Finally, this crazy wide open Best Picture race will have its major shaping (most likely) by the Producers Guild announcement tonight. I thought this would be a good time to revisit the stats once again before tonight’s ceremony, to evaluate which ones are going to fail and which ones will hold. While it’s true that “stats don’t matter,” as Kris Tapley and David Poland always say, stats are the only part of the Oscar race that is interesting to me after covering it for so many years.
In every year since the Oscars and the Producers Guild changed to the preferential ballot with more than five nominees, there have been two, sometimes three leading Best Picture contenders. This year, there are four, which makes this year unusual. Let’s run through the stats from the most important to the least important.
How do we measure stats? We don’t look at wins overall (as some might be tempted to do, and I know that’s how they’re doing it at FiveThirtyEight.com) because, the only wins that have come in so far have been from the critics and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The Social Network is the film that broke the significance of stats on critics awards because it won an unprecedented amount of critics awards — every single one you can win in order to win Best Picture — but once the bigger industry guilds got involved, for whatever reason, The King’s Speech took over and won everything. A similar thing happened last year with Boyhood: when the race got to the big guilds phase, Birdman took over and ultimately won the whole thing. Films that have managed to do well with both the critics AND the industry include The Hurt Locker and The Artist, which essentially won all of the critics awards and the big guild awards as well. The film critic stats, for the most part, are therefore not as trustworthy as those for the bigger guilds. When you win the big guilds now with the preferential ballot, you tend to win Best Picture. This will not likely change as long as the preferential ballot is in play.
Things to know:
- The Producers Guild has around 7,000 members. The PGAs started in 1989, but at that time they were held after the Oscars. In 1990, the PGAs began to be held before the Oscars, and thus became an “influence.” Since 2009 when the PGA expanded their ballot to ten nominees, their winner has predicted Best Picture 100% of the time, even in the year when there was a split vote between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Prior to that, they missed with Little Miss Sunshine, Brokeback Mountain, The Aviator, Moulin Rouge, Saving Private Ryan, Apollo 13, and The Crying Game. For the past six years, they have predicted Best Picture. Many believe this is because they have roughly the same number of voters as the Academy and are the only group that uses the preferential ballot other than the Academy.
- The Directors Guild has around 15,400 members — twice as many as 30 years ago, as recent decades have seen a large influx of television directors. The DGAs were inaugurated in 1948 and have the strongest and longest track record with Oscar. They have a five nominee ballot. They ordinarily accurately predict either Best Picture or Best Director except in the rare off years. The last year they didn’t predict Best Picture was 2013, though Alfonso Cuaron won Best Director at the Oscars. Before that, you have to go back to 2005 with Ang Lee who won for Brokeback Mountain and also won the directing Oscar. They were also more hit-and-miss in the years before the Academy moved up the Oscar dates by a month in 2004. Back in the old days there were 4-6 more weeks for voters to contemplate, which is how you got Braveheart beating Apollo 13 the way it did. 2000 was the weirdest year because you had Ang Lee winning the DGA for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but then you had Steven Soderbergh winning the Oscar for directing Traffic, and Gladiator winning Best Picture. Since 2009, however, the DGA has predicted either Best Picture or Best Director.
- The Screen Actors Guild (now SAG-AFTRA) has around 160,000 members. The SAG Awards started around 1995. They merged with AFTRA in 2012, broadening their membership significantly. If you work at all in broadcast television, anywhere in America, for instance, you can be a voting member for the SAG Awards. That makes them less reliable in terms of predicting Best Picture. But in the post-2009 era of more than five nominees, no film has won PGA, DGA, and the SAG Awards Ensemble and not gone on to win Best Picture. Those include Birdman, Argo, and The King’s Speech. The Help beat The Artist, American Hustle beat 12 Years a Slave, Inglourious Basterds beat The Hurt Locker. Where the SAG Awards have never failed in the post-2009 era is that no film has ever won Best Picture without at least garnering an Ensemble nomination there.
