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More Thoughts on the Best Picture/Best Director Voting Divergence

I read an interesting article over at The LA Times which suggested that we may be able to spot how radically the new voting rules have changed the way that the Academy awards people and films.

Going for gold...

Going for gold...

The article makes the very well observed point that having the newly-approved STV for the Best Picture race and simple plurality for everything else may lead to anomalies. There’s really no reason for such an inconsistent style other than that it’s the way that the Academy operates and it’s none of our damned business.

I’m a stickler, and I like things to make sense when viewed across the board, but I can see the reason for the aberration: simple plurality is even more ridiculous if you only need 9% of the popular vote to take home an Oscar.

There’s been a common perception that despite the growth of the category it will still remain a five horse race. There will only be five director nominees and only three films have ever won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination and only one of those within the last fifty years (Driving Miss Daisy).

The article makes the point that the winners of the Best Picture and Best Director categories line up 80% of the time when the plurality system is used, but that number drops drastically down to 67% when you look at years that used transferable votes.

It’s worth noting (as a minor point) that the change in voting systems also makes more likely that not only will a film that hasn’t won Best Director win Best Picture, but that a film not even nominated for Best Director is more likely to walk away with the prize. Not much more likely in the grand scheme of things, but more likely.

To give you an example of the statistics, based up the voting record, there is a 1.6% chance of a Best Picture nominee without a corresponding Best Director nominee walking home with a statue if both are decided using the old system (plurality). Under the new system, the odds go up to 16.7%.

Of course, looking at the numbers may not accurately factor in the sociological factors around the award – the only time that STV has been used by the academy before was in the early days, when it was a much more liberal (relatively speaking) organisation. The tradition of a film with a Best Director nomination being more likely to win the Best Picture Oscar may be firmly entrenched in voter’s minds and may reflect the current state of mind of the Academy as much as a statistical divergence between two voting styles.

Still, while these number may not be conclusive of anything in particular (we’ll know next year, I guess), the LA Times do cite the fact that Alfred Hitchcock was able to walk away with a Best Picture statuette for Rebecca, despite the fact he never one a Best Director Oscar. Maybe there is a deeper logic behind the system after all.

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