The Oscars are on February 26, which means that we are in the prime season for grousing about the ceremony’s overarching conservatism and whether or not it is okay to categorize a movie as “Oscar bait” (it is). This year, the most contentious movie is La La Land, which might seem strange, because it is a pleasant, totally non-contentious movie. The argument comes from whether or not it is a great movie, deserving of its status as a frontrunner for Best Picture as well as the billion other things for which it is nominated, particularly when compared to something like Moonlight, which is a film of much rarer mettle but less crowd-pleasing delights.
Vox has updated its explainer on why conservative picks tend to win, and it comes down to the Oscars’ switch to runoff voting seven years ago. The mathematical reasons are detailed well in the video, but in essence it allows voters to rank their picks. It’s a shift that rewards not passionate support and risk-taking but broad, crowd-pleasing subject matter. Best Picture is more likely to go to something a lot of people like rather than something a few people love, making it less interesting overall. Also of note is the fact that half of the awards since the switch to runoff voting have gone to movies about show business in some manner (Argo, Birdman, The Artist, and, in its way, The King’s Speech). The Academy likes to hear about themselves, in other words. That all bodes well for La La Land.