The Oscar season is back and so are the Oscar predictions. It is that time of the year when people around the world bring out the inner film critics and movie analysts in themselves to try and predict the Oscar winners. In fact, Oscar prediction has become more or less a cottage industry these days. The entertainment section of every newspaper, magazines and news blogs over this weekend would be replete with predictions from their respective leading Hollywood film critics. So if everyone is doing it, why should I be left behind? With this noble intention, here are my two cents on predicting what will happen in the famously non-diverse and famously unpredictable award show.
Last year, I had used a simple model to predict the winners. The Academy Awards is usually the culmination of the awards season, preceded by more than two months of awards’ binge; the ultimate objective of most of these awards is to mimic the final list of Oscar winners as well as possible, rather than awarding the most deserving winner. As a result, a look at the performance of each nominee in these preceding awards and the historical track record of these awards in predicting the Oscar winners help us to identify the favourites in each category.
There are mainly two types of awards – the insider awards and the critics’ awards. The insider awards are decided by people working inside Hollywood, broadly the same set of people who get to vote at the Oscars. As a result, such awards have a typically better track record in identifying the eventual Oscar winner. However, the problem with these awards is that they are limited to certain categories. For example, the ‘Directors Guild of America’ (DGA) award winner generally goes on to win both the ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ category at the Oscar. However, the DGA award does not tell us anything about who is likely to emerge as the winner in other categories.
Which is why the model also has to rely on the critics’ awards. However, even these critics’ awards do not award winners in every category. As a result, the amount of data available in down ballot categories (most of which are technical like ‘Best Sound Mixing’, ‘Best Hairstyle and Makeup’, etc.) is usually not very high. Further, apart from some awards like the Critics’ Choice Awards, most of the remaining critics’ awards are not very good at predicting the Oscar winners.
These limitations resulted in the model getting only 13 out of 20 predictions correct last year. The less than satisfactory performance was mainly on account of the fact that the model placed too much emphasis on critics’ awards (it predicted that ‘Boyhood’ would narrowly win both the ‘Best Movie’ and ‘Best Director’ awards, largely because the movie had swept those categories in all the critics’ awards) and there was not sufficient data in predicting the less talked about categories.
One obvious solution would be to increase the weights of the insider awards in the respective categories. However, the outputs that have been generated by the model this year have been in agreement with the winners in the respective insider categories. As a result, any tinkering in the model would not have generated any major change in the outputs this year.
Considering this, I have used the same model this year as well. However, I have not given the predictions in certain categories where the data is woefully inadequate or the handful of awards available in such categories have wide divergence in their list of winners.
Just to repeat the caveats from last year, 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 also good ways of predicting the Oscar winners. I even thought of giving weighs to the opinion of the betting market and the movie experts in the model; but that would have defeated the purpose of looking at how this simple, mathematical model performs in predicting the behaviour of an unknown but largely identical set of people.
So, here are my Oscar picks for the year.
The ‘Best Picture’ segment has been a topsy-turvy ride this year. Generally, this category either has a clear winner or has two dominant movies fighting it out till the bitter end. Last year, it was a toss-up between ‘Birdman’ and ‘Boyhood’ whereas the year before that, ’12 Years a Slave’ was a clear favourite. However, this year, the category has as many as four plausible winners – ‘The Revenant’, ‘Spotlight’, ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.’
All of these movies have won a number of awards this season, including a number of insider awards. ‘The Big Short’ has won the ‘Producers Guild of America’ Award and ‘Spotlight’ has won both the ‘Screen Actors Guild’ Award as well as the Critics’ Choice Award for best movie.
However, as the award season has progressed, ‘The Revenant’ has emerged as the clear favourite, although arguably a modest one. It started the season well by winning the ‘Golden Globe – Drama’ category and then won the extremely important ‘Directors Guild of America’ award, followed by the BAFTA award which immediately precedes the Oscar. It thus has momentum on its side.
A look at the Google searches in the last week in USA shows that ‘The Revenant’ has been leading the other major nominees by a wide margin. This also indicates that the movie has been able to create a strong buzz ahead of the Academy Awards.
Another reason for backing ‘The Revenant’ is that the winner in the ‘Best Picture’ is usually also the winner in the ‘Best Director’ category. Both ‘Spotlight’ and ‘The Big Short’ are lagging badly in the ‘Best Director’ category. ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ which is the other major contender in the ‘Best Director’ category probably the lowest chance of winning in the ‘Best Picture’ category, among these four movies. This makes me all the more bullish on ‘The Revenant’.
