The Oscar race, back in the day, before the Academy shifted the ceremony back by one month, there was more time for Oscar contenders to bake, for their full impact on our culture to be truly absorbed. Why this matters is that, supposedly, Hollywood films are for the people, not just the insular circle of awards pundits, critics and voters. That meant that a movie like Driving Miss Daisy, which didn’t get a Best Director nomination at the DGA could still win Best Picture based on it being a box office phenomenon alone. Hidden Figures has no DGA nomination. It also was not nominated for a BAFTA. In many respects, we in the awards race know, all bets are off – it can’t win because of these prohibitive stats.
But a funny thing happened. The election happened. That seems to have shifted things off their axis a bit. I can’t really explain it because it’s never happened before but put it this way: I would not be surprised to see a stat buster win Best Picture.
If we go by just pure stats, the ones that seem to have a 90% lock on Best Picture you have only two champs:
Manchester by the Sea (SAG/DGA/PGA/WGA/ACE)
After that, you have the stat busters and at the top of that list is:
La La Land (DGA/PGA/ACE/WGA) – SAG for just acting
If you drop the SAG ensemble stat which is is a pretty solid stat, I must say, you also must include:
Lion (DGA/PGA) – SAG for just acting
Arrival (DGA/PGA/WGA/ACE) – SAG for just acting
All of these theoretically have a shot to win Best Picture once you remove the tried and true stats. Last year, people did this with The Revenant – almost all of the major pundits were predicting The Revenant to win Best Picture without a SAG ensemble nomination. They did the same thing with Gravity, Zero Dark Thirty and Avatar. Actors rule the Academy and it’s hard without their full support.
On the other hand, the DGA has traditionally held the most power when determining Best Picture. Remove the DGA stat and you have to climb Mount Impossible. The film that would have to do that would be:
Hidden Figures (PGA/WGA/SAG)
Here’s the thing about Hidden Figures, though. Even though all of the Oscar contenders are making money – La La Land is locked in for at least $100 mil and slowly becoming a phenomenon. Manchester by the Sea and Fences are also making money. Hidden Figures has hit number one two weeks in a row which is a pretty big deal considering it’s helmed by three black female leads. It’s making money effortlessly, and many are rooting for it on the sidelines. Its buzz is, as far as I can tell, right up there with La La Land’s.
You can’t really predict nor plan when a movie just takes off like that. It often happens by total surprise. I’m currently waiting on the inevitable think pieces that will drop criticizing it but it’s worth noting, for the record, that if there had been more time for Hidden Figures to bake before the ballots all had to be rushed in, there is a chance it would have hit the DGA. Once a movie becomes wildly popular and impossible to ignore, it tends to show up places you don’t expect it to.
Also something many aren’t really taking into account is how the new membership might impact voting. One of the reasons history and stats work out so well is that the voting demographic has not really changed in the last almost 100 years. Change moves very very slowly except for last year where a whole bunch of new names were added to the roster. That kind of shake up could produce an unpredictable result.
As someone who follows the stats, I would have to predict either Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea for the Best Picture. If I throw out the stats, Best Picture suddenly becomes anyone’s game. What the stats tell us is how many thousands like a movie. The SAG only had 2500 people voting. DGA has 15,000 – that’s the most heading in. PGA has around 6,000. The DGA used to matter because directors drove the Best Picture race but since the Academy continues to hand out split votes under the preferential ballot, Best Director has mattered less and less.
Probably you’re still looking at the most likely scenario being La La Land for Best Picture and Director and a whole bunch of other Oscars. But it will have to be a stat busting year to do so.