Oscar Predictions – 2017


It has been two years since this blog made its debut in the congested alleys of internet opinion, professing to offer its unsolicited point of view on the hot button as well as obscure issues of the day. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. Back then, Donald Trump was just another second grade celebrity businessman, Ed Milliband was looking forward to becoming the next Prime Minister of United Kingdom and no one had heard of the alt-right or Milo Yiannopoulos. Some things have not changed though – this blog, for example, continues to attract visitors at the staggering rate of around 3 per day (which means if you are reading this blog, you are quite the rare one).

The first post on this blog was related to the Oscar predictions of 2015. Since it is this time of the year, we will attempt to once again partake in the annual ritual and solve the quandary that threatens the existence of human civilization, namely – which movie is going to win each of the multiple categories at the Academy Awards on the night of February 26th?

The methodology of the prediction is straight forward and simple. The Oscar season is preceded by a flurry of awards spread over three months. This includes the critics’ awards which are decided by the critics and journalists and the insider awards where the industry insiders (actors, directors, producers, editors, writers, etc.) get to choose their candidates for the most satisfying movie experiences of the year. These awards typically have a strong correlation with the eventual Oscar winner, some (insider awards) more so than the others (critics’ awards). Thus, by looking at the winners and nominees of these awards and weighing them on the basis of their relative success in forecasting the Oscar winner, one can make a reasonable estimate of the winner of each category of the Academy Awards.

Our first attempt at Oscar prediction in 2015 did not go too well and we ended up getting only 13 out of 20 predictions right. The most obvious mistakes that we did was not putting enough weights on the insider awards and being overconfident in categories where we did not have enough data. We were better in our second attempt though, getting 15 out of 17 categories correct.

Regardless of how the individual predictions turn out in each category, I am confident about making the following two:

  • ‘La La Land’ is going to dominate the Oscars night. Armed with 14 nominations, it has an outside chance of equalling the record for most number of Oscar wins by a single movie (which is 11). More realistically, it may end up with around 8-10 wins, which is still a formidable feat, especially considering that it is a musical.
  • Even if the lily white ‘La La Land’ ends up hogging all the limelight on the night of Oscars, there will be a mix of coloured actors who would end up on the podium. In fact, Emma Stone (or Isabelle Huppert or Natalie Portman) may turn out to be the only white actor to win the Oscars, sending out a powerful message of diversity in the year of Donald Trump.
  • No matter who wins, the speeches are going to heavily political. There will be a focus on inclusiveness and on how immigration has made America great. There will also be direct and indirect swipes at the President and his policies. The headlines the day after may end up highlighting the speeches more than the cinematic achievements.

So, without further ado, here are the predictions for the 2017 Academy Awards:

Best Picture:

The ‘Best Picture’ category has been a difficult nut to crack in the last two years. In 2015, this category saw an extremely close contest between ‘The Birdman’ and ‘Boyhood’. 2016 was even more peculiar, with four different movies (‘The Revenant’, ‘Spotlight’, ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’) remaining in contention till the last minute. The victory of ‘Spotlight’ was kind of strange but not entirely unexpected; after all, the insider awards were sharply split among the available choices and ‘Spotlight’ possibly emerged as a broad, consensus pick. The revised voting pattern followed in electing the ‘Best Picture’ nominee which rewards movies which are reasonably popular with large number of voters (like ‘Spotlight’) over movies which are the first choice of a few, but polarising overall (like ‘The Revenant’) possibly helped ‘Spotlight’ as well.

This year though, ‘La La Land’ (a musical, unusually) is very much the clear frontrunner. It has won the Directors Guild Award (DGA), the Producers Guild Award (PGA), Golden Globe – Musical or Comedy, America Cinema Editors – Comedy or Musical, the British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) and the Critics’ Choice Awards. It is difficult to see a movie like ‘La La Land’, with such broad and universal acclaim across various categories of industry insiders as well as critics, losing out to any other movie.

