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.
Kate Winslet won the Best Actress Oscar for The Reader, despite winning supporting Globes and SAG awards for the same performance. Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated in lead for The Whale Rider in 2004 after being campaigned in supporting, and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago) and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) won Best Supporting Actress Oscars after lead nominations at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards, respectively. This rule often hurts the chances of actors whose performances are subject to category confusion, causing them to be snubbed altogether: Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation), Renee Zellweger (Jerry Maguire).
The two people this most affects this year are True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld and Another Year's Lesley Manville. Steinfeld's character in the Coen Bros. film drives the story and may even have more screen time than Jeff Bridges's Rooster Cogburn character, yet Steinfeld—likely due to her young age—has been aggressively campaigned in Supporting. She's won Golden Globe and SAG noms in a field that is considerably weaker than Best Actress, but the BAFTAs wised-up to the true nature of her role and nominated her in the leading category. Some Oscar gurus are predicting that the Academy will do the same.