I have to admit that as long as I’ve been covering the Oscars I’ve still never fully understood why the Academy votes for certain movies and not others, and why so many of those movies are hated the instant they win, and why it’s often the movies that don’t win that will stand the test of time.
I think, in the final analysis, even though I mostly have the same mainstream taste as a typical Oscar voters, I am also an outsider. I generally do not agree with the industry’s consensus choices and much of the time the film I would choose to win the awards doesn’t win. The Martian went home with zero Oscars last year. Arrival might go home with zero Oscars. I am not that person who would pick La La Land for every category. So it’s hard for me to put myself in that mindset — that’s why I turn to history and charts and stats and precedent.
I will say that it’s become much much harder to win a lot of Oscars with an expanded ballot. It is bound to happen sooner or later and this might be the year. People will say that Golden Globes never had a film win 7 before so all bets are off. While that’s partly true, the Globes and Oscars rarely match in terms of taste. As of now, though, we must proceed as if a sweep is afoot.
As we contemplate whether or not La La Land will repeat its historic sweep of the Globes to an historic sweep of the Oscars, I think it’s instructive if we also look at the films expected to walk away with nothing this year. First, let’s look at which films are likely to go home empty handed on Oscar night, which films have gone home empty handed in previous years with the preferential ballot vs. previous years with the plurality ballot.
Movie City News put up its most recent Gurus of Gold chart and you’ll see that the only two categories that appear poised to split are Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Here is how most expect it to go, more or less:
La La Land – 14 nominations / 8 or 9 or 10 or 11 or 12 or 13 wins depending. Picture, Director, Actress, Cinematography, Production Design, Editing, Sound, Costumes, Score, Song, maybe Screenplay, maybe Sound Editing and in a clean sweep, Actor.
Moonlight – 8 nominations / 2 wins – Screenplay, Supporting Actor
Arrival – 8 nominations / 0 wins predicted
Manchester by the Sea – 6 nominations / 1 or 2 wins – either Screenplay or Actor or both, maybe zero.
Lion – 6 nominations / 0 predicted
Hacksaw Ridge – 6 nominations / 0 predicted
Fences – 4 nominations / 1 or 2 wins depending, Actor and Supporting Actress or both, at least 1 for sure.
Hell or High Water – 4 nominations / 0 predicted
Hidden Figures – 3 nominations / 0 predicted
That would be a record for Best Picture nominees going home totally unrewarded under the recent era of the preferential ballot. In previous years it went like this:
The Revenant – 12 nominations / 3 wins
Mad Max – 10 nominations / 6 wins
The Martian – 7 nominations / 0 wins
*Spotlight* – 6 nominations / 2 wins
Bridge of Spies – 6 nominations / 1 win
The Big Short – 5 nominations / 1 win
Room – 4 nominations / 1 win
Brooklyn – 3 nominations / 0 wins
*Birdman* – 9 nominations / 4 wins
The Grand Budapest Hotel – 9 nominations / 4 wins
Imitation Game – 8 nominations / 1 win
American Sniper – 6 nominations / 1 win
Boyhood – 6 nominations / 1 win
Whiplash – 5 nominations / 3 wins
Theory of Everything – 5 nominations / 1 win
Selma – 2 nominations / 1 win
Gravity – 10 nominations / 7 wins
American Hustle – 10 nominations / 0 wins
*12 Years a Slave* – 9 nominations / 3 wins
Dallas Buyers Club – 6 nominations /3 wins
Captain Phillips –6 nominations / 0 wins
Her – 5 nominations / 1 win
The Wolf of Wall Street – 5 nominations / 0 wins
Philomena – 4 nominations / 0 wins
Lincoln – 12 nominations / 2 wins
Life of Pi – 11 nominations / 4
Les Miserables – 8 nominations / 3 wins
Silver Linings – 8 nominations / 1 win
*Argo* – 7 nominations / 3 wins
Django Unchained – 5 nominations / 2 wins
Amour – 5 nominations / 1 win
Zero Dark – 5 nominations/ 1 win
Beasts of the Southern Wild – 4 nominations / 0 wins
Hugo – 11 nominations / 5 wins
*The Artist* – 10 nominations / 5 wins
Moneyball 6 nominations / 0 wins
War Horse 6 nominations / 0 wins
The Descendants – 5 nominations / 1
The Help – 4 nominations / 1
Tree of Life 3 nominations / 0 wins
Extremely Loud 2 nominations / 0 wins
*The King’s Speech* – 12 nominations / 4 wins
True Grit – 10 nominations / 0 wins
Inception – 8 nominations / 4 wins
The Social Network – 8 nominations / 3 wins
The Fighter – 7 nominations / 2 wins
127 Hours – 6 nominations / 0 win
Toy Story 3 – 5 nominations / 2 wins
Black Swan – 5 nominations / 1 win
The Kids Are All Right – 4 nominations / 0 wins
Winter’s Bone – 4 nominations / 0 wins
*The Hurt Locker* – 9 nominations / 6 wins
Avatar – 9 nominations / 3 wins
Inglourious Basterds – 8 nominations / 1 win
Precious – 6 nominations / 2 wins
Up in the Air – 6 nominations / 0 wins
Up – 5 nominations / 2 wins
District 9 – 4 nominations / 0 wins
An Education – 3 nominations / 0 wins
The Blind Side – 2 nominations / 1 win
A Serious Man – 2 nominations / 0 wins
In 2009 and 2010 they had to name ten choices on their nominations ballot, whether they really liked the movies or not. From 2011 to now, they only had 5 blank lines to fill, so we’re to assume only the movies they liked best got in. So far, in the recent years of BO expansion, no year has yielded more than four films with zero wins.