But what about the contenders? ‘Moonlight’ at one point of time looked like the strongest threat to ‘La La Land’. It started the awards season well, winning the ‘Golden Globe – Drama’ award, but has since struggled. Its only major victory over ‘La La Land’ has been in the Writers Guild of America (WGA) – Best Original Screenplay, but this award has not had a high historical correlation with the winner in the ‘Best Picture’ category. Perhaps, the biggest blow to the chances of ‘Monlight’ came in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for ‘Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture’. In the SAG awards (which had awarded ‘Spotlight’ last year), ‘Moonlight’ lost out to ‘Hidden Figures’ even though ‘La La Land’ was not nominated and not in contention, indicating that ‘Moonlight’ may not even be the second choice of a number of industry insiders.

Best Director:

The movie that won the ‘Best Picture’ category has gone on win the ‘Best Director’ category 70% of the time in the last twenty years and this year is expected to be no different. Damien Chazelle (‘La La Land’) has won the all important ‘Directors Guild of America’ (DGA) award, along with the ‘Golden Globe’, ‘BAFTA’ and ‘Critics Choice’. The DGA winner has gone on to win the ‘Best Director’ award in Oscar 86% of the time in the last fifty years.

Barry Jenkins, the director of ‘Moonlight’, has won a number of critics’ awards (including the ‘National Board of Review’ Award and those awarded by critics’ associations of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles) but none of these awards has a very strong correlation with the eventual Oscar winner in this category.

Best Actor:

This is possibly the most intriguing category among the top six in this year’s Oscars. Casey Affleck, by virtue of his performance in ‘Manchester by the Sea’ and thanks to some generous publicity by its distributor (‘Amazon Studios’) emerged as an early frontrunner in the race, sweeping most of the critics’ choice awards as well as the Golden Globe – Best Actor (Drama). But Denzel Washington (‘Fences’) came out of nowhere to win the ‘Screen Actors Guild’ (SAG) Awards, the only award in this category where industry insiders get to vote. Affleck subsequently redeemed himself to an extent by winning the BAFTA where Washington was not nominated.

Because of his dominating performance almost through the awards season, Casey Affleck is a favourite to win this category as per our model. However, I am not so confident. SAG winners have gone on to win the ‘Best Actor’ category at Oscars around 82% of the time in the last fifty years. In fact, the last time an SAG winner failed to win at the Oscars was way back in 2003. Given this, I think Casey Affleck is still the modest favourite, but Denzel Washington retains a very, very good chance of winning in this category.

Best Actress:

This is another interesting category where our model shows a deceptively close race – quite the mirror image of the ‘Best Actor’ category. This is a three way race – among Emma Stone (‘La La Land’), Natalie Portman (‘Jackie’) and Isabelle Huppert (‘Elle’). Stone is likely to win this category – she has won at the SAG, BAFTA and Golden Globe – Best Actress (Musical or Comedy). Huppert’s strength in the model stems from the fact that she won a few critics’ choice awards and also won at the Golden Globe – Best Actress (Drama). Now, Golden Globe – Best Actress (Drama) has historically done a decent job of predicting the Oscar winner in this category; but of course, this year Emma Stone, the frontrunner, was not even competing in this category.

Best Supporting Actor:

This is another category which is relatively open at this year’s Oscars. Mahershala Ali, for his portrayal of a conflicted drug dealer in ‘Moonlight’, has won the SAG, Critics’ Choice and Chicago Films Critics Association Award. But at least three other nominees have won some or the other award and hence, cannot be counted out. Dev Patel especially, with his surprise win at the BAFTA, has emerged as the dark horse in this category.

Best Supporting Actress:

Viola Davis (‘Fences’) has dominated this category, winning in the awards that matter (Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG and Critics’ Choice) and is heavily favoured to win this category. Although our model shows Michelle Williams (‘Manchester by the Sea’) as a distant second, I think Naomi Harris (‘Moonlight’) poses the strongest challenge to Davis.

Best Screenplay – Original:

This is a straight fight between ‘Manchester by the Sea’ and ‘La La Land.’, almost too close to call. The former won the BAFTA while the latter won the Golden Globe. The highly predictive Critics’ Choice Awards in this category found it impossible to distinguish between the two and awarded both. ‘Manchester by the Sea’ is leading in our model on account of the higher weightage of BAFTA compared to Golden Globe, but frankly, both the movies have an almost equal chance of winning.

