Handicapping the Oscars: 2005 edition

Can the outcome of the Oscars be predicted by looking at a statistical breakdown of certain factors relating to the major categories? How important is it to have the most nominations? Are films released before September really ignored? Can one win an Oscar, even though they appear in the lowest-grossing film nominated in that category? We’ve looked at the ten major categories over the past 26 ceremonies (for the film years 1978 to 2003), plus the recently added Best Animated Feature category, and found some surprising mathematical data which may give some pause about who might win next Sunday night.

Please note, these are not predictions on how the awards will turn out. As you will see, while there have been a number of statistical factors which lead to more than 80 percent chances to win a specific award, there is no 100 percent consensus. Outside of 100 percent of women having won for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress (although one of the latter did win for playing a male character), and 100 percent of men having won for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Director (shame on you, Academy members!), this is just one stat junkie’s way to help other stat junkies look for more ways to handicap their office Oscar pool.

Best Picture

The nominees: “The Aviator,” “Finding Neverland,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Ray” and “Sideways.”

Based on the statistical analysis of ten patterns, Martin Scorsese’s epic “The Aviator” and Clint Eastwood’s more unassuming “Million Dollar Baby” will be the top contenders for the big prize. 21 of the past 26 winners (80.77%) and 53 of the overall 76 Best Picture winners (69.74%) have come from the film with the most nominations, including last year’s “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” This benefits “The Aviator.” However, 20 of the past 26 winners (76.92%) saw their director win the Director’s Guild of America award which is a plus for “Million Dollar Baby,” but then 20 of the same 26 winners were not based in contemporary society, which gives “The Aviator” another edge, as well as “Ray” and “Finding Neverland.” 17 (65.39%) were released after September 30, benefitting all films, while 11 of the 15 Producers Guild Golden Laurel Award winners (73.33%), established in 1990, have gone on to win Best Picture, giving “The Aviator” yet another advantage.

On the disadvantage side, not one nominee during our sample period with the lowest gross has won Best Picture, which is not good news for “Finding Neverland.” Only one of the past 26 winners (1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy”) came from a film whose director was not nominated for Best Director, which hurts “Neverland” once again. Additionally, only one Best Picture in our focus group (1997’s “Titanic”) won without the benefit of a Best Screenplay nomination, which could be a black spot for “Ray.” Less severe are the numbers for films that did not receive the Golden Globe for Best Drama (8 of 26, or 30.77%, affecting all but “The Aviator”) or 11 which were born from original screenplays (42.31%, which only affects “Ray”).

Final analysis

“The Aviator” has a 66.27% chance of winning, with four advantages and only one disadvantage. “Million Dollar Baby” has a 57.69% chance, “Sideways” 36.84%, “Ray” 36.54% and “Finding Neverland” 31.54%.

Best Actor

The nominees: Don Cheadle (“Hotel Rwanda”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Aviator”), Johnny Depp (“Finding Neverland”), Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”) and Jamie Foxx (“Ray”)

It has been said that this award is Jamie Foxx’s for the losing. On the positive side of the stats, 20 of the last 26 Best Actor winners (76.92%), and 58 of 76 overall (76.31%) of the Best Actor winners usually comes from a Best Picture nominee, a plus for all but Don Cheadle. 18 (69.23%) have won at least two major pre-awards (for our records, the Golden Globe for Drama, the National Board of Review, the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle), which helps only Foxx. 13 (50%) of the winners are first-time nominees for Best Actor, good news for DiCaprio, Cheadle and Foxx. And of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, established in 1994, 7 of 10 winners (70% percent) of the SAG Award have won here, which helps Foxx, although Benecio Del Toro won in the SAG Lead Category for “Traffic,” while being nominated for, and winning, the Best Supporting Oscar.

Like Best Picture, not one Best Actor winner has come from the lowest grossing nominee, which is a strike against Don Cheadle. Ageism is a factor in this category, as only 3 (11.54%) of the oldest Best Actor nominees gone on to win. Ten actors (38.46%) were able to overcome their lack of winning the Golden Globe for Best Drama and parlaying it into Oscar gold, which was won this year by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Final analysis

With all four advantages and only one disadvantage, Foxx appears to be the front runner, but statistically speaking, only comes in third, with a 64.63% chance of winning. DiCaprio (69.61%) and Depp (66.67%) have a statistical edge over Foxx, while Eastwood (55.47%) and Cheadle (29.49%) bring up the rear.