Until now, the record number of wins under the preferential tabulation, (aka, more than five nominees for Best Picture), remains Gone with the Wind, the highest grossing film of all time, in 1939 with 8 Oscar wins. Let’s look at the films it was up against and how they fared (ten nomination slots, ten nominees).
Gone with the Wind – 13 nominations / 8 wins
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – 11 nominations / 1 win
Wuthering Heights – 8 nominations / 1 wins
Stagecoach – 7 nominations / 2 wins
Goodbye Mr. Chips – 7 nominations / 1 win
The Wizard of Oz – 6 nominations / 2 wins
Love Affair – 6 nominations / 0 wins
Ninotchka – 4 nominations / 0 wins
Of Mice and Men – 4 nominations / 0 wins
Dark Victory – 3 nominations / 0 wins
Looking at these lists, I would imagine that at the most four films will go home empty-handed based on Oscar history. Of course, that history can and might be broken. Just look at how American history got broken on November 8th.
We can look to the two films that had 14 nominations when there were only 5 Best Picture nominees but that won’t really help us except to see how many Best Picture nominees actually go home with zero Oscars.
Titanic – 14 nominations / 11 wins
Good Will Hunting – 9 nominations / 2 wins
LA Confidential – 9 nominations / 2 wins
As Good as It gets – 7 nominations / 2 wins
The Full Monty – 4 nominations / 1 win
All About Eve – 14 nominations / 6 wins
Sunset Blvd – 11 nominations / 3 wins
Born Yesterday – 5 nominations / 1 win
King Solomon’s Mines – 3 nominations / 2 wins
Father of the Bride – 3 nominations / 0 wins
In researching this, I have come to the following conclusions. But of course, remember, nothing is ever foolproof with the Academy. Here are some things to factor in when figuring out how the race this year will go:
- The influx of new membership and shifting voter status of inactive membership tells me it might not be business as usual and to expect surprises. We’ve never seen anything like the shakeup the AMPAS initiated this year. While it is a relatively small number of new voters, many of them are not American industry insiders and are brand new to Hollywood. We don’t know what impact their attitudes and choices will have.
- The election of Donald J. Trump has shifted things. It’s a new horror every day. Rampant bigotry, white nationalism, abuse of the environment, human rights — you name it. Not since the Civil War has America experienced such an upheaval of our ideals, and certainly Hollywood will feel it and reflect the never-ending aftershocks somehow, some way. The Oscars are likely going to be a very political night. How that might shift how people see certain films could make a difference.
My conclusions are these:
- Generally speaking, you can see which films would have been the five nominees instead of an expanded list is by looking at the ones that win something. With five nominees, it’s naturally less likely for a Best Picture nominee to go home empty-handed.
- More often than not, there are three or four films that go home with zero wins.
- It’s rare to have years where the wealth is spread around with more than one substantial tropy tally, 2012 is one and 2013 is another. 2011 will always be interesting because Hugo tied The Artist for total number of Oscars.
- I still think it’s unlikely that La La Land will win more than 9 at the most, and even that, looking at history, seems difficult to pull off with an expanded list. But as I said upfront, I’m not the person who would mark it down as best in every category, so my perception has always been off. I think it’s a lovely and beautiful movie, but it’s one of many films I love, not the only one I love forsaking all others.
- It seems very likely to me that there will be a Mad Max type interrupter on Oscar night – if so, that is either going to be Arrival or Hacksaw Ridge. It seems unlikely to me that Hell or High Water will go home empty handed.
Finally, here are the top Oscar wins per film and you decide where you think La La Land might fit in (from the Filmsite.org):
So, remember, La La Land could have some competition that might knock down its overall take because that’s how Oscar history has always gone. Then again, it could do what it did at the Globes, defy expectations, set records and take its place in Oscar history.