At the end of the gauntlet, you need to escape Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty
Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

Every year, the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards inspires passionate debate among film fans. Which movie is overrated? Which movie do the critics seem to love? Which one did you actually see and therefore deserves to win? But, as a new video from Vanity Fair explains, before any of these films can even get close to that highly-coveted golden statuette they must first survive a long and harrowing journey.

According to Vanity Fair, Best Picture winners throughout history tend to follow specific trends, but the winners from the last decade tend to fall into two major categories. Either they premiered earlier in the year at one of the five major film festivals (Sundance, Cannes, Venice International, Telluride, or Toronto International) and thus built up a substantial critical buzz. Or, as with films like Get Out and Mad Max: Fury Road, their release coincided with a particular cultural moment that hit audiences hard and inspired conversation well into award season. Regardless of how they get there, becoming one of the most talked-about films at the end of the year is only half the battle.

Next, it’s time for a marketing strategy. Let’s say your film premiered towards the end of summer and made a big splash at the box office. Now it’s early December and people are more interested in other, more recent movies. As Vanity Fair puts it, your film needs a second act. Once the Academy begins their nominating process, production companies will often find ways to repackage their films to make them resonate with audiences all over again. This may sound rather cynical, but we are talking about campaigning for golden emblems of creative success here. Cynicism’s par for the course.

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After nominations comes the actual voting. Academy members are only allowed to vote on the categories they themselves are associated with, except for Best Picture, which everyone is allowed to vote on. Academy members fill out a preferential ballot and votes are tallied over numerous rounds (eliminating the film with the least votes each round) until one film has over 50% of the votes. That, ladies and gentlemen, is your Best Picture.

Now you that you know the specific process these films have gone through to get where they are, you can be much more accurate with the criticisms you yell at the television when the Academy inevitably gets it wrong this Sunday.