This is more or less a contest between two movies – ‘The Revenant’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is most likely to emerge as the winner in this category for the second consecutive year, after winning it last year for ‘Birdman’. He has won the DGA award and the DGA award winner has gone on to win the Oscar in this category 86% of the time in the last fifty years. Inarritu has also won this category at the Golden Globe and the BAFTA. George Miller, the director of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ has, on the other hand won in mostly critics’ awards and has not done very well in the insider awards. As a result, a win for Miller would be a major upset in this category. However, in the event of a strong night for ‘Mad Max’ which has as many as ten nominations, an upset victory for Miller cannot be ruled out.
Best Actor in Leading Role:
As you might be well aware by now, after years of failed nominations and internet memes, Leonardo Di Caprio is finally going to win this category. There are no two ways about it. He has swept the category in the Golden Globe (Drama), BAFTA, ‘Screen Actors Guild’ (SAG) award and the Critics’ Choice Award. The SAG in particular is highly predictive of the eventual winner in this category, with a success rate of around 80%. For whatever it is worth, he is also leading among all his competitors in the Google search data of last week.
Best Actress in Leading Role:
Brie Larson, for her role in ‘Room’ is expected to win this category easily after sweeping the awards season this year in a performance as impressive as that of Di Caprio. Saoirse Ronan (‘Brooklyn’) has an outside chance of winning in this category, having won two critics’ awards; however, it will take a major miracle for her to end up ahead of Larson.
Larson is also leading other nominees in the Google searches in USA done last week, apart from Jennifer Lawrence, who because of her star power easily commands much higher number of searches than the relatively less known actresses who have been nominated in this category this year.
Best Actor in Supporting Role:
This award category has been thrown into disarray since Idris Elba who has not been nominated for the Oscars won the ‘Screen Actors Guild’ award for the best actor in a supporting role. SAG is the only insider award in this category and one of the more reliable ones. Sylvester Stallone, for his performance in ‘Creed’ has won both this category in both the Golden Globe as well as the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards , two of the other more predictive awards. However, he has also won nothing in the last few awards, including in BAFTA which admittedly has much lower correlation in this category. He was also not even nominated at SAG. Thus, Mark Rylance of ‘Bridge of Spies’ who was nominated at SAG and won the BAFTA has a good shot at winning this category.
Stallone is slightly ahead of his competitors in the Google searches, indicating that the online buzz is in favour of him. However, this is certainly one of the more difficult categories to predict in this year’s award season.
Best Actress in Supporting Role:
Alicia Vikander for ‘The Danish Girl’ has won both the SAG and the Critics’ Choice awards, the two most predictive awards in this category. Kate Winslet, appearing in ‘Steve Jobs’ has won the Golden Globe – Drama and BAFTA; but these awards have lower weights in the model. As a result, Vikander remains the favourite but Winslet retains a decent chance of causing an upset.
Winslet is leading Vikander among Google searches done in USA in the last one week; but, Winslet is also a far better known actress compared to Vikander. In fact, Vikander is based out of London and is probably the least known among actresses nominated in this category. As a result, her performance in Google searches may in fact be considered a positive for her.
Best Screenplay – Original and Adapted:
The Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) Award is the most important award in these categories. ‘Spotlight’ is the prohibitive favourite to win the ‘Best Screenplay – Original’ having almost swept the awards season. The model is less confident about ‘The Big Short’ which is favoured to win the ‘Best Screenplay – Adapted’ category, mainly because of lack of a large amount of data and strong competition in the form of ‘The Martian’ and ‘Carol’.
‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is slated to win the first major award of the night in this category, having won this category in ‘America Cinema Editors – Dramatic’, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice and Chicago Film Association awards. ‘The Big Short’ is also in contention, but with much lower chance, having won the less predictive ‘America Cinema Editors – Comedy or Musical’ and LA Film Critics Association Awards.
This is an interesting category. The main two contestants in this race are ‘The Revenant’ and ‘Mad Max’ who are also in contention for winning the most number of awards in the Oscar night. This shall also provide an early indicating of what is in store for the night. If ‘The Revenant’ wins this category, as it is expected to do so after winning the all-important Critics’ Choice award, it may be expected to do well in the ‘Best Picture’, ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Actor’ categories. On the other hand, if ‘Mad Max’ wins in this category, all bets shall be off and anything can be expected to happen. Also, if ‘Mad Max’ wins this category, it almost certainly shall win the most number of awards of the night.
