Oscar By The Numbers 2012: And the Academy Award for Best Picture Goes To . . .

. . . . I really don’t care, since Melancholia and Bridesmaids were not even nominated, and I think Oscar 2012 is offering the most light-weight, forgettable slate of Best Picture Nominations I’ve seen in many, many years. And I have the numbers to support that assertion.

By way of background: people have long tried to handicap the Best Picture award based on a variety of factors, most commonly performance in a variety of other award shows leading up to the Big Pageant. Being a stats and numbers geek, it occured to me that a far better approach to handicapping the top prize would be to consider the internal relationships within the Academy, essentially evaluating what they nominate against what they award. Toward this end, I built a quantitative database of all Academy Award nominations back to the beginning in 1928, and then mathematically evaluating the correlations between Best Picture victory and other nominations.

What does that mean in English? Start here: it’s pretty much a given that you need a Best Director nomination to win Best Picture, since only three films in history (Driving Miss Daisy the sole anomaly in modern times) have ever won the top prize without their Directors also being nominated. So the correlation between Best Director and Best Picture is extremely strong. This essentially makes the Academy’s new approach of nominating more than five films for Best Picture a pointless enterprise, unless they are going to also allow the number of Director nominations to increase beyond five. For all intents and purposes, once the nominations are made, only those Best Pictures with related Best Director nods are actually in contention. The rest are just window-dressing.

But what other nominations have the strongest intra-Academy correlations to Best Picture success? When you crunch the dataset, you come up with what might be seen as some counter-intuitive (or perhaps even disturbing) conclusions. Here are a small number of them:

  • Actor nominations are dramatically more valuable than actress nominations.
  • Cinematography is also more valuable than actress nominations.
  • Film editing is the most valuable of the minor/technical awards (I consider Cinematography to be a major).
  • Adapted screenplays are twice as valuable as original screenplays.
  • A nominated score helps, a nominated song hurts.

I developed a mathematical model that consolidates all of these factors to produce a single consolidated rating of “Best Picture-worthiness” on a scale of 0 to 100%. In essense, Best Pictures nominees that receive certain combinations of other nominations become almost shoo-ins to win, so it’s not just about who gets the most nominations, but instead about who gets the right ones. The five most-worthy Best Pictures ever under this rubric are:

  • From Here to Eternity (1953): 95.9% predicted best picture value.
  • All About Eve (1950): 93.6%
  • On The Waterfront (1954): 90.3%
  • Gone With the Wind (1939): 86.6%
  • The Godfather (1996): 84.9%

Last year, in the early phases of the post-nomination cycle, when most pundits were predicting a slam dunk win for the (grossly-overrated) The Social Network, I ran these numbers and correctly called it for The King’s Speech instead, since that film had a tenth-best ever predicted score of 82.5%, leaps and bounds ahead of The Social Network.

Now, what happens when you put the nine nominees for 2012 into the dataset and crunch the numbers? Well . . . you come out with The Artist as the predicted winner, but with a fairly mediocre predicted score of 67.4%, which will make it the 27th most deserving Best Picture should it actually win (which I believe it will, unfortunately).

Hugo is the second strongest of this year’s nominees at 66.0% (29th place over-all, if it won), so it’s close enough in a weak field to at least stand as a dark horse candidate. After that, though, it’s a quick spiral down to some truly marginal contenders. Moneyball would be number 67 (42.5%) if it won, while The Descendants would be number 80 (31.2%). If War Horse, Midnight in Paris, Tree of Life, The Help or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close win the Best Picture, they would each be among the five least-deserving recipients in Oscar history, by the Academy’s own numbers.¬†

All of which takes me back to my opening point: there are some pleasant enough movies in this batch (along with some dogs), but I feel confident that 2012 is going to be one of those years that film historians will look at 20 years hence and ask: How the hell did Bridesmaids and Melancholia (the latter my own choice for best film of the year) not even pick up Best Picture nominations, while a gimmick movie like The Artist took the prize?

3 thoughts on “Oscar By The Numbers 2012: And the Academy Award for Best Picture Goes To . . .

  1. Pingback: Nippertown!

    • If I factor in a correlation for “Eric bets money on something” and “That thing succeeds” . . . then whatever other correlations exist in that thing’s behalf, the opposite thing will occur!! I’m a better uninvested critic accordingly . . . there’s probably a Schroedinger’s Bank Account Theory there to be developed . . .

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