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The 2010 Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday at 8:30 am Eastern, in a televised ceremony hosted by Mo'Nique—last year's best supporting actress winner—and Academy president Tom Sherak. Oscar experts are falling over themselves putting up their predictions, but there are unique rules when it comes to the Oscar ballots that affect the nominations unlike any other awards shows.
What are those quirky rules, and how will they play into this year's race?
1) Voters rank their ballots
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When filling out their ballots, nominators rank their preferences from 1 to 5 (or in the case of Best Picture, from 1 to 10). This doesn't mean the ballots are weighted, with a voter's top-ranked film getting 10 points and the next pick getting nine points. It means academy members are essentially voting for one movie; each member's ballot is counted towards one film, their number one vote. If that film receives the fewest amount of number one votes, then it's the second pick that counts, and so on down the ballot so that the ballot is attributed to exactly one movie or performance.
Therefore, in order to be nominated, a film or actor doesn't need to be considered "good" by everybody, but instead "the best" by a few. A faction of passionate voters helped films like The Reader and A Serious Man and dark-horse candidates like Melissa Leo for Frozen River and Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart win nominations. It also explains why mass appeal movies—most famously The Dark Knight—miss the cut. Christopher Nolan's 2006 film may have appeared on every voter's nomination ballot, but perhaps further down in the rankings. Everyone might have thought it deserved a nod, but it was not their top pick of the year.
This year, Blue Valentine and its leads Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams could benefit from this rule. The film itself hasn't had a huge box-office take, but those who have seen it are rapturous in their praise, particularly for the gutting performances by Gosling and Williams. Similarly, Mike Leigh's Another Year hasn't had a huge audience, but the film and its star Lesley Manville are loved by the few who saw it. The gritty indie Winter's Bone is considered a dark horse for a Best Picture nod, despite the fact that it doesn't boast the popularity of The Social Network and The King's Speech, because it has such an enthusiastic block of voters supporting it.
2) Voters place actors in whichever category they deem appropriate
Much hoopla is made about an actor's category placement, with studios and representatives strategically campaigning performances that could be deemed either lead or supporting in the category that is considered "weaker." But with the Academy Awards, unlike kudos handed by other organizations, the voters choose which category they want to vote for an actor's performance in—not always lining up to the one that was campaigned for.