Guaranteed 10 Best Picture nominees means multiple rounds of counting for first time since 2011

For the 2022 Oscars, the academy returns to a guaranteed 10 Best Picture nominees, as was the case in 2010 and 2011. Since then, there had been a variable number between 5 and 10, which necessitated a modification to the traditional counting using the preferential ballot. From 2012 to 2021, there was just a single round of counting and a film had to be one of the top choices of at least 5% of the members taking part in the nomination phase to be even eligible for a Best Picture nomination.

To illustrate how the system of instant run-off voting works, let’s apply it to last year’s Best Picture race (but expand it to a full slate of 10 nominees, rather than just the eight that we actually got using the old system). Between our experts (journalists who cover this beat year-round), website editors and readers like you, we cast 7,147 nomination ballots for Best Picture. (By comparison, the academy had 9,362 members last year.) As per the preferential system, we sorted these ballots by first choice and only those movies listed at the top of at least one ballot continued on in the process.

There will be 10 nominees for Best Picture. In our scenario, the initial threshold — i.e., magic number — for a nomination was set at 650 votes (i.e., 7,147 divided by 11 and rounded up). If each of 10 films reaches this cut-off, they will account for 6,500 votes, making it mathematically impossible for an 11th film to get more than 647 votes.

“Nomadland” had a staggering 5,819 first place votes and earned a bid (as it did in the actual nominations). Usually, these ballots would be set to one side at this point.

However, this newly minted nominee was so popular that it reaped at least 10% more first place votes than needed to be nominated — in our scenario that is 715 votes  — thus triggering the surplus rule (the other categories invoke the surplus rule with a 20% excess). The rationale for this rule is to ensure that someone can vote for a hugely popular contender without fear that their ballot doesn’t matter.

When this happens, the ballots for this nominee are apportioned as follows: a share goes to the nominee such that it reaches the needed number for a nomination and the remaining share goes to the movie below it on the ballot which is still in the running and not yet nominated.

“Nomadland” only needed 650 first-place votes to reach the initial threshold so each of its 5,819 votes is apportioned with .118 of the vote staying with it and .882 going to the film listed in second place, assuming it got at least one first-place vote from someone to remain eligible and is not already deemed to be a nominee. Those fractional votes are the equivalent of 5,169 ballots in all.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” had 614 first-place votes, which is tantalizing close to the 650 needed for a nomination. The only other two contenders to register in the triple digits were “Minari” (173 votes) and “Mank” (154 votes). With so many “Nomadland” ballots being apportioned, let’s assume that all three of these films topped the 650 vote mark in this first round.

Before beginning round two, a new second threshold needs to be calculated based on the ballots remaining in the process and the number of nominees still left to be determined. We started with 7,147 ballots and have removed 6,660 [5,819 (“Nomadland”) + 614 (“The Trial of the Chicago 7” ) + 173 (“Minari”) + 154 (“Mank”) ] leaving 487.

As there are six spots left, we divide these 487 ballots by seven and round up giving us a new second threshold of 70. If a half dozen films each got this many votes they would account for 420 votes, leaving only 67 in play.

“Promising Young Woman” had 81 first-place votes initially and would have become the fifth nominee at this stage.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” came into this round with 48 first-place votes while “The Father” had 29. Perhaps they would receive enough of the fractional votes from the surplus rule applied to those ballots listing “Nomadland” first to reach this new threshold to become the sixth and seventh nominees.

While “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (with 66 first-place votes) and “One Night in Miami” (with 41 first-place votes) did not make the cut using last year’s system of one round of counting, they would have under this expanded method and would be the eighth and ninth nominees.

Before beginning round three, a new third threshold is calculated. We remove the 265 ballots listing these five nominees leaving a new total of 222. With one slots to fill, we divide this total by two, giving us a new threshold of 112.

At this point, the accountants redistribute the ballots of the movies with the fewest first-place votes to the next film further down on the ballot that is still in search of a nomination. This will be done with the ballots of each film with has the least first-place votes until one reaches the new threshold of 112.

“Sound of Metal” did reap a bid last year. In our tally, it started out with 13 votes, which was the same as “Da 5 Bloods.” The only contender that was not nominated for Best Picture with more first-place votes was “Soul.”

While the Best Picture champ is determined by a version of this preferential system, the winners of the other races are those that top the popular vote — i.e, a voter picks just one of the nominees and the Oscar goes to the one with the most votes.

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