Oscar Votes 123: Producers Guild Uses IRV to Pick 'Hurt Locker'

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Producers Guild Uses IRV to Pick 'Hurt Locker'

Catch your breath -- it can be quite overwhelming, award show after award show. What will the this or that award by the something-or-other guild foretell about the Oscars? Awards fans must be exhausted by the time the Academy gives out its prize.

But for our purposes, one award show really is worth taking a look at, and may in fact be a harbinger of things to come. The Producers Guild, whose awards were doled out last night, also decided to use the instant runoff system for choosing their Best Picture award shortly after the Motion Picture Academy announced their decision to do the same.

The surprise winner was Hurt Locker, a small-budget film that goes against the usual common wisdom of the Producers Guild awarding habits. As Tom O'Neil at the LA Times puts it:
Some kudos watchers believed that the guild would automatically pick "The Dark Knight" as best picture last year because producers care a lot about their films' succeeding financially. "The Dark Knight" was not only the top-earning movie of 2008 ($531 million in the U.S., $997 million worldwide) but the second-biggest-grossing pic of all time, surpassed only by "Titanic" ($1.8 billion worldwide in 1997).

But "Slumdog Millionaire" was a fantastic financial success in other ways. Produced for only $14 million, it went on to gross $377 million worldwide. Not so "The Hurt Locker," which was produced for $11 million and sold only $16-million worth of tickets at the box office.
The best explanation for this upset, then, is that a majority of Guild members thought it was really good, and there existed a consensus among the members that inspired enough of them to rank it highly enough for it to pass big monster films like Avatar, which may have had a good number of first-choice votes, and might have won using a different system, but not enough folks ranking it highly for it to survive the instant runoffs. This is essentially Steve Pond's take as well (who was surprised to learn that the PGA even used IRV).

Since the Oscars will also use IRV, it stands to reason that usually-predictive power of the Producers Guild may continue to hold true. If there's a soft spot in the majority of Academy members' hearts for Hurt, then what might be a rabid minority for Avatar or Inglorious Basterds may leave disappointed.

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