They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

The Year of 10 Best Picture Nominees?

By J. Don Birnam

December 17, 2015

Every image from Revenant is terrible.

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In a year that is this crowded with good movies vying for Oscar gold, could we finally see 10 nominees since the move to the sliding scale Best Picture format? Today we will discuss how likely it is that we will get a full slate of nominees, why it is mathematically difficult to do so, and why it behooves the Academy to find a way to get there, lest they leave solid movies on the table.

In the meantime, a few more major critics groups have spoken, including the all-important Broadcast Film Critics, who give out the Critics’ Choice awards in January. As you can expect, they lauded a lot of the same people with their nominations - Spotlight, Carol, and Mad Max continue to lead with the critics - so our awards power rankings are unchanged for now. But follow our Twitter account for more updates as they roll in - several critical groups are still chiming in.

A Brief Oscars History

If you follow the Oscars even remotely, the story is by now familiar to you. In 2008, the Academy shocked the movie industry by failing to nominate The Dark Knight for Best Picture, which slot infamously went to The Reader, instead. That, coupled with the fact that the frontrunners that year (No Country for Old Men and There Will be Blood) were arthouse movies, led to the lowest ratings Oscars ceremony in history. Predictably, the Board of Governors quickly took action.

For the two years that followed, the Best Picture slate expanded to 10 fixed nominees, with each member casting ten nominating votes for Best Picture. This caused more controversy, as Academy members (incredibly) complained of not having enough movies to vote for. Admittedly, 2009 and 2010 were “weak” in terms of the big movies that Academy members watch, resulting in questionable nods for movies from The Blind Side to A Serious Man, but these are also the years that brought masterpieces from Inception to The Social Network and Black Swan.

In any case, since 2011 and for the last four years, the rules state that you can have as few as five and as many as ten nominees. Three years in a row they ended up with nine, and last year they gave eight.


Quirky Nominations Math?

So, how does one get nominated? Well, a movie needs to get 5 percent or more of the ballots cast, which means with a 6,000 or so member Academy, a movie has to appear on approximately 300 ballots. Importantly, every member gets only five slots to nominate for Best Picture. So, in reality, approximately 30,000 votes are cast, and you really only need to appear on 300 of the ballots to get in.

Thus, in order for 10 movies to get in, it means that the same 10 movies have to appear in approximately 3,000 of the 30,000 vote spaces cast. That’s only 10% of the total spaces cast, which does not seem impossible. But, because a particular member only has five spaces to nominate, the distribution has to be such that 3,000 of the total ballots contain at least one of the top ten vote getters. That’s 3,000 out of 6,000 ballots, so 50%. A little bit harder.

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