Oscar predicting, as I’ve always said, isn’t anything a person can really be an expert doing. Most of it is luck. Much of it is instinct. Some of it is knowing the stats. And a lot of it depends on what films you like — and what films you don’t — heading in. To know how the Academy votes (which is distinctly different, especially now, from how other large voting bodies vote) is the key. And even when you believe you know everything going in, when you’ve studied and queried and been so right in the past, you can bomb out in any given year.
I have never scored higher than 18 out of 24 in the twenty years I’ve been “officially” predicting the Oscars. In the old days, I thought I had a gift for predicting, in that my instincts were pretty good. But you can overthink it and that is what I’ve often done, along with wishful thinking, to mess up my score. The thing about this year was that:
1) I didn’t care about my score because I figured it was so unpredictable I was bound to get everything wrong anyway.
2) I had no “darlings” in the race.
None of my favorite films were nominated: First Man, Eight Grade, First Reformed, etc. Among the nominees, I had films I really liked and hoped would win, but I wasn’t undone by true love, and perhaps that helped me to be a little more objective.
The one case where my heart was involved was in the Best Actress race. Although Gregory Ellwood insisted that all he’d been hearing was that voters were choosing Olivia Colman over Glenn Close (and he predicted her to win and got it right), I could not let myself believe this reality would come to pass. I just couldn’t. I missed two categories and this was one of them. The other one was doc feature and had I picked the consensus choice, Free Solo, I’d have only missed one. But I missed two. That is still pretty good. I can live with it.
The rules I followed this year might not apply in any other year. That’s the thing. One year the SAG ensemble stat helps you (La La Land), and in another year it doesn’t (The Shape of Water). One year not having a director nom helps you (Three Billboards) and another year it doesn’t (Green Book).
The Shorts — they are always hard to predict and this year I aced all three. Here is how:
Remember the rules for the shorts now are the same as for the docs and foreign language: people don’t have to verify that they’ve seen all the nominees to vote in those categories. That makes a big difference in how they vote. You aren’t going on pure quality or what Academy voters “will like” — you are going on perception and popularity and perhaps “importance.”
There were little things I knew, like the people who made the live action short film Skin had friends in high places and a lot of industry support. That was something I picked up by being on Facebook, weirdly enough. I also knew that Bao would be an historic win for Pixar, with a female director at the helm. Period. End of Sentence. was not only the most uplifting and enjoyable of the doc shorts, it had a whiz kid publicist on it. There was no way it was going to lose. Bao and Period almost everyone got right, but they went with the wrong live-action short. Everyone was picking Marguerite, and I might have picked it too, except that I figured Skin had support from people who would tell two friends, etc. I also thought it was the best one, so that helped too. A lot of times with the live action shorts you pick the one that most resembles a feature film.
They spread the wealth with one Oscar, but more than one is true love
I knew going in that Black Panther was going to win hardware and so was Bohemian Rhapsody. If not for the latter, Black Panther would have won more. It would have picked up the sound Oscars. Black Panther was the biggest story heading into the Oscars. There was NO WAY this movie was going home empty-handed. I predicted it to win as many Oscars as possible, and got them all right: costumes, production design, original score.
Bohemian Rhapsody’s popularity I could not figure out, because it wasn’t a movie that connected with me. I knew that friends of mine raved about it and that my friend Michael Grei had predicted Rami Malek to win way before anyone else did, but I just didn’t get it. Still, something was going on. It kept winning stuff. And winning stuff. Unexpectedly. Its SAG ensemble nod was a shocker, its Globe win was a shocker, its editing win was a shocker. How long were we going to remain shocked and not accept the obvious? Rami Malek and both sound categories were easy calls. They would award it where they could with as many Oscars as they could. The last change I made to my predictions was to swap out the one I wanted to win, Blackkklansman, with the one I thought would win, Bohemian Rhapsody, in editing. That was one of the tougher calls, even though it had the Eddie as precedent.
Predicting a shut out for The Favourite
One of my lucky breaks heading in was that I hated The Favourite. I hated it in Telluride and I hated it all through Oscar season. I kept my mouth shut, as I always do, but it was a movie I truly loathed. The reason being (and you’ll all think this is silly) is that Yorgos Lanthimos delights in cruelty to animals. I can handle almost every kind of cruelty in film. But I can’t with animals. I just can’t. It was in The Lobster and I vowed never to see another one of his films, and yet there it was again in The Favourite. But it wasn’t just that. The movie has a weak ending. It sort of was all dressed up with nowhere to go. Most people in the awards world did not agree with me on that. Almost all of them predicted it to win the crafts awards. In the end, it did get something, as all of the Best Picture nominees did, but that is all it got — one Oscar for Best Actress. My own personal bias against the film worked in my favor. That was just blind luck.
