted by Bridesmaids, Tree of Life or the late-breaking Drive, which had such a strong showing at the BAFTA.
But let’s take another look at the experiment we did early in the year, when the news of the rule change went into the effect. The challenge: the Academy said that it looked back over the Oscar years prior to their changing up to ten nominees to see how many Best Picture winners they’d have had in any given year. They went from 2001 up to 2008. They said, in the end, that they had come up with a different number for every year — but no year in their experiment ended up with ten.
First, the new rules:
RULE SEVENTEEN SPECIAL RULES FOR THE BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR AWARD
1. A Reminder List of all eligible motion pictures shall be sent with a nominations ballot to all active and life members of the Academy who shall vote in the order of their preference for not more than five pictures.
2. The pictures receiving the highest number of votes shall become the nominations for final voting for the Best Picture award. There may not be more than ten nor fewer than five nominations; however, no picture shall be nominated that receives less than five percent of the total votes cast.
3. The individual(s) who shall be credited for Academy Award purposes must have screen credit of “producer” or “produced by.” Persons with screen credits of executive producer, co-producer, associate producer, line producer, produced in association with or any other credit shall not receive nominations or Academy statuettes. The nominees will be those three or fewer producers who have performed the major portion of the producing functions. The Producers Branch Executive Committee will designate the qualifying producer nominees for each of the nominated pictures. The committee has the right, in what it determines to be a rare and extraordinary circumstance, to name any additional qualified producer as a nominee.
4. Final voting for the Best Picture award shall be restricted to active and life Academy members.
Then, this from a Hollywood Reporter interview with Tom Sherak:
“With the help of PricewaterhouseCoopers, we’ve been looking not just at what happened over the past two years, but at what would have happened if we had been selecting 10 nominees for the past 10 years,” said Academy president Tom Sherak, who noted that it was retiring Academy executive director Bruce Davis who recommended the change first to Sherak and incoming CEO Dawn Hudson and then to the governors.
During the period studied, the average percentage of first-place votes received by the top vote-getting movie was 20.5. After much analysis by Academy officials, it was determined that five percent of first place votes should be the minimum in order to receive a nomination, resulting in a slate of anywhere from five to 10 movies.
“In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies,” said Davis. “A best picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out the number.”
If this system had been in effect from 2001 to 2008 (before the expansion to a slate of 10), there would have been years that yielded five, six, seven, eight and nine nominees.
The final round of voting for best picture will continue to employ the preferential system, regardless of the number of nominees, to ensure that the winning picture has the endorsement of more than half of the voters
In trying relieve some of my anxiety, I’m going right to the source, into the mouth of the beast, the Academy itself. What a peculiar challenge they have put forth to us. From the years 2001 to 2008, had they opened their arms to more than five, the results would have been, five, six, seven, eight and nine nominees.
So I went through the years to see which ones possibly yielded more than five. And here is what I came up with – factoring in guild support and eventual Oscar nominations.
A Beautiful Mind (4 wins – Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, Screenplay; 4 more nominations – Actor, Editing, Makeup, Score)
Fellowship of the Ring (4 wins – Cinematography, Effects, Makeup, Music; 9 more nominations – Screenplay, Sound, Picture, Music, Editing, Director, Costume, Art Direction, Actor)
Gosford Park(1 win – Screenplay; 6 other nominations – Picture, Director, Art Direction, Costume, 2 Supporting Actress nods)
Moulin Rouge (2 wins – Art Direction, Costume; 6 more nominations – Actress, Cinematography, Editing, Makeup, Picture, Sound)
In the Bedroom (0 wins; 5 nominations – Picture, Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress)
Would have been contenders:
Black Hawk Down (DGA, WGA, CAS, Ace-WON, ADG) 2 wins – Sound and Editing; 4 more Oscar nominations -Best Director, Cinematography.
Amelie (ASC, ADG)- 5 Oscar nominations, Screenplay, Sound, Foreign Lang, Cinematography, Art Direction
Other films that sort of seem like maybe — David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (but with only one Oscar nomination for Director, probably not), Memento — only editing and screenplay. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with three techs – Art Direction, Costume, Music.
But I think only two movies might have ultimately pushed through — so my guess for 2001: 7 Best Picture nominees, but maybe 8 with Mulholland Drive.
