Yesterday, Roma won Best Film and Best Director at the BAFTAs, setting into motion that old seductive idea that the BAFTA strongly influences, or at least can presage the Oscars, even though they use different balloting systems. More predictive, at least in the modern era of the preferential ballot (2009–present), are the big guilds: producers, directors, actors, and writers. They are each comprised of thousands of voters, but the most closely aligned to the Academy has to be the Producers Guild, who also expanded their slate to an even ten nominees (which I wish the Academy would return to) in 2009, and use the preferential balloting system.
The only two groups, in fact, that do use the preferential ballot for Best Picture are the PGA and the Oscars. Their membership is roughly the same number — around 7,000. The main difference is that the Academy’s largest branch is the acting branch. Producers don’t have all those pesky actors in their ranks and that is perhaps why you don’t see an alignment of 100%.
The factors driving this year’s race include a dirty campaign targeting Green Book, which entered the race as a frontrunner and as such had to be taken down. Is it dead? Well, it might have won the BAFTA if it wasn’t, but Peter Farrelly had no directing nomination in the UK, and he has no directing nomination at the Oscars. Right now, it does appear to be Roma’s to lose. However, some of us are a bit skeptical of this happening. Maybe that hesitancy will be proven to be ridiculous, maybe not. Right now I can pretty much guarantee almost all pundits are predicting Roma, a feeling now fortified by the BAFTA. But is that wise? I’m not sure. The films that won both the BAFTA and the Oscar over the past 10 years also won PGA at the least:
2009: Hurt Locker — PGA/DGA/WGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2010: The King’s Speech — PGA/DGA/SAG/BAFTA/Oscar
2011: The Artist — PGA/DGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2012: Argo — PGA/DGA/SAG/WGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2013: 12 Years a Slave — PGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2014: Birdman — PGA/DGA/SAG/Oscar
2015: Spotlight — SAG/WGA/Oscar
2016: Moonlight — WGA/Oscar
2017: Shape of Water — PGA/DGA/Oscar
So you can see how BAFTA has kind of dropped off in recent years. What could be the reason for this? And moreover, why did picture and director start to drift apart after Argo? Perhaps seeing Argo win without even a nomination for Ben Affleck caused voters to start looking at the two trophies separately. When Ang Lee won for Life of Pi, it seemed to set into motion this idea that the Best Director is more aligned with the visual creativity of the film while Best Picture, or producer, is more aligned with the screenplay.
It’s weird because individual films often win so few Oscars nowadays that sweeps — where one film wins everything — don’t seem to happen anymore. It makes sense: with more Best Picture nominees there are more films that theoretically shouldn’t go home empty handed. Spread the wealth all over the place. You get an Oscar, you get an Oscar, everyone gets an Oscar. However, there HAVE been films that won a lot of Oscars, like Gravity with its seven wins — they just didn’t win Best Picture. The average number of wins for Best Picture now is three Oscars. Spotlight won with just two.
This year will put the big guilds to the test, to see which has the greatest influence. Right now, the Producers Guild is ahead by just a hair. Since 2009 the PGA has reigned by matching Best Picture seven times. The DGA is right behind with six. SAG lags behind that with four.
Judging by recent history, it would be a mistake to side with the BAFTA over, say, the PGA — except for the Deus ex Machina of the “new voters.” The new international voters will choose, at long last, a foreign language film for Best Picture, doing as the BAFTA did by awarding it in both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture. But see, the Academy I know doesn’t do this. They have separate categories for a reason. That’s why no film has won in both categories in the 71 years that separate feature film categories have existed. Never. Not in animated, not in documentary, and not in foreign language.
The stat girl me, and the stat guy in our stats guy Marshall Flores, remain skeptical that Roma is a slam dunk. The only problem with that thinking is simply this: If not Roma, then what? This is the hardest question to answer. Which means, paradoxically, it might be the simplest question to answer. It is Roma. And that’s that, Occam’s Razor and all.
I would add a word of caution about this type of thinking based on what we know so far. The history of BAFTA, the preferential ballot (why didn’t Roma win the PGA?) and the impact of, say, Black Panther on the Best Picture race. How many voters will opt for the “popular” movie, even without director, writing, and acting nominations? Believe it or not, Black Panther winning is less of a long shot than Roma winning just based on stats alone. That’s because NO FILM has ever won Best Picture while also being in the foreign language category, while both Wings and Grand Hotel managed to win Best Picture despite missing all three of those critical nominations.
Throw the dice, Oscarwatchers, it’s a free for all. We hope to be getting more poll results if we can find a reliable sample to see how these films rank. The one thing we know for sure is that the only preferential ballot test we’ve seen so far did not result in a Roma win. Will actors make the difference? Will the new members? Possibly. We will have to wait and see.