Best Picture/Screenplay: How looking at the stats helped me get a higher score
I saw Anne Thompson tweet that stats weren’t going to help you this year. She and most everyone else was counting on Roma winning Best Picture. A lot of film critics were so certain it was going to win that when it didn’t they went into full outrage mode, treating Green Book’s win like the 2016 election. Yes, it was almost that bad. If they looked at the stats, which I pointed out again and again (though no one listens to me, ever, least of all Anne Thompson — she never has, she never will — but the truth is that none of them really do. I’m still seen as the self-made fan blogger not to be taken seriously). What were the stats telling us? That Roma’s win would have to do the impossible, in terms of Academy history. They all thought, “Oh well, the BAFTA gave Roma a win in both the foreign language and the Best Picture categories.” Ya, okay, but when was the last time the BAFTA matched with Oscar? 2013, with 12 Years a Slave. They don’t use the preferential ballot system. And even if the Academy didn’t use it, they still weren’t picking Roma for Best Picture. They clearly liked, even loved Roma enough to give it Best Director, foreign language, and cinematography, but Best Picture? No way.
So here’s why: the Academy has been around a very long time. 90+ years, in fact. True, they have added over 2700 new members in the past 4 years and have gone through changes, but one thing that has never changed? They don’t have a separate category for something for nothing. They make separate categories so they can put movies that threaten their status quo in their own categories where they can win there. Animated feature, documentary, and foreign language. Those categories live on different planets from Best Picture by design, people. Might one day there be a film to break their pattern? Maybe. But I don’t see how. Why? Because actors rule the Academy. Actors who like to work. Actors who count on their faces and their star power to sell themselves, their movies, and their careers. They generally aren’t going to pick movies that don’t showcase them (documentary, animated). Maybe someday the membership will shift enough to live outside the realm of star power to award a foreign language film Best Picture, but this wasn’t going to be that year. All you had to do was remember the second obstacle in Roma’s way: Netflix. It could not survive, on a preferential ballot, with those two major obstacles.
If you went into this Oscar year thinking stats weren’t going to matter, you would have perhaps gotten Best Picture wrong. They didn’t help for screenplay. The WGA gave, for the first time in their history, both of their top prizes to films that weren’t even nominated for Best Picture. That made predicting original and adapted a total crap shoot. Most went for The Favourite in original screenplay. I didn’t. Why? Because I was predicting Green Book to win Best Picture. If you read this site, if you read my endless stat-related pieces on the pairing of Best Picture and screenplay, you would know that it’s much more likely screenplay matches with picture in the era of the expanded ballot than not. One more time:
2018: Green Book — Picture, Screenplay
2017: The Shape of Water — Picture, Director
2016: Moonlight — Picture, Screenplay
2015: Spotlight — Picture, Screenplay
2014: Birdman — Picture, Director, Screenplay
2013: 12 Years a Slave — Picture, Screenplay
2012: Argo — Picture, Screenplay
2011: The Artist — Picture, Director
2010: The King’s Speech — Picture, Screenplay, Director
2009: The Hurt Locker — Picture, Screenplay, Director
It is very rare to win with just director, but you have to win one or the other. You can’t predict Green Book to win without predicting it to win one or the other — it wasn’t going to win Director because it couldn’t. Peter Farrelly wasn’t nominated. But if you were predicting it for Best Picture, you had to go with Screenplay. I predicted both and got both right.
Adapted was a tricky call. So far, Spike Lee had not won anything for BlacKkKlansman. For all of their bitching about Green Book, none of the critics awarded this film, or Black Panther, for any of their top prizes. Yet they were mad when Academy didn’t either. But Spike Lee has a different stature in the Academy than he does anywhere else. It was going to matter, seeing him finally win an Oscar, and there was no way they were passing that up. As it turned out, it was one of the more joyful wins I’ve ever seen at the Oscars. It was Spike Lee driving that win for sure, but it wasn’t really up against any major threats. Why? Because the Academy tends to award films — especially in this category — that have Best Picture nominations. Its only competition for this prize was A Star Is Born. That should have been an easy call for anyone.
So there you have it, folks. I probably won’t ever get a score this high again. But I do know that not being emotionally invested in it helped me a great deal. I also know that knowing the stats did help to a degree. It was a really fun year in terms of predicting.
Finally, how did I know Green Book would win?
I didn’t. I took a guess. I knew Roma wouldn’t. I knew The Favourite wouldn’t. I knew Black Panther wouldn’t. The choices were limited and this was the best choice. Part of it might have an aversion to “letting” Netflix win, but I don’t really think that is how they vote. They vote with their emotions. Almost always.
Also, Green Book beat all of these movies at the PGA on a preferential ballot. But it was more than that. I sensed there might be push back among some voters against the outrage culture which had hit Green Book — a well-meaning film about friendship that made people feel good — way too hard. They treated the film like it was made by Satan himself. Worse, they vetted the filmmakers. Outed them on Twitter and other outlets. I’m pretty sure no one in the Academy liked that very much. I know I didn’t. I might have voted for Green Book myself based solely on that. I don’t know. I’m not a voter, but I do know that it all became too much. The reaction by critics after Green Book won was shameful. In their overreaction to Roma not winning, they obliterated all of the other wins that were to be celebrated that night. I’m sure I’m not the only person who covers this race that hopes we’ve seen the last of outrage culture. Only time will tell.