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Our resident ‘Oscarologist’ Nick Bisa dissects the Oscars and delves into how we go about predicting them.
If you asked the average Androvian what an “Oscar” is, 99% of the time you will get the correct answer. The Oscars are an awards ceremony that recognises outstanding achievement in film over the course of a given year. Pretty simple, right? However, if you asked every single resident of St. Andrews college who is going to win the Oscar this year for Best Actor, Best Actress or even Best Picture… without doubt, the number of people who would have so much as a clue could be confined to a single digit. That’s not an insult, rather a testament to how niche common Oscars knowledge actually is to even demographics of extremely talented and intelligent individuals.
So with that in mind, how can anyone even know who’s going to win the Oscar anyway? Is it the film’s critical acclaim? Box office? The popularity of the actor?
While these factors are integral to the overall success of a film, they don’t necessarily guarantee it a successful awards season. Why? Well, because it’s hollywood! The industry elites don’t want the cast of Avengers: Endgame taking home all of their most prestigious gold statues for a film franchise that the great Martin Scorcese found comparable to “theme park rides”.
Much like politics, to win an Oscar, more often than not, it’s about running the best campaign. You have to time your run perfectly. Therefore, factors such as release date, political relevance and “crowd-pleasing” audience appeal hold an unlikely value.
This can be used to explain many of the classic best picture upsets such as when The King’s Speech beat The Social Network back in 2011, or when Shakespeare in Love defeated Saving Private Ryan in 1999. The emotionally uplifting, more heavily campaigned films upstaged the tonally darker, albeit objectively better films. The visually stunning, whimsical love story is preferred over the hard-hitting, somber war film, and the uplifting underdog story about overcoming impediment wins out over the antagonistic, toxic character study of selfish youth.
Another key factor to a successful Oscar season (specifically within the acting categories) that is also prevalent (unsurprisingly) within the realm of reality competition shows such as America’s Got Talent, is a good narrative. Do you have another reason the academy should be voting for you besides the quality of your performance?
Are you a veteran actor that has been nominated many times but still hasn’t won, like Leonardo DiCaprio? Have you tragically passed away, like Heath Ledger? Could you be the first black actress to win for a lead role, like Halle Berry? Did you lose 50 pounds and play a psycho, like Joaquin Phoenix? Are you playing a famous real-life figure e.g. Freddie Mercury, like Rami Malek (remember that movie about Queen)? Are you a singer-turned-actor like Cher? Are you a comedic actor turned drama like Robin Williams? Were you dumped by Tom Cruise the previous year like Nicole Kidman (literally a factor)? This “narrative” can take you a long way if you play your cards right.
But is that it? Do we just look at all those factors and merely guess which one best fits the “mould”? Not quite. In the Oscar season we have the benefit of precursors. These are similarly structured award shows with similar categories that are voted on by different voting bodies. These include:
the Golden Globes (All main categories split into Drama and Comedy)
the Critics’ Choice (same categories as the Oscars)
the British Academy Awards a.k.a. BAFTAs (same categories as the Oscars)
Screen Actors’ Guild (acting categories)
Writers’ Guild (writing categories)
Directors’ Guild (director category)
Producers’ Guild (picture category)
And so on…
The nominations and results for all of these award shows occur before the Oscars, and often help candidates gain momentum in the Oscar race.
To put it simply, statistically speaking the more precursor recognition a candidate gets, the greater their perceived Oscar chances become. So, if you are a director, and have won the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA award for directing, you might just be the favourite heading into Oscar night.
We hope nobody told that to David Fincher! Despite winning all of those awards in the lead up, his loss at the Directors’ Guild (DGA) foreshadowed Tom Hooper’s shock win in 2011. In the last 50 years, 90% of those who won the DGA award went on to win Best Director at the Oscars. So this upset was no coincidence!
In that light, it has to be said that some precursors hold more value than others. For instance, the BAFTAs have incorrectly predicted the best picture winner for the past 6 years. And what’s even more confusing is that for the previous 6 years they had been correct… I know right? Weird. A precursor might also tend to perform better in certain areas than others. For example, the past two decades the Golden Globes has successfully predicted the acting winners at the Oscars 82.5% of the time (95% in lead actress), but has a dire 50% hit ratio with regard to both Best Picture and Director.
But no matter how you look at it, the precursors are important. They are so important that, as it stands, if your film wins the big 5 awards (GG, CC, BAFTA, PGA and SAG ensemble) you simply won’t lose. That’s the strength of these precursors.
Even the precursor acceptance speeches have been given value. A Golden Globes acceptance speech has long been called the “Oscar audition”, as the voting period for the Oscar nominations often closes only a couple of days after the ceremony. It gives the candidate a chance to charm and hopefully win over the academy’s hearts and votes.
But what if we didn’t have these precursors? Could we still be able to predict the Oscars?
The answer is yes… for Best Picture exclusively.
One of the best ways to figure out who the best picture winner is to dissect the Oscar nominations themselves. Nominations in key categories such as directing, writing and editing have historically proved vital to winning Best Picture. In the last 50 years, only 3 films have ever won without a director nomination (they all won for writing), and only 1 without a writing nomination (it won director). Furthermore, since 1985 only 1 film has ever won Best Picture without an editing nomination, and that was Birdman; a film edited to look as if it was all in one continuous shot! Therefore, it’s evident that often the nominations themselves are the greatest indicators.
So… I know what you’re all thinking: (if you’ve made it this far that is…)
What films are going to win big at the Oscars this year?
That, my friends, is for a rainy day.