And who are these people exactly? Well, these people are professional members from the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, either active or currently retired from the industry.
Roughly around the beginning of November, each year, more than six thousand members from the seventeen branches are sent an Oscar nomination ballot. Each ballot highlights a list of recently released films that meet a pre-determined criteria, and from this list, each member can put forward a nomination, yet are restricted to do so only within their chosen field of expertise. For example, a writer can nominate another writer, yet they can't nominate for best sound editing. Eventually these nominations are collated by PricewaterhouseCoopers, an accountancy firm that is responsible for tallying the votes, whom use a similar method used by Britain's proposed “alternative vote” system.
Once the first-choice ballot for each category is finally assembled, it's decided which choice falls above a certain threshold so they can qualify for a nomination. The lowest-scoring contender is then eliminated so the remaining participants are assigned to the second-choice ballot, and so on, and so forth, until five nominations are finally selected for the list (with the noted exception of the best-picture category, which can have as many as ten nominees on the shortlist).
This shortlist, also known as the second ballot, is eventually announced for each category, and is sent out to each member of the Academy so they can pick their favorite from what remains. During this second phase members are allowed to cast votes in categories outside their branch, but they are advised to avoid those where they lack expertise.
OK. So have you got all that, my friend? Good. So who would you pick out of this years contenders?
Best Picture: Arrival / Fences / Hacksaw Ridge / Hell or High Water / Hidden Figures / La La Land / Lion / Manchester By the Sea / Moonlight.
Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea) / Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) / Ryan Gosling (La La Land) / Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) / Denzel Washington (Fences).
Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert (Elle) / Ruth Negga (Loving) / Emma Stone (La La Land) / Natalie Portman (Jackie) / Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins).
Best Director: Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) / Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge) / Damien Chazelle (La La Land) / Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea) / Barry Jenkins (Moonlight).
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) / Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) / Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea) / Dev Patel (Lion) / Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals).
Best Cinematography: Arrival / La La Land / Lion / Moonlight / Silence.
Best Documentary: Fire at Sea / I Am Not Your Negro / Life, Animated / OJ: Made in America / 13th.
Best Foreign Language Film: Land of Mine / A Man Called Ove / The Salesman / Tanna / Toni Erdmann.
Best Costume Design: Allied / Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them / Florence Foster Jenkins / Jackie / La La Land.
Best Score: Jackie / La La Land / Lion / Moonlight / Passengers.
Best Song: Audition (La La Land) / Can’t Stop the Feeling! (Trolls) / City of Stars (La La Land) / The Empty Chair (Jim: The James Foley Story) / How Far I’ll Go (Moana).
Best Visual Effects: Deepwater Horizon / Doctor Strange / The Jungle Book / Kubo and the Two Strings / Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Best Original Screenplay: Hell or High Water / La La Land / The Lobster / Manchester By the Sea / 20th Century Women.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Arrival / Fences / Hidden Figures / Lion / Moonlight.
Best Animated Feature: Kubo and the Two Strings / Moana / My Life As a Zucchini / The Red Turtle / Zootopia.
So once you've made your selection I'd advise you to watch the Oscars to see if you're correct. If you need any help doing this, here, check out the following Oscar Themed Party infographic.