Oscar Handicap 2019: The Wrap-Up

The 2019 Oscar season is finally over, and with that comes our post-mortem.

The whole points of these exercises over the years has to been to prove, or occasionally, disprove, some of the tropes self-proclaimed “experts” in the field like to use to prove their points. Some years, we do very well, and some years, not so much. So how did we do this year?

The Categories

Best Picture

Our pick: Roma (58.63% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Green Book (52.83% chance of winning, third highest)

Best Picture has been traditionally one of our strongest categories, with our formula correctly calling 8 of the previous 13 times we’ve done this Oscar Handicap series. But we blew it this year. So where did we miss? I believe a good portion of it was the lack of a clear front runner, and with that, the Academy’s preferential balloting system really played in to the final results. When ballots are counted, if there are no one movie that hits the magic 50% + 1 plateau of first place votes, the movie with the fewest first place votes are removed and those ballots’ second place choices. And if there is still not a winner selected after these votes are counted, the process continues, with the next smallest stack eliminated, thier next level votes redistributed until a film has enough votes to be declared the winner. So it’s probable Green Book did not get a whole lot of first place votes but got enough second and third place votes to finally secure the win. It’s also possible that there was two different kinds of backlash against Roma: 1) that some in the Hollywood community were never going to give a “distributor” that doesn’t play by their rules of their game; and/or 2) that some in the Hollywood community were never going to give a Foreign Language Film their highest award. Sure, a French movie won Best Picture only seven years ago, but the film was shot in America, with a nearly all-American supporting cast, and featured almost no dialogue (being a silent film and all). Considering the firestorm Steven Spielberg’s efforts this week to make sure any Oscar-eligible film has a minimum window between opening day in theatres and first day on video, there’s probably some truth to the first supposition. But until we hear from all this year’s Oscar voters (which we never will), we can only guess why Green Book won. But the signs were there. From the Peoples Choice Award at the 2018 Toronto Film Festival, where the film made its world debut, to a Top Ten Films of the Year notice from the American Film Institute, a nod from the National Board of Review as the Best Film of the year, as well as the top honor from the Golden Globes and the Producers Guild Award, Green Book saw some support from the very get-go.

Best Director

Our pick and the Academy’s pick: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma (64.99% chance of winning)

Here is probably our second strongest category, with our formula for this category making its 12 correct call out of 14 times (85.7%).

Best Actor

Our pick: Christian Bale, Vice (68.16% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody (61.56% chance of winning, second lowest)

Another usually reliable category, with our formula previously calling 10 out of 13 correct (76.9%). The reason we missed this one this year boils down to two usually strong indicators that worked against Malek. Being the youngest of the five nominees is usually a hard spot to overcome. Over the previous 40 years of Oscar ceremonies, only eight of the youngest nominees won (20%), while playing a non-American only helped 15 of the previous 40 winners (37.5%). There’s also a couple of X-Factors that can’t be accounted for in a statistical analysis like ours: likability and visibility. Malek was seemingly EVERYWHERE on the awards circuit this year, and people really liked him. Like Sally Field 1984-level like him.

Best Actress

Our picks: Lady Gaga, A Star is Born (62.26% chance of winning) or Glenn Close, The Wife (61.79% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Olivia Colman, The Favourite (57.55% chance of winning, third highest)

This category has been quite unreliable for us, having only previously called correctly 6 of 13 times (46.2%). What hurt Colman’s chances in our scenario? Not playing an American character (22.5% chance of winning for playing a foreigner), not winning the SAG Award for Best Lead Actress (25% chance of winning without it) and playing a real person (27.5% chance of winning for keeping it real). These are three of the strongest normal indicators that both Close and Gaga had in their favors.

Best Supporting Actor

Our pick: Sam Elliott, A Star is Born (64.58% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Mashershala Ali, Green Book (56.13% chance of winning, second highest)

Another category we need to work better on, having only previously called correctly 5 of 13 times (38.5%). Like Colman, one of the strongest factors in Ali not being our statistical front runner was playing a real person (only a 15% chance of winning in this category if your character was not fictional).

Best Supporting Actress

Our picks: Amy Adams, Vice (58.39% chance of winning) or Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk (57.72% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: King

With only three poits separating Adams and King (0.67%), we called this one a toss-up, so we’ll take the win. We’re now 7 of 14 calling this category.