- The American Cinema Editors guild has around 6,000 members. The Eddie awards started in 1950. No film since Driving Miss Daisy has won Best Picture without an ACE Eddie nod. Before Driving Miss Daisy, Terms of Endearment and Ordinary People are examples of films that won Best Picture without an ACE Eddie nod. Since 2009, however, such has not been the case.
- The British Film and Television Academy (BAFTA) has around 6,000 members. BAFTA stats can only really be counted from 2012 onward, which is no stat to go on at all because of the small sample size. But the reason they matter is because there is increasingly more membership crossover between the BAFTA and the AMPAS, which is why they often are mutually influential in terms of some borderline acting wins. The way we use them for our purposes, however, is to measure who’s most likely to get a nomination. Since they changed their voting procedure a few years ago, no film has won Best Picture without at least a BAFTA nomination for Picture and Director.
- The date seen — Only those films seen at or before Telluride have ever won since 2009: The Hurt Locker (TIFF, a year before release), The King’s Speech (Telluride), The Artist (Cannes), Argo (Telluride), 12 Years a Slave (Telluride), Birdman (Telluride). Before that, you have to go back to Million Dollar Baby in 2004 to find a late breaker that won Best Picture. That’s right around the time the Oscars changed to an earlier date and the compressed awards schedule became a major factor in Best Picture voting. Before the date change, Telluride and/or Toronto had no reliable impact on the awards race.
- The Golden Globe nomination for Best Director – for some reason, this stat has merit even if the Globe voters only number 90 or so. No film has won Best Picture since 2009 without that. The last film that won Best Picture without the Globe Directing nod was Crash in 2005.
- Rotten Tomatoes negative number – no film since 2009 has won with more than 30 negatives on Rotten Tomatoes. The Hurt Locker: 6, The King’s Speech: 14, The Artist: 7, Argo: 13, 12 Years a Slave: 11, Birdman: 21.
- The ACE Eddie/DGA connection – no film has ever won both the ACE Eddie and the DGA and lost Best Picture, except Saving Private Ryan. It’s a reliable, though slightly imperfect, stat.
- Academy nomination for Best Director (or Editing or Screenplay) – it’s extremely rare to win Best Picture without a Directing nomination. Ben Affleck did it in 2012, wiping the stat away but it’s still a pretty heavy hitter unless there is growing sentiment for the film throughout the season. No one is yet predicting a split between The Martian and Mad Max, which could easily happen. The Martian could take Best Picture and Mad Max take Best Director. The Martian’s Ridley Scott missed out on a directing nomination so no one is predicting it to take Best Pic, but theoretically it could happen.
Since the current voting process has been in effect only since 2009, we don’t have long standing stats as we would need to prove them reliable or unreliable, but so far these stats have not failed under the new system. Sooner or later they will and this could be the year that they do.
So which film breaks which stat of those above? All of them. From most to least:
The Martian – no directing nomination, no SAG Awards Ensemble nomination (RT negative – 20 = grade A)
Mad Max: Fury Road – missing a SAG Awards Ensemble nod + BAFTA nominations for Picture or Director, no screenplay nomination (RT negative – 10 = grade A+)
Spotlight – missing an ACE Eddie nod, no BAFTA directing or editing nods (RT negative – 8 = grade A+)
The Revenant – missing SAG Awards Ensemble, no screenplay nomination, not seen at Telluride (RT negative – 44 = grade C)
The Big Short – not seen at Telluride, no Globe nod for Director – (RT negative – 28 = grade A-)
A quick and dirty analysis of the Big Split
In 2013, I was Chicken Little (“They call me Chicken Little. They call me Bubble Boy”) as I kept telling good predictors like Steve Pond, Pete Hammond, Scott Feinberg, and Kris Tapley that splits are so rare that you can’t really predict them. That was why, even with a tie at the Producers Guild, so many were predicting Gravity to take both Best Picture and Best Director (not because of me but because splits are nigh impossible to predict). The thing about Gravity, though, was that it did not have a screenplay nomination or a SAG Awards Ensemble nomination. But even with that, it still seemed like the favorite to win because of the combo of the PGA and the DGA.
