The Producers Guild of America Awards have an enviable track record at presaging the eventual Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards. The guild and the academy have agreed on 16 of the most recent 23 Best Picture champs, including the last five in a row. (Read our preview of this year's PGA race here.)
This precursor prize picks a winner using the same kind of counting as the Oscars -- the preferential ballot. While the academy also uses this method to determine nominees in most other races (e.g., acting, directing, writing), the winners of those categories are decided by pure popular vote.
And that popular vote was the way the Best Picture winner was decided at the Oscars from 1946 to 2008. In 2009, when the academy went to 10 Best Picture nominees for the first time since 1943 and the preferential system of voting was reintroduced. The academy believes this "best allows the collective judgment of all voting members to be most accurately represented." The PGA followed suit expanding its field to 10 and using the preferential ballot.
Last year, the academy shifted to a sliding scale of Best Picture nominees that falls somewhere between five and 10, as decided by a complicated system of counting. However, the PGA has stuck with 10 nominees for Best Picture.
Of this year's PGA contenders, eight of them are also in the running for the top Academy Award -- "Argo," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," "Life of Pi," "Lincoln," "Les Miserables," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Zero Dark Thirty." Rounding out the roster at the PGA are "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Skyfall." The guild snubbed the French-language "Amour," which netted a Best Picture nod from the academy.
The preferential method was first used by the Oscars in 1934 when there were 12 Best Picture nominees (there had been between three and 10 in the first six years of the Academy Awards) and was used the following year when there were again 12 nominees, from 1936 to 1943 when there were 10 nominees, and in both 1944 and 1945 when there were just five contenders.
Voters rank the Best Picture nominees. If one nominee garners more than 50% of the first place votes, it will win Best Picture. If, as is more likely, no nominee reaches this threshold, the film with the fewest first place votes is eliminated, with its ballots being reapportioned to the second place choice.
Should no film cross the required 50% + one ballot threshold, the film with the fewest first place votes is again eliminated, with its ballots being apportioned to the next choice still in play (i.e., if the second place choice is no longer in the running, then the ballot would be reapportioned to the third place choice and so on.)
This process of elimination and reapportion continues until one film reaches at least 50% + one ballots. That is the Best Picture. While passionate support gets a film nominated, it is the consensus choice that prevails as the winner.