This year a grand technicolor film about showbiz is a favorite for best picture at the Oscars.
Yes, it was well regarded amongst critics and audiences around the country.
But is La La Land hands down the best film of the year?
Is it good enough to beat out films like Moonlight that are widely considered more daring and
History says yes.
Because the oscar voting process favors mediocrity.
Back in 2009 the the Academy switched from a straight popular vote to instant runoff
voting or preferential voting.
The Academy wanted to better insure that the film with the broadest support won.
But the other side of that coin is that bold, polarizing films get pushed to the side.
At its most basic level, instant runoff voting involves ranking a number of choices rather
than choosing just one.
Then the choice with the fewest votes is removed.
And then those who voted for that candidate have their votes counted according to their
Then the candidate that now has the fewest votes is removed, and so on.
It goes all the way until a candidate has 50% + 1 of the vote.
This applies to both the nominations process (although that does get a little weedy) and
the process of selecting a best picture winner.
So, how would instant runoff voting ultimately play out in a real scenario?
Let’s look at 2011 where the King’s Speech beat out: 127 hours, The Fighter, Black Swan,
Winter's Bone, True Grit, Inception, The Social Network, and The Kids are Alright.
All these films were probably 1st place picks on a lot of ballots and dead last on others.
It’s very possible that the passionate fan bases of each of these films all had the King’s
speech ranked 2nd or 3rd.
When their 1st place vote wasn’t enough to stay in the game their 2nd place votes
were counted and re-added to the mix, ultimately allowing The King’s Speech to come from
Because the King’s Speech had the broadest support rather than the most passionate support,
it took home the prize.
The new voting system seems to favor a certain type of film.
Todd: We’ve had instant runoff voting for 6 years and fully half of those films have
been movies about the movies.
And I’d count the King’s Speech as being adjacent to that.
It’s a film about performance and elocution.
Think Birdman, Argo, The Artist.
The Academy is made of 6000 film industry professionals who probably enjoy movies about
They might not rank a film about showbiz as number 1 but many might place it 2nd or third
which is precisely where it's most dangerous.
In 2005 before instant runoff voting was instituted, Crash, won best picture.
It’s a film people either despise or love.
Todd: Crash is the worst best picture of all time but there are people out there who really
love that movie.
I think we really want those movies that inspire those extreme reactions one way or another.
Sometimes the movie wins that you hate and sometimes the movie that you love.
I’d rather see that than the movie that everyone was kind of okay with.
In fact, Crash beat out a film that might have easily have won in today's instant runoff
system: A period film about entertainment (the radio industry) directed by Hollywood
royalty, George Clooney: Goodnight, and Good Luck.