Last year, the academy tinkered with the nomination process for Best Picture so that there will be between five and 10 nominees. To reap a bid, a film has to be one of the top choices of at least 5% of the members taking part in the nomination phase.
What matters most with the nomination process is where the film ranks on the ballot. Oscar voters can list up to five films. To be nominated for Best Picture, a film must be ranked first on at least one ballot.
The five chosen by all our Experts as Best Picture nominees were also the only ones to top their individual lists. "Lincoln" is first with 13 Experts, followed by "Argo" (6); "Zero Dark Thirty" (5); "Les Miserables" (3); and Silver Linings Playbook" (1).
With only 28 participants, our pool of Experts is dwarfed by the size of the academy membership (5,856). However, we also have 1,636 readers (Users) making predictions.
Looking at the collective results of the Users, their top four match up with our Experts. They have "The Master" in the fifth slot with 121 first place votes, just behind "Zero Dark Thirty" (122).
Beyond this, our Users' top ten includes:
"Silver Linings Playbook" -- 56 first place votes
"The Dark Knight Rises" - 20
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" - 12
"Life of Pi" -12
"The Hunger Games" - 10
"Anna Karenina," "Django Unchained" and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" each have eight first place votes each, followed closely by "Moonrise Kingdom" at six. All of these films are in play because they ranked first on at least one ballot.
The first step in the process is for the accountants to calculate the magic number. In our example, it is 1,636 divided by 11 and rounded up to the nearest whole digit -- i.e., 149. If each of 10 films got 149 first place votes that totals 1,490, leaving only 146 ballots in play and thereby ruling out an 11th nominee.
This number (149) works its magic in that any film with at least this many first place votes is automatically a nominee.
Among our 1,636 Users that would be:
"Lincoln" - 462
"Les Miserables" - 314
"Argo" - 262
And because the support for each of these is so overwhelming -- i.e., listed first on at least 10% more ballots than this initial threshold required for a nomination -- the surplus rule will be triggered. The rationale for this rule is so that someone can vote for a hugely popular picture without fear that their ballot doesn't matter.
In our scenario -- where the threhold is 149 first place votes votes -- the surplus rule applies to those films which received at least 164 first place votes. Each of these ballots is apportioned as follows: a share goes to the first place film such that it reaches the initial nomination threshold and the remaining share goes to the second place film on the ballot if it is still in play or otherwise to the next film on the list that is still in play (i.e., not already nominated or eliminated).
Thus, the 462 ballots listing "Lincoln" first are apportioned as follows: .32 to "Lincoln" which, in total , will combine to create the requisite 149 votes, and .68 to the film in second place if it is still in play (otherwise to the next film listed which is still in play). Those fractional votes are the equivalent of 313 ballots in all.
Likewise, the same rule applies to the 314 first-place votes for "Les Miserables" (.47 to "Les Miz" and .53 to the next film still in play, which is the equivalent of another 165 ballots) as well as the 262 first-place votes for "Argo" (.57 to "Argo" and .43 to the next film still in play, which is the equivalent of another 113 ballots).
Which films are voters for these three pictures likely to list on the rest of their top five? Remember, as all three of these reached the threshold of 149 votes already, none of them need the benefit of the partial votes. So, if a voter lists "Lincoln" first and then "Les Miz" in second place, the accountants look to the third place picture to assign the partial vote of .68.
Following the surplus rule redistribution, those films which have less than 1% of the ballots assigned to them (in our scenario, that would be 17 ballots) are taken out of the running. These ballots are redistributed to the next film listed on them which is still in play (i.e. they will not be shifted to other films with less than 1% support found lower down on these ballots).
Among our Users' top choices, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Life of Pi" had 12 first place votes each. With all the partial votes triggered by the surplus rule, it is reasonable to expect that they can cobble together enough votes to pass the 17 vote cut-off as would "Django Unchained" (8) and "Moonrise Kingdom" (6). Popcorn pictures such as "The Hunger Games" and "The Hobbit" might have a harder time reaching this threshold and those ballots listing these films first would go to the next one still in play.
At this point, the counting is over and all those films with at least 5% of the total votes cast (in our scenario, 82 votes) will be the Best Picture nominees.
Three films -- "Lincoln," "Les Miserables" and "Argo" -- reached the magic number of 149 and triggered the surplus rule putting a combined 591 votes in play.
In addition, both "The Master" (122 first place votes) and "Zero Dark Thirty" (121) have enough support on their own to be nominees.
"Silver Linings Playbook" started off with 56 first place votes and is all but guaranteed to find the requisite 26 needed from all those partial votes generated by the surplus rule.
Our Users could be underestimating the depth and breadth of support for four films -- "Life of Pi," "Django Unchained," "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Moonrise Kingdom." Among our Experts, they each rank ahead of "The Master" which just makes it into their top 10. In the 11th slot for the Experts is "Amour." Which, of any of these, will cross over the threshold and reap a Best Picture nomination? We will know Jan. 10 at 5:40 a.m. PT.