Oscar Race Gets Dumb and Ugly

The latest campaign fuss reveals continuing confusion over how the preferential ballot works

Last Updated: February 27, 2010 @ 10:35 AM

Not only are things getting ugly, but they’ve gone from dumb to dumber.

The latest Oscar-campaigning imbroglio, says the L.A. Times, is that “Hurt Locker” financier and producer Nicolas Chartier didn’t just send out that one email asking voters to pick his little movie over the “$500M film.” He also sent emails in which he urged fans of his film to not only rank “Hurt Locker” first on their ballots, but to rank “Avatar” tenth.

(Of course, those were apparently private emails sent to friends, not mass emails, which means that the Academy has no jurisdiction and it’s none of our business, in addition to being nothing out of the ordinary.)

This came on top of a couple of voters who told Sharon Waxman that their ballots were unclear on how they were supposed to rank the Best Picture nominees, so they just voted for one film and left the rest blank.

And the Academy member who urged his friends to use that same tactic for strategic reasons, reasoning that if you just rank one film you can’t accidentally hurt your favorite by helping something else “move up” as votes are counted.

best picture ballotI guess it’s time for one more primer on the system. Because, really, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out. Even for Nicolas Chartier.

You’ve got ten circles. Write “1” next to the film you like best. “2 “next to your second choice. Etc. If you belong in the Academy, you should have seen all 10 movies and you should be able to rank them.

Now, I realize that the wording on the ballot actually tells you to place the number one in the circle next to “the picture which you feel most deserves recognition as the Best Picture of the Year.” And I actually heard from one Academy member who thinks that that phrase, “most deserves,” is prejudicial and will help serious, important films over popcorn movies.

But let’s forget about that for a minute. As Clint said in “Unforgiven,” “deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

So rank them all. And despite what Nick Chartier may have told you, or despite what you heard from the other schemers out there plotting to somehow “rig” the system, you don’t need to play games by putting your favorite film’s biggest competitor down low, or leaving it off entirely.

Here’s the deal about all this scheming and strategizing:

IT DOESN’T WORK.

And it’s not necessary.

That’s one of the reasons for the preferential system: it makes game-playing like this irrelevant.

If you want “The Hurt Locker” to win but you think “Avatar” is the second-best movie of the year, then you should rank “The Hurt Locker” first and “Avatar” second. Your vote will never help “Avatar” defeat “Hurt Locker.” It can’t.  If "Hurt Locker" gets eliminated (through no fault of yours), then your ballot will help your second choice, "Avatar," defeat something that you liked less but would have unwittingly helped if you were trying to be cute with your vote. 

Under this system, you’re not giving different numbers of points to different movies. You are casting a single vote, for a single movie. By placing “Hurt Locker” first on your ballot, you have voted for that movie. And your vote remains with that movie as the count proceeds, round after round after round, even as the least-popular movies are eliminated and their ballots redistributed based on their Number Two choices.

The ONLY instance in which your vote would shift to your Number Two choice would be if your top pick is eliminated. And you would have nothing to do with that elimination.

If you want to help your favorite movie, write a “1” in its circle. That’s all you need to do. Then fill out the rest of your ballot honestly, and get it to PricewaterhouseCoopers by Tuesday.

And if you’re Nicolas Chartier, stop trying to tell people how to game a system that you don’t understand. In fact, don’t even go online for the next nine days.