They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

Final Oscar Predictions for the 86th Annual Academy Awards

By J Don Birnam

February 27, 2014

'Tis a fine barn, English.

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So it has all come down to this. The votes have been cast and the results are being tabulated. We can talk through theories and statistics until we are blue in the face, but it is time to have the courage of our convictions and make final predictions. Hopefully, the last few months of obsessive Oscar-watching will net you a good result on your Oscar ballot Sunday night. Or perhaps you are like me and are hoping for major surprises and upsets. Indeed, I hear rumors and truly hope that this might in fact be the year we finally get a big upset in the top eight categories. But don’t count on it - the Oscars have been utterly predictable over the past years. Sure, we don’t know yet if American Hustle, Gravity, or 12 Years a Slave will win Best Picture, but it won’t be an upset unless one of the other six nominees somehow pulls it off.

First let’s walk through the anatomy of my own strategy for filling out my Oscar ballot at any Oscar contest. I like to make my selections in two stages - first, the “lesser” 16 categories, leaving for second the eight major awards (Picture, Director, four acting races, and two writing races). Within each stage, it is always comforting to click off the easy categories first; it lulls you into a false sense of easiness and complacency. When you come to the more iffy races, first eliminate the “no way” contenders (for this you can use past columns where I have discarded some nominees outright) and then pick from what is left based on what you think is objectively best or the most popular film. The Oscar race is a popularity contest first and foremost. Or you can simply pick whatever most pundits are predicting in those categories with two or three potential victors.


Alternatively, you may try a different strategy for the harder to call races: you may go out on a limb and predict a surprise. The strategy of crossing off “no way” contenders and selecting either your favorite or the pundit favorite will net you a consistently high score of around 14-22 correct. You will never get them all right by going with the pundit consensus. There is always an unforeseen winner in the tech races where the Academy just decides to go its own way. The latter strategy, picking against the consensus in the iffy races, may result in an embarrassing disaster if applied across more than one or two categories - it is just a fact that favorites win most awards (a consistently reliable trend of late but maybe statistically overdue to be broken) - but of course could make you look brilliant if you were the only one who called Lincoln for Art Direction or Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for Editing. I tend to go the safer route, having been bitten one too many times with off-the-cuff predictions.

Finally, apply this same strategy to the major awards. The only difference for the main races is that the guild and critical precursors (which we have covered here) do provide hints as to what and who is popular. Remember: popularity contest. Normally, none of the major eight are “vulnerable” - they are either locks or a toss-up between a particular number of contenders. Sometimes it is just wide open, like last year’s Best Supporting Actor race, and there you just have to guess - who do they like more? What movie do they like more? Sometimes it is a lock between two contenders, like Best Supporting Actress this year.

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