Sidebar: It should be noted that Jamie Foxx is the tenth actor overall, and only the third male, in Oscar history to be nominated in both the Lead and Supporting acting category the same year. Should Foxx win Best Actor this year, he will be the seventh actor to win one of his categories, and only the second (after Al Pacino in 1992) to win in the Lead acting category.

Best Actress

The nominees: Annette Bening (“Being Julia”), Catalina Sandino Moreno (“Maria Full of Grace”), Imelda Staunton (“Vera Drake”), Hilary Swank (“Million Dollar Baby”) and Kate Winslet (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”)

In what is good news for every nominee in this category save Hilary Swank and Kate Winslet, 22 of the past 26 winners (84.61%) of the Best Actress winners won on their first nomination in this category. But on the other hand, 15 (57.69%) have had a previous acting nomination, which helps is good for Annette Bening as well. 7 of the 10 SAG Awards winners (70%) went on to win the Oscar, good news for Swank.

On the flip side, only two Best Actress winners (7.69%), including last year’s winner Charlize Theron, has come from the lowest grossing film, which is bad news for Imelda Staunton. Four (15.39%) of the winners were previous Best Actress winners, which doesn’t help Swank. Four of the last 26 (15.39%), and 11 of 76 overall (14.47%), came from films from which this nomination represented its only nomination, a potential omen for Catalina Sandino Moreno.

Final analysis

With a +2 advantage/disadvanage rating, Bening, Swank and Winslet are the front runners, and both Bening and Winslet have the same 71.15% statistical chance of winning. Swank’s rating is a mere 47.73%, while Staunton is at 46.15% and Sandino Moreno at 32.35%.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees: Alan Alda (“The Aviator”), Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”), Jamie Foxx (“Collateral”), Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) and Clive Owen (“Closer”)

One of the strongest statistics, numbers-wise. 23 (88.46%) of the previous winners for Best Supporting Actor were first time winners, which helps all five nominees. 21 (80.77%) won for playing fictional characters, helping all but Alan Alda. 16 (61.54%) came from films which did not have a nominee for Best Actor, helping Thomas Haden Church, Jamie Foxx and Clive Owen.

On the other hand, only three winners (11.54%) were the youngest of the nominees, which hurts Foxx. Six (23.08%) appeared in the lowest grossing film, hurting Owen, and seven (26.92%) were the oldest nominee in the pack, a knock against Morgan Freeman.

Final analysis

With four advantages and only one disadvantage, Jamie Foxx would seem to be the likely winner here, but statistically speaking, his 59.23% would only place him fourth, behind Alda (88%), Haden Church (76.92%) and Owen (63.46%). Freeman’s 53.85% puts him at the back of the pack, numbers-wise.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees: Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator”), Laura Linney (“Kinsey”), Virginia Madsen (“Sideways”), Sophie Okonedo (“Hotel Rwanda”) and Natalie Portman (“Closer”)

22 (84 percent) of former winners are first-time Supporting Actress nominees and 18 (69.23%) were from films without a nomination for Best Actress, a plus for all five nominees. 16 (61.54%) were featured in films nominated for Best Picture, a positive for Cate Blanchett and Virginia Madsen. 5 of 10 (50%) SAG award winners went on to win the Oscar, which bodes well for Blanchett.

Only one previous winner (3.85%) came from the lowest-grossing nominated film, a bad sign for Sophie Okonedo. Four (15.39%) former winners were the youngest nominee of their group, including last year’s winner Renee Zellweger, which hurts Natalie Portman, and eight (30.77%), again including Zellweger last year, appeared in the highest grossing film of the group, a ding against Blanchett

Final analysis

Blanchett has all of the advantages and only one disadvantage to her credit, but Laura Linney has the statistical edge, at 76.92%. Madsen has a 71.80% chance, Blanchett 60.53%, Portman 56.41% and Okonedo 52.56%

