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article imageWhy Oscars' new polling rules gives Hurt Locker edge over Avatar

By David Silverberg     Feb 20, 2010 in Entertainment
Avatar and The Hurt Locker both lead the Oscar race with nine nominations, and most people are putting their money on Avatar to take home Best Picture. But The Hurt Locker could pull off an upset due to Oscar's new voting system this year.
James Cameron wants to be king of the world again with his sci-fi blockbuster Avatar, but his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow wants to hold the Best Picture statue high in the air for her Iraq war pic The Hurt Locker. Cameron's Avatar has been heralded as the favourite to win Best Picture, but this year could surprise Oscars watchers.
The Hurt Locker could pull off an upset on March 7. Why? The Oscars changed their voting system and, according to a New Yorker article, this new direction could favour The Hurt Locker.
First, a small history lesson: From 1946 onward, Academy members placed an “X” next to the name of their top pick. The film with the most votes won, which is simple enough, but it also meant a movie could win even if a solid majority of the eligible voters didn’t like it.
This year, the Oscars has nominated 10 films for Best Picture, and they wanted to avoid a Ross Perot-dark horse situation. Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker explains it best:
Members—there are around 5,800 of them—are being asked to rank their choices from one to ten. In the unlikely event that a picture gets an outright majority of first-choice votes, the counting’s over. If not, the last-place finisher is dropped and its voters’ second choices are distributed among the movies still in the running. If there’s still no majority, the second-to-last-place finisher gets eliminated, and its voters’ second (or third) choices are counted. And so on, until one of the nominees goes over fifty per cent.
This system of preference voting allows one winner to emerge that is generally favoured by the pack. That's why Avatar might not win -- as much as the Academy enjoys box-office blockbusters, Avatar has been derided for being formulaic, derivative, CGI-heavy, too long. Not so with The Hurt Locker - the story of a bomb disposal team in Baghdad is earning kudos for pulling few punches on what it's like to be a soldier in Iraq. This is no rah-rah U.S.A film; it's an unflinching look at an issue that continues to be on the minds of Americans.
As Hertzberg noted, "It will likely be the second or third preference of voters whose first choice is one of the other 'small' films that have been nominated."
What else propels The Hurt Locker into the front-runner? It took top prize at the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards, an awards season event often indicating who'll win Best Picture at the Oscars. As the Brisbane Times found, "six of the past nine winners of the accolade have gone on to win the best picture prize at the Academy Awards."
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