Best Costume Design:
There are a number of similarities between ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. Like ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, ‘Mad Max’ is also a quirky, foreign made movie, representing an offbeat genre, which was not expected to do particularly well at the Oscars. But both of them went on to win a number of nominations, creating a buzz of strong performance even in top of the line categories like ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’.
However, much like ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, ‘Mad Max’ will also probably end up winning mostly in technical sections. In the ‘Best Costume Design’ segment, it may be expected to win, after having won at BAFTA and the Critics’ Choice Awards. ‘The Assassins’ which won this category at the Satellite Awards, has not been nominated at the Oscars.
Best Production Design:
‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is a strong favourite in this category as well having won four of the five major awards on offer, including the Critics’ choice award which has historically been the most predictive award in this category. ‘Bridge of Spies’ has won the Satellite Award and may be considered to have an outside chance. Incidentally, ‘The Revenant’ which is an Oscar nominee in this category, has not even nominated at any of the other awards.
Best Original Score:
‘The Hateful Eight’ has the best and probably the only realistic chance of winning in this category. It has won the Golden Globe, BAFTA and the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. The track record of awards in this category is, however, not very satisfactory and ‘Carol’ which has won two critics’ awards in this category, may also be considered to be in the reckoning.
Best Make Up and Hair:
This is another category where ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ won last year and which may be expected to be won by ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ this year. ‘Mad Max’ has won both BAFTA and Critics’ Choice Awards, the only major awards which offer this category. Among the remaining nominees, only ‘The Revenant’ is the only one that has even been nominated at these awards.
Best Animated Feature Film:
‘Inside Out’ is an overwhelming favourite here, having won in this category in nine out of the ten awards available, including the BAFTA and the American Cine Editor awards which have the highest weights in the model. ‘Anomalisa’ is the only other movie to have won anything, but its win at the LA Film Critics Association Award is unlikely to count for much.
Best Documentary Feature Film:
Normally, it is difficult to predict this category; however, ‘Amy’ has almost swept the award season this year and is a firm favourite heading into the award night. Of the remaining movies nominated, only ‘Cartel Land’ has won anything substantial, at the DGA. But the DGA is not very predictive when it comes to this category.
Best Foreign Language Film:
This is also another category which has been very difficult to predict historically. The winner of this category in the Golden Globe, the most predictive award, goes on to win at the Oscars only 36% of the time. However, this is another category where ‘Son of Saul’, the frontrunner, a Hungarian movie set in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust (a historically favoured theme at the Oscars), has crushed the competition so far, thus leaving little to uncertainty. ‘Wild Tales’ and ‘Timbuktu’ , the only other movie to have won anything, at the BAFTA and New York Film Critics’ Circle Award respectively have not been nominated at the Oscars.
To wrap it up, here is the summary of the predictions:
|Category||Most Likely Winner||Second Most Likely Winner||Status|
|Best Picture||The Revenant||Spotlight||Competitive|
|Best Director||The Revenant||Mad Max: Fury Road||Competitive|
|Best Leading Actor||The Revenant||Steve Jobs||One Sided|
|Best Leading Actress||Room||Brooklyn||One Sided|
|Best Supporting Actor||Creed||Bridge of Spies||Competitive|
|Best Supporting Actress||The Danish Girl||Steve Jobs||Competitive|
|Best Original Screenplay||Spotlight||Bridge of Spies||One Sided|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||The Big Short||The Martian, Carol||Competitive|
|Best Editing||Mad Max: Fury Road||The Big Short||Competitive|
|Best Cinematography||The Revenant||Mad Max: Fury Road||Competitive|
|Best Costume Design||Mad Max: Fury Road||–||One Sided|
|Best Production Design||Mad Max: Fury Road||Bridge of Spies||One Sided|
|Best Original Score||The Hateful Eight||Carol||Competitive|
|Best Animated Feature||Inside Out||Anomalia||One Sided|
|Best Documentary Feature||Amy||Cartel Land||One Sided|
|Best Foreign Film||Son of Saul||Mustang||One Sided|
|Best Hair and Make Up||Mad Max: Fury Road||The Revenant||Competitive|