Chicago (6 wins – Picture, Supporting Actress, Editing, Costume, Art Direction, Sound; 7 more nominations – Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Director, Song, Screenplay)
Gangs of New York (0 wins; 10 nominations – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing, Actor, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume, Song, Sound)
The Hours (1 Oscar win – Actress; 8 more nominations – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Costume, Score)
LOTR: Two Towers (2 wins – Sound Editing, Effects; 4 more nominations – Picture, Editing, Sound, Art Direction)
The Pianist (3 wins – Director, Screenplay, Actor; 4 more nominations – Picture, Editing, Cinematography, Costume)
Could have been contenders:
Road to Perdition (PGA/CDG/ASC) 1 Oscar win – Cinematography; 5 more nominations -Actor, Art Direction, Score, Sound, Sound Editing)
Adaptation (PGA/SAG ensemble/WGA/ACE) 1 Oscar win – Chris Cooper; 3 more nominations – Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay
About Schmidt (WGA/ACE/CDG) 2 Oscar nominations – Actor, Supporting Actress
Far From Heaven (ASC/SAG(2)/WGA) – 4 Oscar nominations – Actress, Screenplay, Cinematography, Score
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (PGA/WGA/ACE nominee)
Since there was never ten, this seems to be a good candidate for the year of 9. I’ll guess either Greek Wedding or Far From Heaven failed to make the cut.
My guess for 2002: 9 nominees for Best Picture
Return of the King – (Globes/PGA/DGA/WGA/ACE/CDG/ASC/ADG) 11 wins – clean sweep – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing, Visual Effects, Sound, Score, Song, Makeup, Costume, Art Direction
Lost in Translation (DGA/ACE/ADG) 1 win – Screenplay; 3 more nominations – Picture, Director, Actor
Seabiscuit – (Globes/PGA/DGA/SAG ensemble/WGA/ACE/ADG) 0 wins; 7 nominations – Picture, Screenplay, Editing, Sound, Costume, Cinematography, Art Direction
Master and Commander (Globes/PGA/ACE/ASC) 2 wins – Cinematography, Sound Editing; 8 more nominations – Picture, Director, Editing, Art Direction, Costume, Makeup, Sound, Visual Effects
Mystic River – (Globes/PGA/DGA/SAG ensemble/WGA/ACE/ADG) 2 wins – Actor, Supporting Actor; 4 more nominations – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actress
Could Have Been Contenders:
Cold Mountain (Globes/PGA/WGA/ACE/CDG/ASC/ADG) 1 win – Supporting Actress; 6 more nominations – Actor Editing, Song, Score, Song, Cinematography
City of God 4 nominations – Director, Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography
Last Samurai (PGA/ASC/ADG) – 4 nominations – Supporting Actor, Art Direction, Costume, Sound
My guess is that City of God, Cold Mountain and maybe Last Samurai would squeezed in and that for 2003 there would have been 6 Best Picture nominees.
Million Dollar Baby (Globes/PGA/DGA/SAG ensemble/WGA/ACE/ADG) 4 wins – Picture, Actress, Supporting Actor, Director; 3 more nominations – Screenplay, Actor, Editing
The Aviator (Globes/PGA/DGA/SAG ensemble/WGA/ACE/CDG/ASC/ADG) – 5 Oscar wins – Supporting Actress, Editing, Costume, Cinematography, Art Direction; 6 more nominations – Picture, Screenplay, Directing, Supporting Actor, Actor, Sound
Finding Neverland (Globes/PGA/DGA/SAG ensemble/ACE/ADG) 1 win – Score; 6 more nominations – Picture, Actor, Screenplay, Editing, Costume, Art Direction
Ray (Globes/DGA/SAG ensemble/ACE/CDG/ASC) 2 wins – Actor, Sound; 4 more nominations – Picture, Directing, Editing, Costume
Sideways (Globes/PGA/DGA/SAG/ACE) 1 win – Screenplay; 4 more nominations – Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor
Eternal Sunshine (Globes/WGA/ACE/CDG/ADG) – 1 win – Screenplay; 1 more nomination – Actress
Vera Drake – 3 nominations – Director, Actress, Screenplay
Hotel Rwanda (Globes/SAG ensemble/WGA/CDG/ADG) – 3 nominations – Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay
So I’m going to guess that all three of these would have made it – and so for 2004 I say 8
Crash (PGA/DGA/SAG ensemble/WGA/ACE/ADG) 3 wins – Picture, Screenplay, Editing; 3 more nominations – Directing, Song, Supporting Actor.
