How Do Oscar Nominations Work?

(Image credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

Every year, some deserving actor, director or film gets left out of the Oscar race. This year, Twitter blew up when it was revealed Christopher Nolan had not been nominated for best director for "Inception," which earned nominations in eight other categories, including best picture.

So how does the nominating process work?

Since 1929, the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has declared what it deems to be the film industry 's cream of the crop, and it's through the academy's lengthy voting process that golden Oscar statuettes are awarded in movie-making categories from art direction to costume design.

The academy currently has 5,755 voting members. Membership is by invitation only, with members selected by the Board of Governors and "limited to those who have achieved distinction in the arts and sciences of motion pictures," according to AMPAS. Members represent 15 general areas. They include actors (such as Jack Nicholson and Keira Knightley), writers (including Sofia Coppola and Quentin Tarantino), directors, producers, executives, art directors, cinematographers and even makeup artists and hairstylists.

If a producer or distributor would like their film to be considered for an Oscar nomination, they first have to make sure it meets the following requirements:

  • Has a running time of longer than 40 minutes.
  • Has premiered in a public movie theater between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of the appropriate year.
  • Has premiered in 35mm or 70mm film format or in 24-frame, progressive scan digital format.
  • Has played in a Los Angeles County theater with paid admission for seven consecutive days, beginning in the appropriate calendar year.

If the film is eligible, it is then submitted using an Official Screen Credits form. Accepted films are added to the academy's "Reminder List of Eligible Releases," which is then mailed out to all members, along with the first of two ballots.

On the first ballot, members can vote only in categories in their particular field. For example, actors nominate actors, and film editors nominate film editors. Everyone can vote for best picture.

Voting is a little trickier for animated features , foreign language films and documentaries. For each of those, the academy assembles screening committees composed of members from every category. Additionally, for foreign language films, each country is allowed to submit only one film per year.

Once the results from the first ballots are tallied, academy members receive a second ballot, listing only the top five vote getters in each category (except best picture , which lists 10). Academy members are asked to rank the nominees in each category.

These ballots are sent to the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which for the past 77 years has been in charge of counting the final votes.

It takes three days to count the final votes, and the results are sealed until they are announced at the annual Academy Awards ceremony.

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Follow Remy Melina on Twitter @RemyMelina

Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.