One of the big questions about the 2020 Oscars is whether or not there will be a split between the winners of Best Picture and Best Director, as we’ve seen in three of the last four years. Before the academy reintroduced the preferential ballot for Best Picture in 2010, such divides were fairly rare. Now, they are the rule rather than the exception at the Academy Awards. (Scroll down for the most up-to-date 2020 Oscars predictions for Best Director.)
Why is this?
Unlike every other Oscar category, which are decided by a popular vote, the winner of the Best Picture award is determined by a weighted ballot. Voters rank their choices from first to last. If one nominee garners more than 50% of the first place vote, it automatically wins. If, however, no nominee can meet that threshold, the film with the fewest first place votes gets eliminated, with its ballot getting reapportioned to the second place choice. This process continues until one nominee reaches 50% plus one vote. The goal, says the academy, is to award the top Oscar to a consensus choice.
So while Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“The Revenant”), Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) and Cuaron again (“Roma”), all won the Best Director Oscar, their films lost to “Argo” (2013), “12 Years a Slave” (2014), “Spotlight” (2016), “Moonlight” (2017) and “Green Book” (2019) respectively.
Given the two different voting systems, it’s easy to understand how this can happen. Indeed, this was a fairly common phenomenon between 1934 and 1945, when Best Picture was first determined by a preferential ballot. “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1936), “The Great Ziegfeld” (1937), “The Life of Emile Zola” (1938), and “Rebecca” (1941) all won Best Picture but their helmers lost to “The Informer” (John Ford), “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (Frank Capra), “The Awful Truth” (Leo McCarey) and “The Grapes of Wrath” (Ford) respectively.
Inarritu also won Best Director for a film that took the top Academy Award: “Birdman” (2015). As with “The Revenant,” this too was a bravura directorial achievement and had strong support throughout the creative categories. Indeed, six of the last sevenfilms that won Oscars for helming also took home the lensing prize. When it comes to Best Director, bigger is better. So, who is making that kind of movie this year?
UPDATED: February 9, 2020
Please note: To read full descriptions of each film, check out our Best Picture predictions.
Sam Mendes, “1917” (Universal – December 25)
Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite” (Neon – October 11)
Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman” (Netflix – November 1; streams Nov. 27)
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Sony – July 26)
Todd Phillips, “Joker” (Warner Bros. – October 4)
Click on the linked categories below to read our previews of each of these races.