This year’s race for the Oscars seemed to be lead by Gravity (winner of the DGA and a PGA tie), 12 Years a Slave (recipient of a Golden Globe for drama and that PGA tie) and American Hustle (the Globe for comedy and the SAG ensemble prize) but now, it feels like any one of the nine Best Picture nominees could take the big prize.
Why? It all has to do with the Academy's preferential voting system, which has been used since 2010 to determine the best picture winner. Here is how it works: voters will be asked to rank all nominees from one to nine. The ballots will be sorted into piles according to which movie each voter ranked No. 1. Then, the movie with the smallest pile (that is, the movie with the fewest first-place votes) will be eliminated and, the ballots from that pile will be redistributed based on the films they have ranked in second place. This process is repeated, and smallest piles are redistributed. Take a look at the video for a better simple explanation of this system.
This means that the winner won’t be necessarily the film that scored the most first-choice votes, but the one that was the second or third favorite of many. For instance, movies like Captain Philips described as “everyone’s second favorite” could get a chance of winning.
The last few years we’ve seen big favorites and predestined winners, so this voting system wasn’t a big deal, but in a year like this, when almost everyone has their own favorite, it can be decisive.
I think that 12 Years A Slave and Gravity still the favorites but, in a race this close, it's not impossible that Oscar night will have some surprises in store. And I love surprises.