Best Director

The nominees: Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”), Taylor Hackford (“Ray”), Mike Leigh (“Vera Drake”), Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) and Martin Scorsese (“The Aviator”)

After five previous nominations, Martin Scorsese is the sentimental favorite to win this year. But are the numbers in his favorr 22 (84.62%) of Best Director winners also won the DGA Award the same year, which helps not Scorsese but Clint Eastwood. However, Scorsese can be content to know that 18 winners (69.23%) directed the films with the most nominations, and 19 (73.08%) directed films which were not based in modern-day, which also helps Hackford and Leigh. 17 former winners (65.38%) were first time nominees in this category, a bonus for Taylor Hackford and Alexander Payne. Mike Leigh’s chances are hurt by being the only nominee not also nominated for the DGA Award and not having directed a Best Picture nominee, both being categories which are zero for 26. Only two winners (7.69%) were the oldest nominee, bad for Eastwood for a second straight year.

Final analysis

Both Hackford and Scorsese have three advantages and no disadvantages in their corner, but Scorsese has the better statistical chance of winning, 66.67% to Hackford’s 65.38%. Payne tied Hackford at 65.38%, with Eastwood at 46.15% and Leigh at 24.36%.

Best Cinematography

The nominees: Bruno Delbonnel (“A Very Long Engagement”), Caleb Deschanel (“The Passion of the Christ”), John Mathieson (“The Phantom of the Opera”), Robert Ricahrdson (“The Aviator”) and Xiaoding Zhao (“House of Flying Daggers”)

Stories not set in the present day accounted for 24 (92 percent) of the most recent winners in this category, which once again a good thing for all five nominees. 20 (76.92%) featured many scenes with large crowds, which benefits all films except for “House of Flying Daggers.” 20 winners also shot Best Picture nominees, a plus for Robert Richardson. And 18 (69.23%) also saw nominations in the Best Art Direction category, a bonus for Bruno Delbonnel, John Mathieson and Richardson.

On the negative side, only once in the 18 years of the American Society of Cinematographer Awards (5.56%) has a D.P. won an Oscar despite a lack an ASC nomination, which this year hurts Mathieson and Xiaoding Zhao. But then, those who did won the ASC award have only gone on to win the Oscar 6 of 18 times (33.33%), which does little to help Delbonnel. Two (7.69%) came from the lowest-grossing title, another knock Delbonnel. Five (19.23%) winners shot films for un-nominated directors, not good for Delbonnel, Deschanel, Mathieson and Zhao. And 11 (42.31%), including Andrew Lesnie last year, were first time nominees, which does not bode well for Delbonnel and Zhao.

Final analysis

With all four advantages and no disadvantages, Robert Richardson the best statistical chance to go home with his second statue (78.85%). Also in the running: Deschanel (62.82%), Mathieson (55.74%), Delbonnel (44.79%) and Zhao (42.71%)

Best Original Screenplay

The nominees: “The Aviator” (John Logan), “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, story by Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth), “Hotel Rwanda” (Keir Pearson and Terry George), “The Incredibles” (Brad Bird) and “Vera Drake” (Mike Leigh)

22 (84 percent) former first-placers also had nominated directors, benefitting “The Aviator” and “Vera Drake,” and 21 (80.77%) for films also nominated for Best Picture, of which “The Aviator” is the only qualifier. 19 (73.08%) of films were set in the present day, helping only “Eternal Sunshine,” and 18 (69.23%) were for stories based in the United States, which “The Aviator,” “Eternal Sunshine” and “The Incredibles.”

On the flip side, only one winner (3.85%) came from a film without an acting nomination, bad for “The Incredibles.” Three (11.54%) were for the lowest-grossing nominee, which hurts “Vera Drake.” Seven winners (26.92%) were awarded to films with more than one writer, hurting “Eternal Sunshine,” while eight former winners (30.77%), including “Lost in Translation” last year, would be considered comedies, a knock against “Eternal Sunshine” and “The Incredibles,”