Brokeback Mountain (Globes/PGA/DGA/SAG ensemble/WGA/ACE/ASC) 3 wins – Director, Screenplay, Score; 5 more nominations – Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography
Capote (PGA/DGA/SAG ensemble/WGA/CDG) 1 win – Actor; 4 more nominations – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actress
Good Night, and Good Luck (Globes/PGA/DGA/SAG/WGA/ACE/CDG/ASC/ADG)
Munich (DGA/ACE) 5 nominations – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing, Score
Walk the Line (Globes/PGA/ACE/CDG/ADG)1 win – Actress; 4 more nominations – Actor, Editing, Sound, Costume
The Constant Gardener (Globes/WGA/ADG) 1 win – Supporting Actress; 3 more nominations – Screenplay, Editing, Score
Memoirs of a Geisha (ASC/ADG) 3 wins – Cinematography, Costume, Art Direction; 3 more nominations – Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Score
I don’t think, in the end, Geisha would have made it. It’s possible. But the pattern that emerges is that the heart of the Academy is Directing, Screenplay, Editing. We already knew that. But I do think that Walk the Line and The Constant Gardener could have.
So my guess for 2005 is 7 Best Picture nominees
The Departed (Globes/PGA/WGA/DGA/SAG ensemble/BAFTA/ACE/ADG) 4 wins – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing; 1 more nomination – Supporting Actor
Babel (Globes/PGA/DGA/WGA/Sag ensemble?BAFTA/ACE/CDG/ADG/CAS) 1 win – score; 6 more nominations – Directing, Editing, Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actress, Score
Letters from Iwo Jima (Globes) 1 win – Sound Editing; 3 more nominations – Picture, Directing, Screenplay
Little Miss Sunshine (Globes/PGA/DGA/WGA/SAG ensemble/BAFTA/ACE/CDG) – 2 wins – Supporting Actor, Screenplay – 2 more nominations – Picture, Supporting Actress
The Queen (Globes/PGA/DGA/WGA/BAFTA/Eddie/CDG/ADG)
Dreamgirls (Globes/PGA/DGA/SAG ensemble/ACE/CDG/ADG/CAS) 2 wins – Supporting Actress, Sound; 6 more nominations – Supporting Actor, Song, Song, Song, Costume, Art Direction
Pan’s Labyrinth (CDG) 3 wins – Art Direction, Cinematography, Makeup; 3 more nominations Screenplay, Foreign Film, Score
I’m fairly certain that Dreamgirls would have made the cut. Going to throw in Pan’s Labyrinth because clearly they loved that movie. So for 2006 my guess is also 7 Best Picture nominees.
No Country for Old Men (Globes/PGA/DGA/SAG enemble/WGA/ASC/ADG/BAFTA/CAS/) 4 wins – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actor; 4 more nominations – Sound, Sound Editing, Editing, Cinematography
Michael Clayton (Globes/PGA/DGA/WGA/SAGx3/ACE/ADG/1 win – Supporting Actress; 6 more nominations – Picture, Director, Screenplay Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Score
There Will Be Blood (Globes/PGA/DGA/SAG+1/WGA/ACE/ADG/BAFTA/2 wins – Actor, Cinematography; 6 more nominations – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing, Sound Editing, Art Direction
Atonement (Globes/BAFTA/ADG/CDG) 1 win – Score; 6 more nominations – Picture, Actress, Screenplay, Costume, Cinematography, Art Direction
Juno (Globes/PGA/SAG+1/ACE/) 1 win – Screenplay; 3 more nominations – Picture, Actress, Directing
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Globes/PGA/DGA/WGA/ASC/ADG/CDG) 4 nominations – Directing, Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography
Ratatouille (ACE/ADG)- 1 win, 4 more nominations – Screenplay, Sound, Sound Editing, Score
This is a tough call. It’s possible Ratatouille could have made the cut. But I’m more sure Diving Bell would be in there. So I’m going to guess that for 2007 there would have been 6 Best Picture nominees.
