Predicting Oscar winners is not an easy task. The criteria are opaque and subjective, the voting process is complicated, the voting members are not easily identifiable, only winners are announced and upsets occur very frequently. Considering this, building any Oscar prediction model is fraught with risks of being proved a fool on the day of the awards. Even then, it has not stopped upstarts with an excel file and an internet connection, like yours truly, to try some amateur mathematical modelling.
One of the best ways to predict an Oscar winner is to look at the other awards won in respective categories over the long awards season. The awards season starts every year in November and continues till February, finally culminating in the Oscar presentation ceremony. By then, however, a stream of awards has already been given and one can look at the trend of the award season to arrive at the likely winners on the Oscar night.
The awards are typically of two kinds – one given by industry insiders and the other by outsiders. Insider awards typically consist of the awards given out by guilds of directors, producers, actors, editors and writers. Outsider awards, on the other hand, are mainly awarded by bodies of critics and journalists. Insider awards generally have a high degree of correlation with the eventual Oscar winner in the respective categories. For example, the winner of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) award will have a strong probability of winning the best director award at the Oscar, all other factors remaining constant. The outsiders’ awards also serve their own merits, having more number of categories than the insider ones. Thus, if we are to predict the winner in more obscure categories like best sound or cinematography, the historical data points required can only be obtained from the outsiders’ awards. Further, some outsiders’ awards like the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Awards have exhibited high degree of accuracy in predicting the Oscar winners, at least in some categories.
For the purpose of the prediction here, a database of category award winners in the major awards over the last 50 years (or the duration of the awards’ existence, whichever is less) has been created and the percentage of times they have been able to predict the category winner in Oscar has been calculated (with higher weights given to more recent records).
Each award has been given weights in each category based on its past success ratios. Thus, a DGA award winner will have higher weight in the Best Director predictor compared to say, a National Board of Review award winner. Finally, based on this year’s winner and nominations, the movie with the highest score has been rated as the favourite for Oscar in the respective category.
It may be noted that while some categories (like best movie or best director) are frequently awarded during the season, there are others (like best sound or best make up) which are hardly recognized by other awards. As a result, the amount of data becomes significantly less for such lesser known categories. Considering this, predictions in such categories should always be taken with a pinch of salt.
Further, just to add more disclaimers, this is just a simple, basic model at predicting winners and should be taken for what it is. There are probably a number of other, more sophisticated models prepared by experts which shall do the job with better accuracy. In any case, looking at the collective intelligence in the betting market and compiling experts’ opinion are probably better ways of predicting the Oscar winners.
So, here are our Oscar picks for the year
Best Picture Award
The last and the most prestigious award of the Oscar night may also prove to be the toughest one to call. ‘Boyhood’ has swept most of the major critics awards, but ‘Birdman’ has won the three major insider awards i.e. the Directors’ Guild of America (DGA) award, the Producers’ Guild of America (PGA) award and the Screen Actors’ Guild of America (SAG) award. Our model shows the two movies are effectively tied for the first place, with ‘Boyhood’ being the very slight favourite. Further, there is also the intriguing possibility that given the split in the two major contenders, a third one (most probably ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’) will sneak in and win this one. Another long shot contender, ‘American Sniper’ has recently generated a lot of buzz, controversy and a strong and sustained run at the box office; however, our model still gives this very little chance of winning the silverware given its poor performance in the awards season so far.
Best Director Award
For years, the best award winner in Oscar used to be a heavy favourite for this category. The strong correlation between the two categories has, however, broken in the last two years when different sets of movies (‘Argo’ and ‘Life of Pi’ in 2012 and ’12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Gravity’ in 2013) have won the ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ awards. Again, in this category, ‘Boyhood’ remains a slight favourite, having swept the critics’ awards. However, ‘Birdman’ has won in two of the more important awards i.e. DGA and PGA and retains a good chance of winning this one.
Best Actor Award
Eddie Redmayne, for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in ‘The Theory of Everything’ is the favourite in this category, having won the important ‘Screen Actors Guild Award’ and ‘Golden Globe – Best Actor (Drama)’; however, Michael Keaton, for acting out a dramatized and fictional version of himself in ‘Birdman’ and winning a number of critics’ awards, retains a realistic chance of winning this category, especially in the event of a strong night for ‘Birdman’.
Bradley Cooper who has won a lot of plaudits for his role in ‘American Sniper’, has been given a close to zero score by our model because he has not won a single major award or nomination in this category in this award season; however, his probability of winning, while still being low, will be higher than that.
