Tangney: For Best Picture at the Oscars, it’s better to be liked than loved

Feb 21, 2019, 12:41 PM | Updated: Feb 22, 2019, 3:44 pm
Oscars 2019...
(Andrew Callabero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
(Andrew Callabero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

When it comes to the Oscars, it might be better to be liked than loved.

Thanks to the Academy Awards’ preferential voting system for Best Picture, the winner may not be the movie with the most top votes. It very well may be a less loved, but more generally liked, film that takes home Oscar gold.

Or as the Los Angeles Times put it last year, it might best be described as the “Least Disliked of the Best Picture Nominees.”

How can this be? Let me explain.

When the Academy expanded the number of Best Picture nominees to up to ten in 2009, it also instituted preferential voting for the top award. Each voter must rank the Best Picture nominees from first to last. It’s these rankings that ultimately determine the winner, unless the top vote getter earns at least 51 percent in the initial vote.

With eight films nominated this year, that’s a pretty tall order; not impossible, mind you, but not easy, especially with no heavy favorite. If no one clears that 50th percentile, then the film with the lowest number of votes is dropped, and those votes are redistributed to the movies that were picked second on those ballots.

This continues until one film clears the 50 percent mark.

Let’s imagine this scenario. On a first ballot, in which only the first place votes are counted, let’s say the breakdown looks like this, with the current favorite Roma winning an impressive percentage but not one over 50 percent.

Roma – 35 percent
The Favourite – 15 percent
Green Book – 12 percent
A Star Is Born – 11 percent
Blackkklansman 9 percent
Black Panther – 8 percent
Bohemian Rhapsody – 6 percent
Vice – 4 percent

Vice would now get dropped from contention and its 4 percent would be redistributed to those voters’ second favorite film. Let’s say that that 2 percent was divided between Blackkklansman and Green Book, giving the former 11 percent and the latter 14 percent. But still, no film is close to the 50 percent standard.

Bohemian Rhapsody is the next lowest vote getter, so now its 6 percent is distributed to the films listed in second place. Let’s say 4 percent go to the other music-centric film, A Star Is Born, and 2 percent go to Black Panther.

The new vote rundown would then look like this:

Roma – 35 percent
The Favourite – 15 percent
A Star Is Born – 15 percent
Green Book -14 percent
Blackkklansman 11 percent
Black Panther – 10 percent

Despite the 2 percent pick-up from Bohemian Rhapsody, Black Panther is still the lowest vote getter, so its 10 percent is now divvied up. Let’s give 5 percent to Blackkklansman, 4 percent to Green Book, and 1 percent to A Star Is Born. That changes our rundown a lot:

Roma – 35 percent
Green Book – 18 percent
A Star is Born – 16 percent
Blackkklansman – 16 percent
The Favourite – 15 percent

Suddenly, the second favorite film on the first ballot is now eliminated. In our scenario, The Favourite was not listed on any of the recycled ballots as the next best movie, and so it fades into oblivion. We now have 15 percent of the votes to be redistributed.

Let’s give 5 percent of The Favourite’s vote to Roma, 5 percent to Green Book, 3 percent to A Star Is Born, and 2 percent to Blackkklansman. Now that leaves us with:

Roma – 40 percent
Green Book – 23 percent
A Star is Born – 19 percent
Blackkklansman – 18 percent

In a squeaker, Blackklansman loses out to A Star is Born, and its 18 percent vote is redistributed. Let’s say, 14 percent to Green Book, 2 percent to A Star is Born, and 2 percent to Roma.

Roma – 42 percent
Green Book – 37 percent
A Star is Born – 21 percent

Now it’s the popular A Star is Born that has to concede. Its whopping 21 percent is divvied up with 14 percent to the more commercial Green Book, and 7 percent to the arthouse darling Roma.

Green Book -51 percent
Roma – 49 percent

In this entirely made-up scenario, the first ballot’s third place film nips the first place movie in the end, and is declared the Oscar winner for Best Picture.

Personally, I still think Roma is going to win. But if it doesn’t, I imagine it’ll be a scenario like this that topples it.

Why? Because Roma is the kind of movie that people either love or — not hate exactly — but find kind of boring. A gorgeous, black-and-white Mexican film with subtitles may not have universal appeal. It certainly does not cater to traditional movie expectations. That’s one of the things that helps make Roma great, but it also could doom its chances for the top prize.

Tom Tangney on KIRO Radio

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Tangney: For Best Picture at the Oscars, it’s better to be liked than loved