Oscars 2020: Our predictions

The Oscars prove to be a yearly excuse for talk show pundits to get in on the game of prediction. Often, this painfully shows that the picks made by so-called experts are nothing more than best guesses, fed with a heavy dose of wishful thinking. Of course, nobody blames the pundit for rooting for one his pals’ Oscar ambitions, but it does raise the question: can the Oscars be objectively predicted? To answer this question, let’s take a look at the group of people that determine the winner.

The Academy

The Oscars are awarded by the Academy, a group of around 7000 tight-lipped Hollywood insiders, who make for a tough crowd to poll. As the #OscarsSoWhite controversy pointed out, the Academy has major biases, making it hard to predict their preferred films by only looking at the characteristics of the nominated films[1]. Therefore, to capture the Academy’s opinion, we are forced to look for clues in those situations where Academy-members (or likeminded Hollywood insiders) are forced to display their preferences: other award shows.

Lucky for us, there are plenty of organizations that feel the need to award filmmakers for their outstanding achievements in the past year. Organizations like the Screen Actors Guild (SAG Awards), the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Critic’s Choice Awards) and the Hollywood Foreign Press (Golden Globes) are not only known for hosting over-the-top award shows (thank you, Ricky Gervais) and accessory parties, but are also labelled by media as great Oscar indicators.

Obviously, this is not always the case, but historically, there are plenty of awards that seem to predict Oscar winners pretty well. If we take a look at the statistics for the Best Actor category, for example, we find an interesting relationship between winning certain awards and winning the Oscar.

Best Actor Overlapping Winners Accurate Out of Momentum-score Academy members in jury?
SAG 80% 20 25 5 Yes
BAFTA 57% 15 27 5 Yes
Globes Drama 67% 18 27 6 Yes
Critics Choice 67% 16 24 4 No
Chicago Film Critics 37% 10 27 2 No
Detroit Film Critics 33% 4 12 2 No
Nat. Board of Review 30% 8 27 1 No
Satellite’s Drama 36% 8 22 4 No
Online Film Critics 41% 9 22 2 No

[1] As a matter of fact, once a film is nominated for Best Picture, characteristics like run time or genre are, historically, almost of no influence for their chances to win the award.

As it turns out, the Screen Actor Guild Awards has an 80% (20 out of 25 times) track-record for correctly predicting the Oscar winner. This is not surprising, as a fair share of SAG-members are also Academy members, making the SAG awards a very powerful indicator, along with the BAFTA’s and the Golden Globes. As a result, their momentum score – which is constructed from multiple factors, like the award’s timing in award season, the number of subsequent awards predicted correctly and the estimated percentage of Academy voters in the jury – is relatively high as well.

Combining the historical accuracy of preceding awards with film- and personal characteristics (such as previous Oscar wins and screen time in nominated pictures) yields us enough data to build a prediction model for the upcoming Oscars. Let’s check out some interesting categories below.

Best Picture

Of course, the most prestigious award is often the hardest to predict. Besides being the category with the most nominees (nine this year), it is also subject to a complicated consensus voting-system, where the film with the most votes doesn’t necessarily win.

This year, an exciting race has been going on between Bong Joon-ho’s dark comedy Parasite and Sam Mendes’ blockbuster 1917. Where Parasite gained traction early on by winning the prestigious Palme d’Or in Cannes, 1917 joined the party relatively late with a Christmas-release.

Despite missing out on the earlier awards, 1917 went on to win all important awards leading up to the upcoming Oscar ceremony. If there is one thing that the data concerning the Best Picture award proves, it is that momentum is everything. Unfortunately for Parasite, the early bird tends to not get the worm when talking about the golden statues. Moreover, in its 91-year history, the Academy has never awarded the prestigious Best Picture award to a foreign language film, something Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma found out the hard way last year. Despite being the heavy favourite with insiders and bookmakers, the black and white drama was snubbed by Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, despite the controversy surrounding lead actor Viggo Mortensen.

 

The verdict of the previous awards is pretty clear, 1917 is the heavy favourite this year. After crunching the numbers in our prediction model (which is basically a linear regression with multiple interaction variables concerning film- and actor specific variables), 1917’s chance to win the Oscar is around 77%. The frontrunner position also strengthens director Sam Mendes’ chance in the Best Director category (89%), and the Cinematography category is an absolute lock (>99%).

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

With a total of 27 Oscar nominations shared between the five contenders, this category is without a doubt the toughest to win this year. Being 56 years of age, Brad Pitt is the youngest of the nominees and it seems that he is leading the pack.

 

Winning at both the SAG awards and the Golden Globes, Pitt’s front-running position was secured early on. After his win at the BAFTA’s last weekend, his chance of winning now stands at a whopping 79%. This is of course an impressive achievement, but there is a big side note to be made. Pitt’s on-screen time in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is significantly larger than that of the other nominees, which is impressive considering the 3.5 hour run time of the Irishman, which stars both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.
A similar situation occurred last year with Mahershala Ali in 2019’s Best Picture Green Book. Ali, nominated as a Supporting Actor, admitted that his role as Dr. Shirley featured him more screen time than any of his previous projects (including his 2017 win in 2017 Best Picture Moonlight).

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

The Supporting Actress category features two first-time nominees this year. Both Florence Pugh (Litte Women) and Scarlet Johansson (Jojo Rabbit) go up for their first Oscar, with the latter even being nominated twice – ScarJo is also picked up a nomination for her leading role in Noah Baumbach’s heartbreaking Marriage Story.

The clear front runner in this race is however three-time nominee Laura Dern, winning the five biggest awards leading up to the Oscar ceremony. Dern, who stars alongside ScarJo in Marriage Story, even managed to pick up a BAFTA-award, which is quite an achievement for an American actress.

Historically, about 50% of the BAFTA-winners in this category are British. This might not seem as a surprising fact, but when we compare these BAFTA winners, with the later Oscar winners, a striking pattern occurs. Out of the 13 latest British BAFTA winners, only 3 went on to win the Oscar, which is a success rate of about 23%. Their non-British colleague’s, however, have a much better track record. Of the 14 latest non-British BAFTA winners, 12 went on to win the Oscar, which yields a baffling 86% success rate. It seems that actresses beating the British chauvinism have a very high probability of winning the most important award of the year, and it seems that Laura Dern will not be an exception to this. With a predicted 89% chance of winning coming Sunday, ours bets are on Laura Dern.

An Overview

Putting everything together, the award race seems to be a bit tighter than last year. The average probability of the front-runner winning the Oscar this year, is about 80%. This number is a bit further from 100 than the average probability our model produced last year, which was 83% – last year, the model went on to correctly predict nine out of eleven awards, which is an 82% success rate.
The resulting list of predictions for the eleven (in our opinion) ‘main’ categories, can be found below.

Award Predicted winner Film Odds
Best Film 1917 1917 77%
Best Director Sam Mendes 1917 89%
Best Actress Renée Zellweger Judy 74%
Best Actor Joaquin Phoenix Joker 72%
Best M. Supporting Brad Pitt OUaTiH 79%
Best F. Supporting Laura Dern Marriage Story 89%
Best Original Screenplay Parasite Parasite 62%
Best Adapted Screenplay Jojo Rabbit Jojo Rabbit 48%
Best Animated Film Toy Story 4 Toy Story 4 81%
Best Song Love Me Again Rocketman 93%
Best Cinematography 1917 1917 99%

About Lynxx

Lynxx is a Data Analytics consultancy with offices in Sydney covering the Asia Pacific region and in the Netherlands covering the UK and Europe. We work with clients to build statistical and prediction models using advanced mathematics and analytics.

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