In every other category at the Oscars, the nominee with the most votes wins. It sounds obvious. Except that since 2010 the voting rules for the biggest award of the night were changed. The Academy realised that if two major films polarised the vote, a third could sneak past, so they changed the rules. This is meant to ensure that the most popular overall wins, even if it is not everyone’s first choice. Suddenly outsiders like Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody with huge popular backing and massive box office success stand a chance.
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The new system also means that four of the last six Best Directors have not also won Best Picture.
At the moment the overwhelming favourite for both is Alfonso Cuaron and Roma. Bohemian Rhapsody and Black Panther are clear outsiders.
Under the new system, however, a Best Picture nominee must receive more than 50% of the vote to be the clear winner. This is a tough task in a broad field, especially since the category was expanded to allow up to ten nominees.
If no film does so, a complicated system kicks in, where second and third choices suddenly hold the deciding vote but in a very specific order.
The entire system is administered as ever by Price Waterhouse Cooper, despite the staggering mix-up in 2017 when La La Land was announced instead of Moonlight.
Basically, in the event of no clear winner, the film in last place is discarded and the film in second place has those ballot numbers added to the main vote. It continues like this until a film passes the 50% barrier.
Just to make your head hurt a little more, if the film in second place on a discarded ballot has already been discarded itself, then the third place (or fourth or fifth etc) votes are redistributed.
Can this realistically help Bohemian Rhapsody or Black Panther? Both are far behind the favourites in all the predictions and bookies’ odds.
However, they may be helped by more than the voting procedure. Rather like Brexit or Trump, both could be helped by “shy voters”. People might publicly signal they support the more highly regarded and artistically credible contender but privately cast their vote for a guilty pleasure or crowd pleaser.
If anything, though, the system is most likely to help Green Book, which is broadly popular, handsomely made and ticks all the boxes of representation, diversity and moral satisfaction. It could cause one of the big upsets of the night.
All will be revealed from 8pm EST (1am in the UK) tonight.