On Monday, the Broadcast Film Critics Association nominated 10 films in the best-picture category for the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. Most awards-watchers think that 10 is an appropriate number for 2013, a year in which a large number of films have won praise – and a year, a number of observers have said, in which the Academy ought to use all 10 of the potential slots in its own Best Picture nominations.
But as we’ve pointed out in this space before, more good movies does not necessarily equal more nominations under the system the Academy has used for the last two years. And in a Critics’ Choice recount undertaken on behalf of TheWrap, it turns out that if those ballots had been tallied using the Academy’s method, eight movies would have been nominated, not 10.
This is the third year in a row that TheWrap has run its own simulation of the Oscar process with the cooperation of officials from the Broadcast Film Critics Association and of Gregory Mogab and Debby Britton from the BFCA’s accounting firm, CMM, LLP.
Every time, the Oscar system would have reduced the number of Critics’ Choice nominees from 10 to eight – though it’s also worth nothing that the first two times we did this, Oscar voters subsequently nominated nine films.
While the BFCA is a far smaller group than the Academy — it is made up of just under 300 television, radio and online critics, as opposed to more than 6,000 movie-business professionals — its nominations are typically a reliable indicator of Oscar success. Of the 38 Oscar Best Picture nominees since the Academy went from five to 10 nominations in 2009, 35 have also been nominated by the BFCA (of which I am a member).
(The three that didn’t: “The Blind Side,” “The Kids Are All Right” and “Amour.”)
Britton, who conducted the recount under instructions provided by TheWrap, did not share the names of the films that were nominated (and the ones that were eliminated), but she did offer a numerical breakdown of how the system played out.
Here’s the blow-by-blow, which also illustrates how the Oscar count works:
STEP 1: The Initial Count
After counting the total number of ballots cast, you begin by determining the “magic number” required to guarantee a nomination. That is done by dividing the total number of ballots by 11 (the number of available nominations, plus one). Example: If 250 critics voted, the number would be 22.7. If the result is a whole number, you add 1; if it’s a decimal, you go up to the next highest whole number.
On the ballot, BFCA voters were asked to rank their top five films 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, 31 different films received first-place votes. This was the smallest number in the last three years: 34 received first-place votes last year, and 33 the year before.
Any film that had more than the magic number of votes became an automatic nominee. Britton found that three films reached that number immediately.
(Considering that the three films with the largest number of CCMA nominations were “12 Years a Slave,” “American Hustle” and “Gravity,” an educated guess is that they were the likeliest round-one nominees.)
STEP 2: The Surplus Rule
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, and re-allocates the unneeded portion of each vote to the film ranked second on the ballot.
For instance: If “12 Years” needed 23 votes to be nominated and got 46, it really only required 50 percent of each of its votes to secure a slot. So on every ballot that included the film in the top spot, 50 percent of the vote would be shifted to the film ranked second on that ballot. If it got, say, 20 percent more votes than it needed, then that percentage would be shifted to the No. 2 choice on each “12 Years” ballot.
If the No. 2 choice was no longer in the running because the film didn’t get any No. 1 votes and was already eliminated, or conversely because it had already secured a nomination, the accountants would go to the ballot’s highest-ranked film still in play.
This year, said Britton, two of the three films that clinched first-round nominations also went into surplus.
Once the surplus votes were reallocated, one more film passed the magic number to become the fourth nominee. (Most likely, it was drawn from “Captain Phillips,” “Her,” “Nebraska” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”)
STEP 3: Redistribution
At this point, any film picked No. 1 on fewer than one percent of the ballots cast is eliminated. Of the 27 films still in play after the first four films secured nominations, Britton said that 14 fell below the 1 percent line.
Ballots for those 14 films were then reallocated, with their 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 have gone to the highest-ranked film still in the running. If none of the 13 films remaining in contention were listed on the voter’s ballot, that ballot was discarded.
STEP 4: The 5 Percent Rule
Once the less-than-1-percent ballots were reallocated, every film that had more than 5 percent of the vote became a best-picture nominee. Every film with less than that did not.
When CMM ran those numbers, four more films crossed the 5 percent threshold to raise the number of nominees to eight. The remaining nine films fell between 1 percent and 5 percent, and were not nominated.
CMM wouldn’t reveal which two nominees would have missed the cut under the Oscar system, though the three contenders with the fewest overall nominations were “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
The variable system also produces a “no man’s land” of ballots whose first choices received between 1 percent and 5 percent of the vote. Under the old system used by the Academy to produce a full 10 nominees, most of those ballots would have been redistributed during numerous subsequent rounds of re-allocation, and almost all voters would eventually contribute to the selection of at least one film.
Under the current system, though, the only ballots that undergo redistribution are the ones whose first choice triggers the suplus rule, and the ones whose top pick falls below 1 percent — in other words, votes for the most popular films, and for the least popular.
In 2011, TheWrap ran a simulation that suggested as many as 28 percent of the ballots could fall into this category, and be discarded without influencing the final slate of nominees. But then-AMPAS executive director Bruce Davis said that his simulations suggested that the number of “wasted” ballots would be far less than that.
In the Critics’ Choice reallocation, though, Britton said that 35 percent of the ballots would have ended up in that category.
Of the 31 films that received first-place votes, here’s the breakdown:
First-round nomination, redistributed under surplus rule: 2 films
First-round nomination, no redistribution: 1 film
Second-round nomination: 1 film
Third-round nomination: 4 films
Not nominated, not redistributed: 9 films
Fell below one precent, redistributed: 14 films
Will the Academy’s numbers play out the same way? Or will AMPAS voters nominate one more film than our simulation suggests, as it did the last two years?
We’ll find out when Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 16. And about 12 hours after the Academy announces its nominees that morning, the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards ceremony will take place in Santa Monica and air on the CW.