After months of studio campaigns and a slew of other awards presentations, including The Golden Globes, the Academy Award nominations will be announced on Tuesday morning, giving answer to some looming questions: Which films, beyond the obvious frontrunners (The Social Network and The King's Speech), will get Best Picture nods? What will be the fate of True Grit's 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, who straddles a precarious line between Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress? Here are five talking points that may help put the nominations in context:
1. The King's Speech scored a major upset over the weekend
While The Social Network took home the "Best Picture" and "Best Director" prizes at the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards earlier this month, The King's Speech took home the top prize at the Producers Guild of America (PGA) awards on Saturday night. The film's PGA win was "the biggest stunner of the Oscar campaign season," says Tim Appelo in The Hollywood Reporter. "Globes, schmobes — the PGA is the better Oscar predictor. This race just went from a done deal to a dead heat, and from dead boring to exhilarating."
2. The voters decide which categories actors belong in
While the studios may campaign for an actor or actress to be considered in the "lead" or "supporting" category, that decision is ultimately made by the voters. This practice, says Kevin Fallon in The Atlantic, can hurt actors who — like Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation or Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire — deliver performances that create category confusion, "causing them to be snubbed altogether." This year, Hailee Steinfeld, the 14-year-old who plays the True Grit protagonist, and Another Year's Lesley Manville, whose performance is hard to classify, are most likely to suffer from this ruling.
3. Editors nominate editors, directors nominate directors
The approximately 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are divided into 15 branches, from cinematographers to directors, from actors to makeup artists and hairstylists. Directors nominate directors, actors nominate actors, and so on. Then the entire Academy gets to vote on each award. It's a "procedure of singular rigor," says Bill Wyman at NPR. It also doesn't bode well for Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, who received much critical acclaim for their Blue Valentine performances, but were not nominated by their fellow performers for the Screen Actors Guild awards.
4. Voters rank their ballots
When submitting their nominations, Academy members rank their picks from 1 to 5 (or 10 in the case of the Best Picture category) in what's called a "preferential voting system." This system helps in the case of a runoff, and it gives smaller films with fervent supporters — like, say, Blue Valentine — a chance. "In order to be nominated, a film or actor doesn't need to be considered 'good' by everybody, but instead 'the best' by a [sufficient number of voters]," says Fallon.
5. Unlike last year, a "Best Picture" field of 10 films makes sense
Last year was the first that the Best Picture category was expanded from five to 10 nominees, says Linda Holmes at NPR. That made room for films with a "populist bent," like the "beloved but critically ho-hummed The Blind Side" and the "visually dazzling but listlessly scripted blockbuster Avatar." This year, there are 10 or even 12 films that are "all pretty darn good" and worthy of Best Picture. "There's not a real obvious lightweight" among the top contenders, and "that's a good thing."