Final analysis

It should be a good night for John Logan, who has a 78.21% chance of winning, compared to 50% for the “Sunshine” team, 48.08% for Mike Leigh, 34.62% for Brad Bird and 26.92% for the “Rwanda” scribes.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The nominees: “Before Sunset” (Screenplay by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, based on the screenplay for the 1995 film “Before Sunrise” by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan), “Finding Neverland” (Screenplay by David Magee, based on the play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Allan Knee), “Million Dollar Baby” (Screenplay by Paul Haggis, based on the book “Rope Burns” by F.X. Toole), “The Motorcycle Diaries” (Screenplay by Jose Rivera, based on the books “Con el Che por America Latina” by Alberto Granado and “Notas de viaje” by Ernesto Guevara) and “Sideways” (Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett)

24 (92.31%) of the previous winners were for films also nominated for Best Picture, a plus for “Finding Neverland,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Sideways.” 18 (69.23%) were for non-contemporary stories, a plus for “Finding Neverland” and “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Another 18 were films with nominated directors, which helps “Million Dollar Baby” and “Sideways.”

On the downside, only two former winners (7.69%) came without a single acting nomination or from films without a Best Picture nominee, both which hurts “Before Sunrise” and “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Three times (11.54%) has the lowest-grossing film won, a third strike for “Before Sunrise,” which might get a four for four knockout punch for having more than one credited writer, which only four Adapted Screenplay winners share (15.39%). This also hurts the “Sideways” writing team.

Final analysis

Both “Finding Neverland” and “Million Dollar Baby” have the same 80.77% chance of winning this category. The “Sideways” guys have a 56.41% chance of winning, and Jose Rivera has a 28.21% chance. The lowest statistical chance of winning of any film in any category is “Before Sunset,” which has but a 10.58% chance of winning.

Best Foreign Language Film

The nominees: “Les Choristes” (“The Chorus,” France), “Mar adentro” (“The Sea Inside,” Spain), “Sa som i himmelen” (“As It Is In Heaven,” Sweden), “Der Untergang” (“Downfall,” Germany) and “Yesterday” (South Africa)

Most films nominated for the this award do not open in the US until after the ceremony, which isn’t wise according to the stats. 20 of 26 winners in this category (76.92%) are films that opened before the final Oscar ballots were due in, helping “Les Choristes,” “Mar adentro” and “Der Untergang.” 16 (61.54%) of winners were period pieces, which helps “Les Choristes” and “Der Untergang.” Films not submitted by Western European nations are 7 for 26 (26.92%), which only hurts the South African entry. Eight (30.77%) winners had the longest running time, which is not the best news for the German entry.

Final analysis

Alejandro Amenabar’s touching Spanish movie should take this award home, with a 76.92% chance. The French film has a 69.23% chance, the Germans a 56.41% chance and the South Africans 26.92%. The wild card is the Swedish movie, which did not rack up a single advantage or disadvantage, which in and of itself could be the worst disadvantage of all.

Best Animated Film

The nominees: “The Incredibles,” “Shark Tale” and “Shrek 2”

After three years, there are some voting patterns that have started to emerge for nominees in this category. All three previous winners were honored with at least two major pre-awards, which this year is “The Incredibles.” However, all three winners were also released before September 30, of which only “Shrek 2” did this year. Two of the three winners were also the highest grossing film of the nominees, which is another plus for “Shrek 2″… or is itr Statistically speaking, “The Incredibles” is the better bet at 100%, while “Shrek 2” is only at 83.33%.

For comparison’s sake, last year’s statistical leaders were:
Best Picture: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
Best Actor: Sean Penn, “Mystic River”
Best Actress: Charlize Theron, “Monster”
Best Supporting Actor: Ken Watanabe, “The Last Samurai”
Best Supporting Actress: Shohreh Aghdashloo, “House of Sand and Fog” and Patricia Clarkson, “Pieces of April”
Best Director: Peter Jackson, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
Best Cinematography: John Schwartzmann, “Seabiscuit”
Best Original Screenplay: Sofia Coppola, “Lost in Translation”
Best Adapted Screenplay: Brian Hegeland, “Mystic River”
Best Foreign Language Film: “Ondskan” and “De Tweeling”
Best Animated Feature: “Finding Nemo”

Special thanks to AC Neilsen/EDI, whose 2002 and 2003 Academy Award Guides assisted greatly with the accruing of data.