Try it: Ranking Best Picture nominees in order of preference is not as easy as it seems

The preliminaries of the 2019 Academy Awards season are over. The critics, the fans, the guilds and we blowhards in the media have all had our say (not really) and it is now in the hands of the voters who matter.

More than 8,000 members of the academy have till Tuesday (Feb. 19) to make their final decisions about the worthiest winners in 24 categories. For 23 of them, they can just check off their favorite and blow off the rest. But because of the preferential system used for tabulating Best Picture, they have to rank those nominees one through eight.

If you’re not a member of the academy or the Producers Guild, which uses the same system, you probably haven’t given a lot of thought to ranking the films behind your favorite. Even on Gold Derby, which gives us the option to rank them, it doesn’t matter how we do it because our mission is to pick the winner.

SEE Which film wins Best Picture at the Oscars when PGA and DGA disagree?

After a decade of an expanded Best Picture ballot and the adoption of this freakishly complicated tabulating system, academy members know that the films they place second or third, or fourth or fifth, may play as important a role in the outcome as their first choice.

The theory behind the preferential system is that it provides the clearest picture of the movies’ overall support of the members. However, the academy’s reason for adopting it is that it keeps more than one film in play until the final envelope is opened Oscar night (and in the case of “Moonlight”/”La La Land,” even longer).

Voters on their good behavior will try to rank them in order of their actual preferences, but does that mean in order of how much they like or dislike the films, or by their professional opinions as to how they are made?

Critics who publish annual 10 Best lists know how difficult it is to sort their favorites in incremental order, which is why some cop-out and list them alphabetically or give up and go 20 or 30 deep. And as important as those lists are to the critics and their fans, they aren’t counted for anything, except for maybe a blurb in a newspaper ad.

We can only imagine what goes through the Oscar voters’ minds during this process, or we ask them. But sampling the opinions of a handful of 8,000 voters only clouds the picture. Like the rest of us, academy members watch movies through a prism of their own expectations and prejudices and adjust their preferences accordingly. They may be able to tell you which is their favorite and perhaps their second and third favorites. After that, c’mon.

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Here on Gold Derby, you may have been keeping a scorecard of the Best Picture nominees but have you tried to list them in the order of how you actually feel about them? Welcome to the preferential ballot. If I had one, it would look like this.

1. “Roma” (10 nominations).
Whether you thought it was a masterpiece or a butt-numbing bore, this is the Oscar movie on the ballot, a film that will stand out for its use of cinematic tools for years to come. It was a stupendous feat for Alfonso Cuaron to pull an extended memory from his childhood in Mexico City and bring it alive as its writer, director, cinematographer, editor and co-producer. Voters have a lot to think about with it. Cuaron is going to win for direction and while that no longer points to a likely best picture win, as well, it will be hard for voters to deny such a virtuoso effort.

2. “The Favourite” (10 nominations).
Technically, it has one more nomination than “Roma” since it’s not competing for foreign language film. Typical of Hollywood’s costume dramas, its tale of intrigue in Queen Anne’s court is a thing of beauty, but typical of a David Lynch film, or in this case a Yorgos Lanthimos film, beneath its surface sheen is a horde of beetles. I have a weakness for dark comedies, and this baby gets dark. It also features three of the best female lead performances of last year, though two have been down-ballotted into the supporting actress category.

3. “Green Book” (six nominations).
Obvious comparisons have been drawn between this road movie about a black musician and his white chauffeur to 1989 Oscar-winner “Driving Miss Daisy,” about a white dowager and her black chauffeur, and its ending alone is worth a thousand first place votes. It seems dated and slight for an Oscar movie, but it would have been hard to find two characters more fun to hang out with for a couple of hours than those played by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

4. “BlackKklansman” (six nominations).
Spike Lee’s best movie since “Malcolm X” has hung in among the front-runners since its release in August and it’s going to land near the top of many ballots. But the movie has won nothing other than Lee’s BAFTA for screenplay, losing Sunday’s adapted screenplay award from the Writers Guild to “Eighth Grade.”

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5. “Black Panther” (seven nominations).
This is the dream that has been deferred ever since the academy expanded the ballot with the hope of getting an action blockbuster – and catnip for the youth audience it covets – on the ballot. Its seven nominations falls short of “Mad Max: Fury Road’s” 10 three years ago, but given it is a Marvel superhero movie with a mostly black cast and some serious cultural allegory mixed in with its breath-taking imagery, it’s been an Oscar flirt for more than a year. Alas, it is a Marvel superhero movie and the academy’s older members are not going to have it high on their lists, if they even watch it.

6. “A Star is Born” (eight nominations).
It seems like forever ago when it received those ecstatic reviews for the achievements of first-time director Bradley Cooper (he can sing!), Lady Gaga (she can act!) and Sam Elliott (him, too!). But its failure to win any major awards has dimmed its prospects on every ballot except best song. Even if you think it’s among the three or four best nominees, you might want to save those spots for stronger contenders.

7. “Bohemian Rhapsody” (five nominations).
Rami Malek gives a great lip-synching performance in the musical sequences of the Freddie Mercury biopic, especially in the long reproduction of Queen‘s Live Aid performance, but you can watch and hear that actual performance on You Tube and why wouldn’t you?

8. “Vice” (eight nominations).
Former vice president Dick Cheney is an escape artist. He’s survived multiple heart attacks, got Bush to take credit for the disastrous Iraq War that he talked him into, and slithered out of office without so much as an admission of failure, even with a final approval rating of 13%. As the subject of writer-director Adam McKay’s political parody, he emerges again without a significant scratch. Christian Bale gives a remarkably accurate physical portrayal of Cheney, even perfecting his flat Plains states accent, but the movie’s humor is closer to Monty Python than “Wag the Dog.”

Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own 2019 Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on February 24.



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