As we sift through the wreckage of the 88th annual Oscar race, it’s safe to say it was the most unpredictable race since 2000, when Gladiator, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Traffic headed into the race and split the awards in unexpected ways. In the end, last night wouldn’t follow that route exactly, but would still upend a few of our hardcore stats.
Essentially, there were two films that held onto their place throughout much of this race — The Big Short and Spotlight. Both were nominated for the AFI’s 10 Movies of the Year, the Golden Globes, the BAFTA, the DGA and the WGA and most importantly, SAG Ensemble. Their popularity as the Best Picture favorites would dominate the awards right up until Alejandro Inarritu won the DGA.
The stats that fell
The Producers Guild under a preferential ballot, which has matched Best Picture 100% of the time since 2009.
Since Spotlight did not win the PGA, but still managed to win Oscar’s Best Picture, the preferential ballot must now be regarded as a movable and changeable stat, especially when the nominated films differ ever so slightly to make a difference.
The ACE Editors nomination
Two films have won Best Picture with just the SAG and the WGA, as Spotlight did — Crash and Shakespeare in Love. Both those, however, had an ACE nomination at the very least. Spotlight did not. The last film to win without an ACE nod was Driving Miss Daisy.
Other barriers presumed to be against Spotlight included it being from an independent production company, Open Road, in a year when some big visionary films came out of the major studios – like Warner Brother’s Mad Max or Fox’s (and New Regency) The Revenant. The Martian, Bridge of Spies — and Paramount’s The Big Short. That might have hurt Boyhood last year, or maybe the Academy’s choice had nothing to do with that at all. Maybe they just pick what they like, regardless.
The Globes and BAFTA have been united and “wrong” two years in a row.
While they matched Best Director with Oscar, they did not match Best Picture. The Broadcast Film Critics did, however. They had George Miller for Best Director, who wasn’t even nominated by the BAFTA.
The singular male protagonist in crisis was this year not as important as social issue at hand. Spotlight is the first bona fide ensemble piece, with no lead performance contenders, to win since Return of the King. And even that had Frodo. Leading roles are considered so important, DiCaprio’s win might have propelled The Revenant forth to a win if the preferential ballot had not been a factor.
Stats that held
All of the things that prevented The Revenant from winning Best Picture held true. You still need a SAG Ensemble nomination (give or take a Braveheart). You still need a screenplay nomination (give or take a Titanic). But missing the two together, along with a PGA loss and divisive reviews, actually made The Revenant win for Best Picture the long shot prediction.
The Telluride stat – or the anti-late breaker
Had either The Revenant or The Big Short won, we would have tossed the late-breaker idea. But Spotlight came straight outta Telluride and therefore, maintained that stat.
Negative or divisive reviews hurt movies on a preferential ballot. With this type of ballot, you’re looking for something with fewer than 30 negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Positive reviews aren’t as useful as a gauge as the negative ones.
Early on in the evening, the man sitting in front of me told me that of all of the Academy members he spoke with, almost all were voting for either The Big Short or The Revenant. Probably those two movies came in 1 and 2. But enough of the other voters apparently had Spotlight high on their ballot and Spotlight, not the other two, benefited when those ballots began to be reallocated in the middle rounds of counting.
I performed this ballot experiment twice on Facebook and each time Spotlight came out the winner. It did well because it was liked, for sure, by almost everyone. Between the beginning of the season and the time of Oscar voting, the choice crystallized and Spotlight began to look like the preferred option of the three. It’s a movie about, as the cast said at the SAG Awards, “the good guys.” Making the message unmistakably about the abuse victim and not about the reporters is, I think, how they drove it home in the final act. They gave it just enough urgency to vote that people probably felt like they were doing a good deed when they placed it high on their ballots. It is not unlike The King’s Speech in this way. That kind of goodwill is nearly impossible to manufacture but this film had good intentions from the outset and was an easy sit for any type of voter.
The stats can only carry you so far. At some point, you have to fly on instinct. I had many warning signs in my head and in other places that told me Spotlight was likely to win. I also felt a familiar feeling of dread that The Revenant would. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to see the movie win — it’s that if it did win, nothing thought I know about this system would be true anymore. In the end, the stats mostly held.
Props to those out there who did predict Spotlight, like David Poland, Thelma Adams, Tom O’Neil, to name a few.
Until next year, Oscarwatchers…