Then a funny thing happened. I went back through Oscar history to take a look at the recent splits. Driving Miss Daisy was an interesting situation because poor Bruce Beresford, for whatever reason, did not get a Globes nod, a DGA nod, or an Oscar nod for Directing. I have no idea why. That movie kept winning anyway. It was an agreed upon split heading into the Oscar race. Similarly, in 2000, people sort of knew that Gladiator was going to win Best Picture, but since Ang Lee had won the DGA people assumed it might split come Oscar time.
Those examples didn’t really fit what we were potentially looking at with Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. For one thing, Alfonso Cuaron kept winning Best Director everywhere. It was a non-stop award-athon. It seemed like he couldn’t lose. But there was also the sense that 12 Years a Slave needed to win, like The Hurt Locker, for historically important reasons. That wasn’t the case with Gladiator, though it might have been a factor with Driving Miss Daisy. Both 12 Years a Slave and Driving Miss Daisy dealt with Civil Rights issues. Driving Miss Daisy was released the same year Do the Right Thing was shut out. The former was told from the white community’s perspective and Do the Right Thing was told from the black community’s perspective. But still, history seemed “important” when Driving Miss Daisy was up.
When I looked closely at 1968, however, everything clicked into place. Mike Nichols kept winning director (Globes, New York Film Critics, DGA) for The Graduate, and yet In the Heat of the Night was the more historically important film, and also dealt with Civil Rights issues, like 12 Years a Slave and Driving Miss Daisy. In the Heat of the Night won Best Film at the Golden Globes and at the New York Film Critics, where Nichols won Director. I’ll never forget trying to explain this to Steve Pond in the press tent at the Spirit Awards. He looked at me the way he always does when I rattle off some crazy stat — with polite bemusement. I could not convince him, especially since I had spent many months before trying to convince him that splits never happen. “But they can be predicted,” I said, “when they are agreed upon in advance.”
Argo is an example of a forced split because there were no other options. 12 Years a Slave and Argo, the only two years where splits occurred since 2009, were agreed upon in advance. Every other year when pundits predicted a split it did not happen.
The reason this year doesn’t seem to be “agreed upon on advance” is that George Miller, who won the Critics Choice award for Best Director, didn’t win the Globe and isn’t nominated for a BAFTA. Compare that to Alfonso Cuaron winning everything that wasn’t nailed down. There’s a difference there. Now, I’m not saying it won’t happen — I could not do that to you again. But I am saying predicting a split this year is a tricky proposition because it hasn’t really been agreed upon in advance, and because we don’t have two movies anyway in the Best Picture conversation. We have four.
The thing about stats is that they can all fly out the window if voters like a movie enough. What they can show is how much voters like a movie. We know that 2,000 people at the SAG liked Spotlight and The Big Short enough to nominate them for Ensemble. We know that 6,000 in ACE liked The Big Short, The Revenant, Mad Max and The Martian to put them in their Eddie nominations. We know that 15,000 in the DGA liked The Big Short, The Revenant, Spotlight, Mad Max and The Martian to name them among their nominations. Those are the big numbers. We also know that tonight at the PGAs the stats will be put to the test. This will be the first vote from any big guild – roughly 7,000 people on a preferential ballot.
Many years ago, a PGA winner may or may not have gone on to win the Oscar because there was more time to mull over the nominees. There isn’t time now. SAG/WGA ballots are due this week. All of the votes and winners heading up to the Oscars will take place roughly at the same time. There is less time to turn the ship around – it’s headed for the iceberg and not much can stop it. It’s going to hit. The only question is, how hard will it hit, and how much damage will it do.
The Producers Guild will announce tonight at around 10 p.m. Pacific.