Best Actress Award
After a toss-up and two narrow calls, we have our first favourite of the night. Julianne Moore for her role in ‘Still Alice’ has almost swept this category clean in this awards’ season and remains heavy favourite for the Oscar. Of the other actresses nominated, only Marion Cotillard has won any award this season (the New York Film Critics Circle Award). It will be a huge upset if Julianne Moore does not end up as the ‘Best Actress’ in the Oscars.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
JK Simmons (‘Whiplash’) has a clear shot at winning this one, having won this category at almost every award in our database (except at the National Board of Review Award where it was won by Edward Norton for ‘Birdman’). He may end up winning this one big, and for ‘Birdman’ this may remain another category where it finishes second.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Whatever happens in the ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ category, ‘Boyhood’ has a lock on this one. Patricia Arquette has won this category in every major award, apart from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) award where her role was nominated for and won in the ‘Best Actress’ category. Further, ‘Ida’, the movie which won this category at the LAFCA, has not been nominated at the Oscars for this category. Considering this, if Arquette fails to win this one, this will be probably one of the biggest upsets of the night.
Best Original Screenplay
This is expected to be one of the handful of awards to be won by ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ at the Oscar night. It has won this category at the ‘Writers Guild of America’, ‘BAFTA’ and a number of other critics’ awards. ‘Birdman’ having won the Golden Globe remains a distant second along with ‘Nightcrawler’ which won at the Satellite Award. Neither Golden Globe nor Satellite, however, has a strong track record of predicting the Oscar winner in this category.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Data is limited in this category as a number of critics’ awards do not distinguish between original and adapted screenplay and ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ which has been nominated for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ has own the best screenplay at most such awards. Based on the limited data though, ‘The Imitation Game’ retains the best chance of winning this category, having won at the ‘Writers Guild of America’ and ‘Satellite Award’. ‘Inherent Vice’, winner at ‘American Board of Review’ is a somewhat distant second favourite.
‘Boyhood’ having won the ‘America Cinema Editors – Dramatic’ category is the favourite for winning this one. However, ‘Whiplash’ with a win at ‘BAFTA’ and ‘Chicago Film Critics Association Award’ may spring a surprise.
‘Birdman’ finally is the clear favourite in this category, having won three out of six awards over the season. ‘Mr. Turner’, the only other movie nominated for Oscar that has won an award in this category (the Satellite Award) has an outside chance.
Best Costume Design
This is one of the categories with the least amount of data available (with only three other major awards having this category). But ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ has won this category at all three awards and shall be a strong favourite for it on the Oscar night.
Best Visual Display
This again has only three data points with ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ having won at two of them (‘Critics Choice’ and ‘Satellite Award’) and ‘Interstellar’ getting the trophy at ‘BAFTA’. As a result, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is favoured to win this one, although not too strongly and ‘Interstellar’ has a decent chance as well.
Best Sound Mixing
Again, lack of data points is a problem in this category with only two awards having this category. ‘Whiplash’ has won both these awards though and thus shall head into the Oscar night as favourite for its second win after ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’.
Best Production Design
‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ has swept this category at all the major (albeit limited number of) awards and should win this one too.
Best Original Score
‘Birdman’ won this category at the ‘Satellite Award’ and ‘Chicago Film Critics Association Award’ and would have been a favourite at the Oscars had it been nominated. Since it has not been nominated though, ‘Theory of Everything’ is the nominal favourite. However, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, ‘The Imitation Game’ and ‘Interstellar’ all have a realistic chance at winning this one.
Best Original Song
Once again, only three awards are given out in this category and ‘Selma’ has won in two of them. Satellite Award, the only award which has differed, has given this out to ‘Virunga’, a movie that has not been nominated at the Oscars in this category. Thus, this category looks like the only one where ‘Selma’ shall go to the Oscar night as a front runner.
Best Animated Feature Film
This is another category where the strongest performer in the awards season has not even been given a nomination. ‘The Lego Movie’ has won six of the ten awards in this category. But since it has not been nominated, ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ will be a nominal favourite in this category, followed by ‘Big Hero 6’, ‘The Boxtrolls’ and ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’.
Best Documentary – Feature
Although a number of awards have the ‘Best Documentary’ category, the traditional correlation with the Oscar winner has been very low. This year though, ‘Citizenfour’, a movie based on Edward Snowden, has won this category in five out of nine awards and is expected to win this category.
Best Foreign Language Film
Again, this is one category where the other award winners have differed significantly from the eventual Oscar winner. And unlike in the ‘Best Documentary’ category, there is no clear winner. ‘Leviathan’ has won only one award (‘Golden Globe’) but it is also the award with the highest weight in this category. It thus nominally outweighs ‘Ida’ which has won three awards, but with much lesser weights. ‘Wild Tales’ and ‘Tangerine’ have also notched up wins in this category and cannot be counted out.
Best Make Up and Hair
This is another category with abject lack of data. Until recently, ‘BAFTA’ used to be the only one awarding this category, even though it could predict only 45% of the eventual Oscar winners. Critics’ Choice started awarding in this category since 2009, but it has not been able to pick the eventual Oscar winner even once till now. This year, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ has won at the BAFTA while ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ has won at the Critics’ Choice. Thus, while we will pick ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ as our favourite in this category, there is simply not enough data to make a confident call.