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Oscar Voting: Revamped and Reconfigured

Two years ago, the film awards community was rocked when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced its plan to increase the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten. This takes us back to the Academy’s roots, nearly seventy years ago, before the Academy cut its nominee count in half. Many people were appalled by the shift in policy, but I was one of the few on the supportive side of things.

This wasn’t just because of the “Dark Knight” snub debacle or that a top ten list is more rounded and proper than a top five, though both of those are good reasons. The truth is, there have been far too many snubs for a shot at the grand prize over the years and two many great films overlooked. I still have nightmares over the fact that brilliant work like “United 93,” “Children of Men,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Mulholland Dr.” never appeared on a Best Picture ballot. Overall, ten was just a more efficient number to catalogue the best films of the year.

Well, as of this year, the debate over whether it be five nominees, ten nominees or six and three quarters no longer exists, because no one will have any idea until the morning of. Sources report that, this winter, the Academy will have a to-be-determined number of nominees, and that amount will be subject to change on a yearly basis pending on how many votes each film receives. According to Academy executive director Bruce Davis, all films garnering at least five percent of the vote will be nominated. Based on former numbers, that would include somewhere between five to nine selections.

While, I will miss the uniformity and satisfaction of having an Oscar top ten list, this could be a much more efficient way of honoring the films. It’s not entirely logical that if seven films receive upwards of five to ten percent of voting and three more films get about one to two percent a piece, that they should be mandated for inclusion.

However, this policy is a bit of a double-edged sword. Just like the expansion to ten nominees was meant to allow for blockbuster films to make the cut, vote percentage regulations may hinder the chances of smaller indy films from making the cut. Sadly, this is not due to disdain for the films or bad marketing. It’s simply because voters don’t get around to seeing them. Using hypothetical numbers, let’s look at the case of a small film like “Winter’s Bone.” Fifty percent of voters who see the film might choose to nominate it. However, the amount of people who see the film may only be a small fraction compared to those who went to see something like “Avatar.” So even if only five percent of “Avatar” viewers choose to nominate it (compared to “Winter’s Bone”‘s fifty) that number may still dominate over the tiny indy. “Bone”‘s percentage might have been enough to gain its place in a top ten, but five percent of the vote is unlikely.

Meanwhile, on top of percentages, the Academy has chosen to revolutionize Oscar voting by taking steps to providing online ballots. This would be the first time that an awards show with as much history and prestige has made such a shift (the Emmys refuse to commit). Online balloting may help reduce the possibility of error and could help expedite the process, bumping the broadcast up to January. However, it raises the very real concern of computer hacking.

The Oscar results are one of the best kept secrets in the world up until the names are read out on live television. And while the services of PricewaterhousCooper is are beyond reproach, there is always an “if” factor. With hacking groups such as “Anonymous” breaking into everything from Sony to the CIA, the possibility exists. What self-repecting, however disrespecting to the public they may be, hacker wouldn’t want the opportunity to crack the Academy’s database and announce to the world Hollywood’s best kept secret.

Will it happen? Someone like me worries about a situation like that with the same fear of nuclear terrorism. I suppose only time will tell. In closing, I leave you with one of my favorite Oscar speeches.

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