They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

The Oscar Race Post-PGA Tie - Can Gravity Pull it Off?

By J. Don Birnam

January 21, 2014

Women drivers, am I right?

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Now that the dust from the Academy Award nominations announcement has settled, and with fresh clues from the Critics’ Choice, SAG, and PGA awards, it is clear that we have a true horse race for Best Picture for the first time in a very long time. Exciting, isn’t it?

On Thursday, when AMPAS announced that American Hustle had received 10 nominations, including one in each acting category, the popular narrative was that that movie was the presumptive front-runner for Best Picture. Yes, Gravity also had 10 nominations, but with most of them coming in so-called “below the line” categories, it was assumed that Hustle was in the lead - albeit ever so slightly. Then, on Thursday night, the Broadcast Film Critics, the largest association of film critics in the country, gave their top prize to 12 Years a Slave. These critics have no overlap with AMPAS voters that I’m aware of, but people are people and we look to these awards for clues about what movies are resonating with individuals who watch them. But then, on Saturday, the Screen Actors Guild, composed of approximately 100,000 voting members, handed its top honor to American Hustle. The acting branch of the Academy is, of course, its largest, accounting for approximately 1,100 of 6,000 or so members. Presumably most if not all of those 1,100 are SAG members. After all this, one would be forgiven for thinking that12 Years a Slave and American Hustle are vying for the top spot.

Then the unthinkable happened.


On Sunday night, the Producers Guild Awards handed their top prize to both 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Suddenly, the “it can’t win” narrative that had been espoused by most about Gravity - myself included - was shattered. People like to support winners. Could it be that, like Obama after the Iowa Caucuses, people think “hey, maybe it can win,” freeing them to vote for it?

The Producers Guild is composed of approximately 4,500 members, with significant AMPAS overlap. Indeed, one might argue that because it is far less dispersed than SAG, it has a higher predictive value than that voting body. Thus, the PGA has correctly predicted the ultimate Best Picture winner since 2007. Moreover, the PGA, like the Best Picture Oscar, is voted on via “preferential voting,” where voters rank the nominees instead of outright selecting one. Under that system a movie receiving the most overall #1 votes may still not win, unless it received an absolute majority, if it is not ranked high enough in other ballots. Thus, we can safely assume from the PGA result that both 12 Years and Gravity are sufficiently pleasing to a broad group of people, and that, conversely, Hustle is not universally loved. In other words, few people seem to have a problem with either 12 Years or Gravity, even if it’s not their favorite movie, but a lot of people seem to think American Hustle is over-hyped (or maybe just not that good).

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