For the last two years, predicting the Oscar Best Picture nominees has been particularly hard because of the new variable the Academy has added: Not only don't we know what films voters will nominate, we don't know how many.
Under new rules that went into effect last year, the total number of nominees will be between five and 10, the exact number undetermined until the accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers undertake a complicated series of computations.
But if it's not possible to know for sure what the Academy will do, it is possible to run a simulation. So for the second year in a row, officials at the Broadcast Film Critics Association, which hands out the Critics' Choice Movie Awards, have allowed TheWrap to instruct the BFCA's accounting firm, CMM, LLP, in how to recount their ballots under the Oscar's preferential system.
The result, for the second year in a row, is that the Academy's system would reduce the number of Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Picture nominations from 10 to eight.
The BFCA is a far smaller group than the Academy — 270 television, radio and online critics, as opposed to 5,856 movie-business professionals — but its nominations are typically a reliable indicator of Oscar success. Of the 29 Oscar Best Picture nominees since the Academy went from five to 10 nominations in 2009, 27 have also been nominated by the BFCA (of which I am a member).
Last year, the CCMA recount also produced eight nominees, whereas the Academy came up with nine. But I wasn't aware of one change in the Academy's process, which could have resulted in the extra nominee.
I expect that this year's simulation will either match or produce results close to what will happen when the Academy vote is counted.
CMM's Gregory Mogab and Debby Britton, who supervise the company's CCMA work, did not share the names of the films that were nominated with TheWrap, but Britton provided a numerical breakdown of how the system played out.
Here's the blow-by-blow, which also illustrates how the Oscar count works:
ROUND 1: Four nominees
After counting the total number of ballots cast, the accountants began by determining the "magic number" required to guarantee a nomination. That was done by dividing the total number of ballots by 11. Example: If 200 critics voted, that would be 18.18. If the result is a whole number, you add 1; if it's a decimal, you go up to the next highest whole number.
In our hypothetical example, the magic number would be 19. (The reason: It's impossible for more than 10 films to each receive 19 votes, so getting that many guarantees a spot in the top 10.)
On the ballot, BFCA voters were asked to choose their top five films of the year and rank them in order of preference. The No. 1 choices on each ballot were then tallied. Any film that was not the first choice of at least one voter was eliminated from contention, regardless of how many No. 2 or No. 3 votes it received.
According to CMM, 34 films received first-place votes, one more than had done so the previous year.
Any film that had more than the magic number of votes became an automatic nominee. When Britton recounted the CCMA ballots, she found that four films reached the number in the first-round count.
She did not supply the names of those four films, but an educated guess would suggest that they might have been "Argo," "Les Miserables," "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty."
ROUND 2: Two nominees
The next step starts by determining whether any films received enough votes to trigger an Academy wrinkle called the surplus rule. Created so voters wouldn't be wasting their vote if they put a massively popular film at the top of their ballot, the rule takes any film that gets 10 percent more votes than it needs (down from 20 percent in the past), and re-allocates the unneeded portion of the vote to the film ranked second on the ballot.
For instance: If "Lincoln" needed 19 votes to be nominated and got 38, it really only required 50 percent of each of its votes to secure a slot. So on every ballot that included "Lincoln" in the top spot, 50 percent of the vote would have been shifted to the film ranked second on that ballot. If it got, say, 25 votes but only needed 19, then 76 percent of each vote would go to "Lincoln," and the remaining 24 percent to the No. 2 choice.
(If that choice was no longer in the running because the film didn't get any No. 1 votes and was already eliminated, the accountants went to the highest-ranked film on the ballot that was still in play.)
This year, said Britton, all four of the films that clinched first-round nominations also went into surplus.
Once the surplus votes were reallocated, according to the BFCA, two more films passed the magic number and clinched round-two nominations. (Again, I wasn't told what those films were, but I'm guessing "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Life of Pi.")
ROUND 3: Two nominees
Round three began with the accountants looking at the updated count. At this point, any film whose total votes were less than one percent of the ballots cast — in our hypothetical example with 200 votes cast, any film with fewer than two votes — was eliminated. Of the 28 films still in play after the first six films secured a nomination, Britton said that 10 fell below the 1 percent line.
Those 10 ballots were then reallocated, with their full votes going to each critic's No. 2 choice. Again, if that second choice had already been eliminated or had already secured a nomination, the vote would went to the highest-ranked film still in the running.
Once the less-than-1-percent ballots have been reallocated, the 18 films remaining on the table were subject to one final count. At this point, every film that had more than 5 percent of the vote — in our example, any film with 10 votes or more — became a best-picture nominee. Every film with fewer than 10 votes did not.
When CMM ran those numbers, two more films crossed the 5 percent threshold and became nominees. The remaining 16 films fell between 1 percent and 9 percent, and did not.
I'm guessing that the two films that made it in, as well as the two that did not, came from the group of "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," "The Master" and "Moonrise Kingdom."
NO MAN'S LAND
One interesting sidelight: In Academy's previous system, which was used to produce a fixed number of 10 nominees (and before that, a fixed five), ballots were redistributed round after round until only the desired number of films remained. By the time the counting was complete, most voters' ballots had been redistributed, and most had ample opportunity to help one of the nominees land its spot.
But under the new, variable-nominee system, the only ballots that underwent redistribution were the ones whose first choice triggered the suplus rule, and the ones whose top pick fell below one percent — in other words, votes for the most popular films, and for the least popular. The rest fell into a no-man's land, giving those voters less influence over the nominees than they would have had under the old system.
Of the 34 films that received first-place votes, here's the breakdown:
4 films: First-round nomination, redistributed under surplus rule
2: Second-round nomination
2: Third-round nomination
16: Not nominated, not redistributed
10: Fell below one precent, redistributed
Will the Academy's numbers play out the same way?
Only a couple of guys inside PricewaterhouseCoopers will ever know for sure, but check back to see if the final numbers agree when Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 10 — which, coincidentally, also happens to be the day that the Critics' Choice Movie Awards ceremony will take place in Santa Monica and air on the CW.