Academy Awards winners so far

FiveThirtyEight’s Guide To Predicting The Oscars

hickey-oscars0-1The model relies on the idea that the best looks into the minds of Oscar voters are the guild and press prizes that precede the Academy Awards. We have the whole in-depth methodology below, but here’s the gist: Oscar nominees get points for being nominated for or winning other awards that historically predict the Oscars. The better a historical predictor a given award is, the more points it’s worth.

Because it’s still very early in Oscar season and the only hard win data we have is from the press awards, the initial predictions below should be taken as something between a note on the current state of the race and a way to inform which upcoming award shows you watch live and which ones you just DVR. So based on what we know so far, here’s the state of the race for the top six Oscar categories!

This race is the most wide open. There are many preceding awards left to go, and the field is large (eight films), which makes it hard to pick a leader. This weekend’s Producers Guild of America awards ceremony should give us a little clarity; the guild’s award for best theatrical picture is the second-most-predictive award we follow for the best picture Oscar.

At the moment, “Spotlight” leads the race with 14 percent of all possible points locked up. It is followed closely by “The Revenant” (11 percent of possible points) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” (10 points).

“The Revenant” won the Golden Globe for best drama, but it’s important to keep in mind that despite the popularity of the Globes, the winner of that award matches up with the Academy’s choice only about half the time. “Mad Max: Fury Road” has benefited from lots of nominations, as well as wins from the Chicago Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review. Whether that success will carry through to the Producers Guild awards remains to be seen.

hickey-oscars0-2All the awards that have been announced so far have been voted on by members of the press, and while that group does have an inside track on perceiving winners and a means of controlling the narrative, it does not vote on the Academy Awards. It’s worth noting, for instance, that “Boyhood” did very well among the press last year but “Birdman” won the best picture Oscar after thriving at the industry awards.

“Spotlight” is ahead this year because it received the most nominations in the categories we track and thanks to its best picture win at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, which are by far the most predictive of any of the press awards.

What to watch: This is where we’d greatly benefit from more data. Whichever film wins at the Producers Guild awards will pick up a quarter of the remaining points and will be guaranteed front-runner status until at least February. After that, the key event to watch will be the Directors Guild of America’s top award. Any film that sweeps those two will be a strong favorite for best picture through the rest of February. If two films split them, we’ll have a serious race on our hands.

Thanks to a win at the Critics’ Choice Awards, George Miller is leading the race for best director, but it’s still too early to draw conclusions. He’s closely followed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who has pulled the most nominations.

hickey-oscars0-3What to watch: It’s worth waiting two weeks for the Directors Guild to weigh in before declaring a front-runner because whoever wins that group’s top award has won the Oscar 84 percent of the time over the past 25 years.

Last year, this category was by far the hardest to predict: Iñárritu (“Birdman”) won at the Directors Guild, but Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”) won everything else. In the end, Iñárritu took home the Oscar. When in doubt, roll with the Directors Guild. If it picks Miller, he will ride into Valhalla shiny and chrome. If it picks Iñárritu, Tom McCarthy or Adam McKay, that director will become the leader, and we’ll turn to the BAFTAs — the awards from the British Academy — to see whether we have a race.

Brie Larson is way out ahead on this one. She won at the Globes, Critics’ Choice, Chicago Film Critics and the National Board of Review awards. Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett command most of the remaining points, mainly because of their many nominations.

Based on our model, this is a three-woman race, mainly because Charlotte Rampling and Jennifer Lawrence aren’t nominated for a Screen Actors Guild or BAFTA award and thus can’t score those points on the board.

What to watch: The SAG award will give us the best look at the winner moving forward, but it’s worth keeping in mind that best actress is one of the harder categories to predict. All the prior awards are historically somewhat good at picking the Oscar winner, but no award is all that great at it. The SAG gets it right most often, but don’t sleep on the BAFTAs or even the Satellite Awards, handed out by the International Press Academy. If either of those goes to a woman not nominated for the Oscar, it will shake up the race and make this tough category even more difficult to gauge.

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