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Oscar Prediction: ‘Best Picture’ By The Numbers

When it comes to predicting Academy Award winners some people like to point in the direction of the Golden Globe and SAG awards.  I prefer to read the tea leaves left by previous Academy Award winners.  Looking at these clues like Jodie Fosters’ character Clarice, in The Silence of the Lambs, I serial profiled how previous top picks were separated from the pack by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

To determine what 2012 film will rise above all others to claim ‘Best Picture’ in 3 weeks, several recent historical indicators stand out.  First, the most overwhelming indicator of a film’s chance to bring home an Oscar for ‘Best Picture’ is having its director also nominated. Over the past 20 years no less than 80% of the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar winners have also won for ‘Best Director’.  Therefore, movies nominated in both categories have a huge advantage over those films in which their director was left off the ‘Best Director’ list.  Films this year without a ‘Best Director’ nomination; Argo, Django Unchained, Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty.  No factor affects a film’s success or failure more so than its director. 

One of the next best indicators for a film’s chance at an Oscar in ‘Best Picture' rests with being nominated in the ‘Writing’ category. All nine ‘Best Picture’ films this year are also nominated for ‘Writing’ (either Adapted Screenplay or Original Screenplay) except one; Les Miserables. The best writing often draws the best actors to do a film and gives them the opportunity to excel.

In the past 20 years, another indicator found--just as important as ‘Writing’--is to have a ‘Leading Actor/Actress’ or ‘Supporting Actor/Actress’ nominee.  Three films this year have both a ‘Best Actor/Actress’ and ‘Best Supporting Actor/Actress’ nominees (Les Miserables, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook).  Even more impressive is that for the first time in 31 years, one film has been nominated in all 4 acting categories (Silver Linings Playbook). A great director brings out the best in acting abilities.

Just below the importance of being nominated in the writing and four acting categories is ‘Film Editing’.  This category provides the last major hurdle expected of all best pictures to clear by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science voters.  Excellence in film editing is what gives viewers the pace, the feel, the excitement of a movie.  Films nominated for ‘Film Editing’ include; Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.  These are the films that have survived the narrowing of the field towards ‘Best Picture’.

On the final lap towards 'Best Picture', the behavioral patterns of Oscars past include two significant factors that separate the remaining hopefuls.  The two categories that weigh heavily at the end to settle a photo finish are ‘Music’ and ‘Cinematography’ nominations.  Life of Pi and Lincoln were nominated in both of these categories, while Argo (Music), Django Unchained (Cinematography) and Les Miserables (Music) all were nominated in one of the two categories.

Here’s the recap of my mathematical formula for selecting this year’s ‘Best Picture’ on Oscar Night:

A film with a ‘Best Director’ nominated (worth 5 points), ‘Writing’ (4 points), ‘Leading Actor’/’Leading Actress’ (4 points each), ‘Supporting Actor’/‘Supporting Actress’ (another 4 points each), ‘Film Editing’ (3 points), ‘Music’ (2 points), and ‘Cinematography’ (2 points).

According to the historical numbers, this year’s winner for ‘Best Picture’ is Lincoln (24 points), followed closely by Silver Linings Playbook (20 points) and in 3rd place, Life of Pi (16 points). Middle of the pack; Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild (13 points each).  Others; Zero Dark Thirty (11 points) and Django Unchained tied with Les Miserables (10 points each).


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