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An Idiot’s Guide To The New Academy Award Rules

An Idiot’s Guide To The New Academy Award Rules (photo)

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Just two years after switching their decades old structure of five Best Picture nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, has announced another major shakeup to the nominations process, starting with the 2012 Academy Awards. Now instead of a fixed number of nominees, the Best Picture category will be determined by the percentages of votes received. This excerpt from the official Academy press release explains:

“With the help of PricewaterhouseCoopers, we’ve been looking not just at what happened over the past two years, but at what would have happened if we had been selecting 10 nominees for the past 10 years,” explained Academy President Tom Sherak… During the period studied, the average percentage of first place votes received by the top vote-getting movie was 20.5. After much analysis by Academy officials, it was determined that 5% of first place votes should be the minimum in order to receive a nomination, resulting in a slate of anywhere from five to 10 movies.

“In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies,” said [retiring Academy executive director Bruce] Davis. “A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out the number.”

Uh oh. That press release has math. I specifically got into the movie game so I would never have to think about math. So what does this mean in layman’s terms? That five Best Picture nominees is still considered too few, but ten is now considered too many. So the new plan is to try a system that can expand or contract on a per year basis depending on the quality of films and the number of votes they receive.

This new system reminds me a little bit of the completely unscientific, but totally fascinating measure that J. Hoberman invented for use in the Village Voice‘s annual film poll: The Passiondex. It’s calculated by dividing a film’s total points by the number of critics who voted for the film. Then that number is multiplied by the number of first place votes the film received (ugh, more math! Worst blogging day ever). Hoberman believes The Passiondex “enables us to make a distinction between those movies that have true partisans and fervent lovers, and those others which, inspiring fraternal good wishes, are the consensus choices that typically appear toward the bottom of many lists.” And that’s basically what this new Oscar system does: reward the movies that are ranked first by Academy voters. If a movie is widely liked, but not deeply loved — if it appears as the #5 film on every ballot, but as the #1 film on zero ballots — it won’t make the cut.

So why the change? Over at Deadline, Pete Hammond says the new plan stems from “the feeling is the Academy has to do something to reinvigorate its contest, which has been losing the suspense factor due to the large number of pre-Oscar awards shows…by the time Oscar noms roll around near the end of January, everyone is tired and the race predictable.” That was the essential argument of my 2011 Oscar wrap-up piece; instead of blaming the mediocre Oscar telecast on the scapegoated hosts or the lame comedy bits, the real problem was the lack of surprise. (“When we remember our favorite Oscar moments,” I wrote, “we don’t think of planned material. We love the crazy spontaneous moments.”) I’m not sure how this new system improves the actual Oscar show itself — since all the suspense comes before the nominations are announced — but it at least throws a fresh wrinkle into the mix.

Now that the two year experiment is over, it’s pretty clear that the 10-nominee system, was doomed to fail from the start. It was implemented, we were told, to spread the box-office boosting cache of the “Academy Award Nominated!” tag to more movies, and to encourage Oscar telecast viewership by allowing more room in the Best Picture category for popular, mainstream fare. But both of those benefits were ultimately self-defeating. People go see Best Picture nominees sight unseen because with just five movies every year, that designation feels special. Doubling the field makes the industry happier, but it also tarnishes the Oscar brand for quality. And even with twice as many Best Picture nominees, the race still came down to a fight between two films.

Though I’m curious to see how this development affects next year’s nominees, I’m a little worried about this flurry of changes to the way the Oscars work. To me, the number of nominees is ultimately less important than the consistency of the awards. We like the Oscars in movies for the same reason we like stats in baseball: as a way to measure success and to compare the past to the present. Because of statistics we can compare the baseball players of today to the ones in the Hall of Fame. We used to be able to do that with the Oscars, by looking at which movies made the cut and which ones didn’t. Without consistency, that’s tough to do. And now the Academy seems intent on a system, its third in four years, that is defined by inconsistency.

Do you like the new Academy Award rules? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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