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As you hedge your bets on the nominees, have you wondered how actors like Brad Pitt, Mickey Rourke and Michael Shannon were selected? RONALD WAN finds out the magic formula


Kate Winslet in The Reader: I told you it's complicated.

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When I asked people if they knew who selected the Oscar nominees, they usually gave me a similar response, “Oh, just a bunch of folks at the Academy.” Seriously, if I knew who these folks were, I would kill them for missing out on Paul Giamatti in Sideways and Kate Winslet in Finding Neverland several years ago.

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Anyway, I found out how the Oscars nominees were selected. It’s a tedious process. Whatever I’m about to tell you, it’s as complicated as Lost or Whitney Houston’s love life. I have divided my thesis into 10 bulleted points for your easier understanding. I hope.

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  1. Firstly, all members of the Academy get to nominate within their own branches. For example, a director who belongs to the directing branch will vote for the directing categories. Nobody belongs to multiple branches and thus actors vote in the acting categories, directors for directing categories and so on. Everyone gets to vote for Best Picture.
  2. Voting is based on a preferential system so voters choose their favourite actors. Anything goes! Each category is given a magic number, which is calculated by taking total number of ballots for the category and dividing it by the number of nominees plus one. Confused? Let’s say Best Actor has 600 ballots received. There are five nominees in the Best Actor category, right? So we take 600 divided by five nominees plus one, which equals 100. And that my dear is your magic number for the category.
  3. Whoever reaches that magic number first will automatically become an official nominee for that category. And they begin counting the ballots from top-down, meaning they start with first-choice votes. So, any actor who reaches 100 (the magic number) based on first-choice votes becomes an official nominee. For example, Sean Penn received 130 first-choice votes. He’s an official nominee now and all the ballots for him are set aside.
  4. The actor who received the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and those ballots are redistributed to the second-choice pile.
  5. Another four nominees remain. And so we count from voters’ second-choice selections. Another round of counting begins. For example, Mickey Rourke already has 95 first-choice votes and receives another five votes from the redistributed second-choice pile. He reaches 100 (the magic number!) and he’s now another official nominee.
  6. Lost? See above to recap.
  7. The same process is repeated for the remaining nominees. Again, the actor with the fewest ballots in his pile will be redistributed to other piles of third-place, fourth-place and fifth-place selections respectively.
  8. In any case when the ballot runs out of selections, the ballot is voided. So voters are reminded to choose 5 different nominees in order not to waste their ballot.
  9. When ballots are voided, the magic number will decrease. For example, 18 ballots are voided so 600 – 18 = 582. 582 is then divided by 6 = 97.
  10. The actors will get eliminated and the ballots redistributed until the remaining nominees reach the current magic number. And then it is done. Give yourself a round of applause for coming this far.

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