New-Look Oscars Banks on Power of 10

An expanded field of 10 movies are vying for honours on Sunday at the Oscars, where a complex new voting system will be used to determine the winner of the coveted best picture prize.

In a move designed to boost television ratings for the Academy Awards, organizers last year doubled the best picture race from five to 10 nominees, allowing for the inclusion of crowd-pleasing films on the Oscars shortlist.

The decision followed the controversial omission at last year’s awards of 2008 Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight, a much-admired movie that many in Hollywood felt was deserving of a best picture nomination.

The expansion of this year’s race has led to the inclusion of a number of box-office hits, with James Cameron’s record-breaking science-fiction epic Avatar leading the field of mainstream nominees.

But the crowded field has forced the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to revise the vote system used to settle the big picture race.

In previous years, a film needed only to secure the biggest number of votes to win according to the “first-past-the-post” system. Had that system been used this year, a film with only 11 percent of the votes could win.

This time a preferential ballot will be used in order to more broadly represent the collective judgment of the nearly 6,000 Academy voters.

“Instead of just marking an ‘X’ to indicate which one picture they believe to be the best, members will indicate their second, third, and further preferences as well,” Academy President Tom Sherak said.

If no movie wins more than 50 percent of the ballot in the first round, the film with the fewest number of first-choice votes is eliminated. The film’s votes are then allocated to movies ranked in second place. The process is continued until one movie emerges as the clear winner.

Analysts are divided about what the new voting system could mean for Sunday’s Oscars, with some saying it could lead to an upset victory for a film like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

Though Avatar and The Hurt Locker are seen as the favourites, some pundits believe Inglourious Basterds may be a popular second choice and so enter the reckoning after the first round of counting.

Legendary producer Harvey Weinstein bullishly predicted last month that Inglourious Basterds was poised to score what would be a monumental upset.

“We’re going to win best picture,” Weinstein said. “This is the movie people love and it’s Quentin’s time. We are going for it and we are gonna get it.”

Yet Academy Awards expert Gabriel Rossman, a professor of sociology at the University of California Los Angeles, said he believed the voting system would be weighted against Basterds.

“The voting system is designed to prevent a situation where several broadly popular films ‘split the vote’ and the plurality goes to a more cohesive minority,” Rossman said.

“Inglourious Basterds might have a few fans but also a lot of people who hate it. This is the kind of film that the new system is designed to exclude,” Rossman added, saying The Hurt Locker and Avatar were the films to beat.

Rossman predicted the larger best picture field would lead to better television ratings, which have broadly dipped over the past decade.

“Since people actually saw many of these movies, I expect they are more likely to be interested in the awards show,” he said.

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