Best Original Screenplay

Our pick: Adam McKay, Vice (66.98% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie and Peter Farrelly, Green Book (60.15% chance of winning, third highest)

Another category where our prediction rate is a straight 50/50. Not having a nominated director didn’t help Green Book (20% chance of winning without it), nor did having more than one credited screenwriter (27.5% chance of winning with multiple writers), both things McKay had in his favor.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Our pick and the Academy’s pick: Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman (80.97% chance of winning)

We’re not always the best at getting this one, having only previously called it 7 of 13 times (53.8%), but look at this movie’s chance of winning here this year! More than 80%. It would have been soul crushing if BlacKkKlansman would have lost here, and not just because the whole hypothesis we’ve been trying to prove since 2003 (with a small breaks earlier in the decade) would have collapsed, but because it would have meant there was a real bias in the Academy against one of the best filmmakers of the modern era. Spike Lee should have won at least three Oscars for writing producing and directing Do the Right Thing, which (sadly) is even more relevant in 2019 as it was in 1989, and he should have at very minimum been nominated for writing and directing Malcolm X in 1992, and he absolutely should have won for Best Documentary in 1997 for 4 Little Girls. And he should have been on stage at the end of this year’s ceremony for his second true masterpiece. He shouldn’t have only one Oscar at this point in his career.

Best Animated Feature

Our pick and the Academy’s pick: Spider-Man Into the SpiderVerse (64.02% chance of winning)

This has consistenly been our strongest category, having only missed once in all the time we’ve been doing them. The one time we missed? When Cars beat Happy Feet. Ugh!

Best Foreign Language Film

Our pick: Shoplifters (61.1% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Roma (52.98% chance of winning, third highest)

This has consistenly our worst category. We’re now 2 for 14 picking this one (14.3%). What threw us off this year? Shoplifters was recognized as Best Picture by Japan’s version of the Oscars, while Mexico’s version of the Oscars will not happen for a few more months (only a 27.5% chance of winning in this category if wasn’t at least nominated for Best Picture in its home country’s top movie awards). It also didn’t help that Mexico had never won a Foreign Language Oscar before while Japan had won one competitive Foreign Language Oscars as well as three Honorary Awards before this became a full time category in 1956 (35% chance of winning here if you’re country hadn’t previously won here before).

Best Cinematography

Our picks: Robbie Ryan, The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón, Roma (both with a 72.44% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Cuarón

Another regular strong category for us, now with 12 correct calls out of 14 times (85.7%)

Best Production Design

Our pick: The Favourite (72.51% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Black Panther (43.86% chance of winning, lowest of the nominees)

Another category we’re now 50/50 on (4 for 8). No BAFTA nominee, set in the present, no Cinematography nomination… there were many reasons to not expect Black Panther to win.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Our pick: Mary, Queen of Scots (65.99% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Vice (55.89% chance of winning, second best)

One of our newer categories, and one of our worst (1 of 6, 16.67%). We’re going to need to spend a good portion of the next year trying to make this category a better predictor.

Best Editing

Our pick: Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite (72.01% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody (63.06% chance of winning)

Another newer category, and one we need to work on as well. With Ottman’s win, we are now 3 for 8 here (37.5%).

Best Costume Design

Our pick: Sandy Powell, The Favourite (70.93% chance of winning) or Mary Poppins Returns (70.16% chance of winning), or Ruth Carter (70.54% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Carter

An even more recent addition to the Handicap, we are now only 3 for 6 (50%) here.

Best Original Score

Our picks: Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs or Mark Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns (each 62.82% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther (44.55% chance of winning, lowest of the nominees)

Another category we’ll need to work on, we’re now 2 for 8 (25%) here.

Best Sound Editing

Our picks: Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan, First Man (68.66% chance of winning) or John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone, Bohemian Rhapsody (67.74% chance of winning)
The Academy’s pick: Warhurst and Hartstone

One of the new categories we added last year, we are now 1 for 2 in this category (50%).

Best Sound Mixing

Our pick and The Academy’s pick: Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin and John Casali, Bohemian Rhapsod (60.33% chance of winning)

Another category we added last year, and we are also 1 for 2 here (50%).

Best Documentary Feature

Our pick and The Academy’s pick: Free Solo (65.91% chance of winning)

Another second year category for us, we’re 2 for 2 here (100%).

The Wrap-Up

We hit on Director, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Animated Feature, Cinematography, Costume Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Documentary (9).
We missed on Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Foreign Language Film, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Editing and Score (10).

To check out all our 2019 Oscar Handicap articles, please start with the Best Picture article.

Thank you for taking the time to check us out.