Slumdog Millionaire (Globes/PGA/DGA/WGA/SAG Ensemble/ACE/ADG/BAFTA/CDG/CAS 8 wins – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing, Sound, Score, Cinematography, Song; 2 more nominations – Song, Sound Editing
Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Globes/PGA/DGA/WGA/SAG Ensemble/ACE/ASC/ADG/BAFTA/CDG/2 wins – Visual Effects, Makeup, Art Direction; 10 more nominations – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Sound, Score,Costume, Cinematography
Frost/Nixon (Globes/DGA/WGA/PGA/SAG ensemble/ACE/ADG/BAFTA) 5 nominations – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Editing
Milk (Globes/DGA/WGA/SAG ensemble/ACE/ADG/BAFTA/CDG/2 wins – Actor, Screenplay; 6 more nominations – Picture Director, Supporting Actor, Editing, Score, Costume Design
The Reader (Globes/SAG+1/ASC) 1 win – Actress; 4 more nominations – Picture, Directing, Screenplay, Cinematography
The Dark Knight (DGA/WGA/SAG+1/ACE/ASC/ADG/BAFTA/CDG/CAS/2 wins – Supporting Actor, Sound Editing; 6 more nominations – Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing, Makeup, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects
Wall-E (ACE/ADG/1 win – Animated Feature; 5 more nominations – Screenplay, Sound Editing, Sound mixing, Song, Score
Wall-E is a tempting choice. You could probably get seven out of that. You could maybe add Doubt. But I feel like The Dark Knight was really and truly pushing through, like Dreamgirls. This is why I think 2008 would have had 6 Best Picture nominees.
Another look at how votes are counted:
5% of the total vote is the minimum a film needs to make it
to the second round as a nominee. The first thing they do is put them into piles of #1 votes (thanks to you commenters for clarifying this). 1% is needed, I suppose, to make it to the second round. Anything under 1% is tossed. Then they go through and they find those with a minimum of 5% of the total vote. There is some kind of explanation about the surplus rule. Let me quote a commenter DFP:
My understanding is after Round Two you need 5% of total ballots to be a potential BP nominee. If no more than ten movies are left in the running, those movies are the nominees. if there are more than ten, my guess is the ten highest vote getters are in. But based on what the academy reveals about past analysis that would not have happened, as after Round Two there were never more than nine movies left.
Which means Round One is the round that determines the movies over 5% or between 1-5%. The latter ones then depend on #2 and #3 etc. ballots to help push them over the edge into over 5% territory. If you survive Round One with over 1% you are still in the running.
However it is true that you are much more likely to survive into Round Two if you have 3% or 4% of number 1 votes. A movie with only 1.5% of Number 1 votes will need to be the #2 choice of many many more people to make it through.
But what I keep trying to make clear is 5% isn’t the hurdle for Round One. 1% is.
5% is the hurdle for Round Two after just one round of redistribution of ballots.
Redistributed ballots come from the under 1%, as well as (in fractions) from the big vote getters (somewhere over 10%, maybe 12%, can’t remember which).
According to the accountant’s analysis, that is all it would have ever taken to get 5-10 nominees with no leftovers.
Here is the breakdown of the branches.So what is 5% of the total vote? If there are roughly 6,000 voting members, a fair estimate of ballots returned might be, say, 5,000? In that case, 5% of that is around 250. A film would need at least that many number one votes to make it in. If fewer members turn in their ballots, obviously the number goes down. If more people turn in their ballots, that number goes up. But it might be a safe way to look at it to think of the magic number as somewhere between 200 and 350.
Chair: Annette Bening
Art Directors Branch
Chair: Rosemary Brandenburg
Chair: Caleb Deschanel
Chair: Kathryn Bigelow
Chair: Rob Epstein
Chair: Robert Rehme
Film Editors Branch
Chair: Michael Tronick
Makeup Artists & Hairstylists Branch
Chair: Leonard Engelman
Chair: Bruce Broughton
Chair: Mark Johnson
Public Relations Branch
Chair: Marvin Levy
Short Films and Feature Animation Branch
Chair: Kevin O’Connell
Visual Effects Branch
Chair: Bill Taylor
Chair: Frank Pierson
Conclusion: you have to figure that the more diverse offerings throughout the guild awards, the better chance you have, ultimately, for a bigger pile of Best Pic contenders. This feels like a decidedly weak year, though you can really feel some movies pushing through – you can feel Drive from the BAFTAS and you can feel Dragon Tattoo, which wouldn’t ordinarily make it with five nominees but would have no problem at all with ten.
Using my guidelines above you’d go:
The Artist (ADG/SAG/DGA/PGA/ACE/ASC/BAFTA)
The Descendants (ADG/SAG/WGA/DGA/PGA/ACE/BAFTA)
Midnight in Paris (SAG/DGA/WGA/PGA/ACE)
The Help (ADG/SAG/DGA/WGA/PGA/ACE/BAFTA)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (ADG/PGA/WGA/DGA/ASC/ACE)
War Horse (PGA/ACE)
That Dragon Tattoo has a DGA nomination puts it high up on the list of possibles. But even still, we don’t know how the Best Picture lineup will fall. We make our calculations and we take our guesses but none of us knows for sure.