Best Screenplay – Adapted:

This category has been completely messed up by the fact that ‘Moonlight’ has been classified as an original screenplay by the Writers’ Guild of America and an adapted screenplay by the Academy Awards. Now, ‘Moonlight’ has won the ‘Best Original Screenplay’ at the WGA awards, and ‘Arrival’ has won the ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ at the same awards. But both the films have been nominated under the ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ category at the Academy Awards. To add to the uncertainty, in BAFTA, this category was won by ‘Lion’. Given this lack of data, the model is unable to decide between the two. Hence, I am not making any prediction in this category.

Best Editing:

Usually, the winner of the America Cinema Editors Award (Eddie) – Dramatic goes on to win in this category. But, the emergence of ‘La La Land’, a musical, as a strong favourite has upended this calculation. ‘La La Land’ has won Eddie award in the ‘Comedy or Musical’ category. It has also won in the highly predictive ‘Critics Choice’ and ‘Chicago Films Critics’ Association’ awards. Hence, it will remain the favourite over ‘Arrival’ (the winner of the Eddie in the ‘Dramatic’ category) and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ (the winner at BAFTA and ‘Satellite Awards’).

Best Cinematography:

This is another category where ‘La La Land’ is the clear frontrunner and ‘Moonlight’ is the closest threat, but a pretty distant one. ‘La La Land’ has won at BAFTA and more importantly (for this category), at the Critics’ Choice Awards.

Best Animation Movie:

Zootopia’ has dominated this category in this awards season, but the BAFTA had a surprise at the last moment, when it chose to award ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’. Given that ‘Zootopia’ has won most of the insider awards in this category, it is still favoured to win; but BAFTA has a very good track record when it becomes to predicting the eventual Oscar winner in this category. Hence, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ cannot be counted out as yet.

Best Documentary:

This is another category where the narrative of the race has been disturbed at the dying stages by a surprise result at the BAFTA. ‘O.J.: Made in America’ has swept this category at most of the awards this season and remains a clear favourite; but the victory of ‘13th’ at the BAFTA means the race is not a foregone conclusion. ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ remains a dark horse in this category.

Best Foreign Language Film:

‘Elle’ would have been a strong contender in this category, given its performance in the other awards (winner at ‘Golden Globe’ and ‘Critics’ Choice Movie Awards’) but it was not nominated at the Oscars. Given this, the race shall be a close one between ‘The Salesman’, the Iranian-French movie (winner at ‘Satellite Award’ and ‘National Board of Review’) and ‘Toni Erdmann’, the German movie (winner at ‘New York Film Critics Circle Awards’). The one big factor that has not been captured by the model is that Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of ‘The Salesman’, was recently disallowed from travelling to US by the executive action of President Trump that barred travellers from seven Muslim countries (the action has since been overturned by the court). In protest, Mr. Farhadi decided to skip the awards. Since Hollywood is dominated by liberals and given the anti-Trump mood at the various awards this year, this executive action might have ironically just tipped the scale in favour of ‘The Salesman’.

Best Costume Design:

Jackie’ has won at all the three major awards which has this category and should win at the Academy Awards as well.

Best Visual Display:

There are again only three major awards that have this category, but ‘The Jungle Book’ has scooped up all three of them. It is likely to win the Academy Awards as well.

Best Production Design:

Another category, another expected victory for ‘La La Land’. The strongest competition in this section shall come from ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ which won at the BAFTA. But again, BAFTA is a British Academy and it tends to favour movies produced in the United Kingdom. In fact, ‘The Handmaiden’, a Korean movie had shown some promise in this category in the critics’ awards, but has not been nominated at the Academy Awards.

Best Original Score:

I am getting a little tired of repeating this, but ‘La La Land’ is again a clear favourite here. Considering that La La Land is that rare musical that has managed to be a strong contender at so many categories this season, it will be a surprise if it does not manage to win this one, supposedly the category which should be its strong suit. In fact, ‘Jackie’ is the only other movie to have won any award in this category (Chicago Films Critics Association Award) this year.

Best Original Song:

Of course, as expected, ‘La La Land’ is a favourite in this category. Not only that, it also has two separate nominations (‘City of Stars’ and ‘Audition’). ‘City of Stars’ has won all the awards available in this category and should win at the Oscars as well.

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