If you’re wondering how Spotlight won best picture, a new article in the Los Angeles Times can shed some light on the mysterious voting process.
Turns out there are two reason’s for the movie’s big win. The first is timely headlines; a week before the start of the Oscar voting period, a Times correspondent wrote that the movie had been screened for the Vatican commission on clerical sex abuse. The Vatican-related coverage almost certainly gave Spotlight a boost in the minds of Oscar voters.
The other reason for Spotlight’s win is procedural; the Oscars use a preferential ballot, which rewards consensus favorites. Voters rank the nominated movies in order of preference, with number one as the most favorite. As the article notes:
Spotlight and The Big Short were those kinds of movies. The Revenant, not so much. Many people loved it; nearly as many found its brutal violence off-putting. And unlike Spotlight, it’s not a movie that plays well when watched on a DVD screener, which is how most academy members view the contenders.
So while The Revenant may, theoretically, have had more No. 1 votes than any other film on the first ballot, it would have needed a hard sell to get 50-plus-one percent for a first ballot victory.
So when the accountants began redistributing the ballots, eliminating, one by one, the movies with the fewest No. 1 votes and moving those ballots to the voters’ second (and, if necessary, third or fourth) choices, the Spotlight stack continued to grow.
Spotlight was a movie that some people loved and a lot of people liked. Very few found it completely lacking.
In short, Spotlight was the best picture because nobody hated it.