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As Oscar Ballots Close, Breaking Down Who Votes for What

As Oscar Ballots Close, Breaking Down Who Votes for What

With a preferential ballot, it’s usually about the films that wind up at number 1 or 2, not lower down, but things are more muddled this year. 

Read: Here’s How ‘Whiplash’ or ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ Could Win the Best Picture Oscar

The Academy is diverse, and so are its 18 individual voting branches, but it is possible to characterize their membership– to a degree –as More Mainstream and Less Mainstream. 

More Mainstream –and more evenly split among men and women– are the Actors and Casting Directors, who number a total 1226. Without them you do not win Best Picture. Based on votes and SAG wins, they are heading toward “Boyhood” (Patricia Arquette is poised to win Supporting Actress), “Birdman” (it won SAG Ensemble) and “The Theory of Everything” (Eddie Redmayne won SAG and BAFTA). 

Read: What Happened with the Battle of the British Biopics?

Also More Mainstream: Public Relations, Executives, Producers, and Members-at-Large, who total 1530. So let’s say the mainstream side of the Academy adds up to a total of 2756. This group is the most likely to be passionate about late-surging hit “American Sniper, although it really hasn’t won any Guild awards except Sound Editing, which it will surely take on Oscar night (along with, possibly, Sound Mixing). But don’t count out the impact of thrice-in-a-row nominated Bradley Cooper’s sharp PR campaign that recently hit everything from “Charlie Rose” and “60 Minutes” to “SNL 40.”

Less Mainstream: the Crafts. These artists are more visually and aurally sophisticated and technically knowledgeable: Cinematographers, Costume Designers, Designers, Makeup Editors and Stylists, Music, Sound and Visual Effects, who total 1755. These folks adore “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which is this year’s closest thing to the well-designed period movie that the Academy has always celebrated, from elaborate sets and miniatures to exquisite hair & makeup and clever costumes; Alexandre Desplat’s limber European score may even prevail. “Birdman” is also scoring with this gang, from cinematography to possibly sound mixing (to compensate for its daring drum score being ineligible). 

Less Mainstream: Also smarter than your average bear and leaning to the Liberal/Foreign/Indie side are Directors, Documentary, Film Editors, Short Films and Feature Animation and Writers, who total 1613.

They are heading toward the three indies “Boyhood,” “Birdman” and “Budapest.” That’s why it’s so hard to call the race this year; both Best Picture and Best Actor are congested with multiple contenders. That’s when you get surprise 1981 winner “Chariots of Fire” or 2002’s late-breaking “The Pianist” star Adrien Brody beating Daniel Day Lewis and Jack Nicholson. 

Which is why I have resorted to math. More mainstream: 2656, less mainstream: 3368. 

I’m betting that there are more consensus votes for “Boyhood” as a universally accessible and unique heart-tugger–even though it’s small without crafty bells and whistles–and that “Birdman” and “Budapest” are splitting the rest of the indie vote. (Yes, “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Selma” and “Whiplash” are in there too.)

I am intuitively guessing that the Academy goes for 63-year-old “Birdman” star Michael Keaton, who boasts the kind of comeback narrative that the Academy adores– rowing hard through thick and thin, no matter how crappy the material coming his way, until his ship came in. (He’d be one of the oldest actors to ever to win Best Actor, one year older than John Wayne.) Usually popular Brit charmer Redmayne would be the sure bet, because SAG winners have nabbed the Oscar 100% of the time in the past 10 years. (Brody was in 2002.) But producer-star Cooper is making this a three-way race. Many Academy votes went his way–like Daniel Day Lewis in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” the movie wouldn’t be as good without him. He makes the movie.
“Birdman” gets Best Director because the DGA has predicted the Oscar winner 90% of the time since 2004 and 80% since 1994 (hat-tip EW). Of course it could go the other way: BAFTA/Globe/Critics’ Choice director Linklater for director and “Birdman” for Picture. But “Birdman” lost big at the BAFTAs and there’s a sizable membership overlap (maybe 500-600, percentage wise, more than any Guild). Wes Anderson should get Original Screenplay for “Budapest,” so Director goes to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

What’s fascinating to parse this year is how well “Birdman,” which has dominated the usually predictive Guilds (PGA, SAG Ensemble, DGA–it wasn’t eligible for WGA, which went to “Budapest”) does against early frontrunner and film critics’ fave “Boyhood,” which won The Globes, Critics’ Choice, NY and LA Film Critics and BAFTA. Problem is, they’re splitting the Less Mainstream vote –along with “Budapest,” while “Sniper” has no competition for the More Mainstream contingent. Many normally Liberal Academy members who adore Libertarian movie star-filmmaker Clint Eastwood –he’s a fearless independent who goes his own way–also love “American Sniper.” 

The ballots were due at 5 pm February 17th. At which point a lot of people heaved sighs of relief and started planning the weekend’s parties and their post-Oscar trips to the spa. 

Read: My Oscar Predictions. (I may tweak slightly before Friday but these picks are pretty solid.)

Here’s the Academy’s membership breakdown:

Actors 1150

Casting Directors 76

Cinematographers 226

Costume Designers 113

Designers 269

Directors 382

Documentary 222

Executives 457

Film Editors 236

Makeup Artists and Hairstylists 135

Music 244

Producers 485

Public Relations 378

Short Films and Feature Animation 387

Sound 428

Visual Effects 340

Writers 386

Members-at-Large 210

Total voting members: 6124

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