Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Most Realistic Against-The-Odds Oscar Predictions

With one day left before the Oscars on March 10th and all the precursor awards come and gone, the field has mostly settled, and many of the individual races have come into focus. At this point in the season, Oscar predictors are narrowing their sights on a smaller batch of races that really are in question and could end up going a couple of different ways. Many races, like Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, and more, seem totally locked up, over and done. Of course, there are others that are simply too close to call at this point, such as Best Actress.

I thought it might be interesting today to look at the handful of categories that lie somewhere in between, where the film’s narrative or respective precursor haul creates the shadow of a doubt in the eventual winner. These aren’t necessarily no-guts-no-glory longshots, but rather where the underdog possesses something the data might be missing. My brother Mitchell and I have spent the last year building a mathematical model to predict the Oscars, and it’s really great at turning data into quantifiable likelihoods of wins. But the Oscars are more than data, as many surprise winners and spoiled ballots remind us frequently. These remaining doubts have a way of festering more and more as the days count down toward Oscar night, as anxiety builds and folks overthink even their most confident picks. After all, succeeding at Oscar predicting is often about picking the upsets and predicting the unpredictable. Which of these doubts should we even be entertaining? How can we separate the signal from the noise when the data suggests one thing, but your heart suggests another? In no particular order, I’ve put together a list of the most “realistic” against-the-odds Oscar picks to help us out as we refine our last-minute predictions.

“The Zone of Interest” In Best Sound
This has been one of the singular storylines of awards season, and it’s not impossible to imagine it really taking it all the way. The consensus is that Best Sound will fall under “Oppenheimer’s” looming shadow on Oscar night. Its precursor haul is impossible to ignore and really leaves no room for suspense mathematically: it’s enjoying an over 95% chance of winning according to our Model. The only places it has not won have been at BAFTA (for “The Zone Of Interest“) and IPA (which went for “Maestro,” surprisingly). “Oppenheimer” has this in the bag by almost every indication, but something about “The Zone Of Interest” in Best Sound this year seems unfinished. The numbers go squarely against it- especially after it didn’t even manage to win the Foreign Language award at MPSE, which seems like a real nail in the coffin- but the sound work is extremely highlighted both in the movie and the campaigning for it. Voters may be keen to vote for it here because of or even despite “Oppenheimer’s” apparent dominance.

“The Holdovers” In Best Original Screenplay
Right now, everything seems to be pointing toward “Anatomy Of A Fall” as our next Best Original Screenplay winner, and it definitely has the data to support it. Thanks mostly to big wins at the Golden Globes and BAFTA, “Anatomy Of A Fall” has a final 38.7% chance of winning the category in our Model, leading the pack. But sub-40% is hardly a dominating lead, especially when you consider it’s only 13.8 percentage points ahead of the runner-up- that’s right, “The Holdovers.” For many predictors, “The Holdovers” was the placeholder candidate in the category throughout the season, and for good reason! It’s exceptionally well-liked, relies heavily on the steady quips and dynamics between the main characters in the script, and tells a heartwarming and timeless story in an otherwise simple world. While it hasn’t translated this success into actual category wins (only recognized by NBR’s top prize), it’s been a constant throughout the year. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is leaving absolutely no room for doubt that “The Holdovers” will not go home empty-handed on Oscar night, but this seems like its other most competitive category outside of Best Supporting Actress. The mood, momentum, and math all do favor “Anatomy Of A Fall.” Still, I think the margin between them is smaller than some folks think, and the almost exactly 1-in-4 shot that our Model gives to “The Holdovers” is nothing to dismiss, not far on the tail of “Anatomy Of A Fall.”

“Godzilla Minus One” In Best Visual Effects
In what seems like the most unconfident category at the Oscars this year (in the “nothing really has made a convincing case to win” way more than the “it’s a tight race and just too close to call” kind of way), “The Creator” is the apparent favorite to win right now. Our Oscars Model gives “The Creator” about a 60% chance of winning at the time of writing, mostly because of its high-profile VES Award wins, solidly above the rest of the field around 10% (give or take). Now that the “Napoleon” predictors have been mostly put to bed by its loss at the VES Awards, “Godzilla Minus One” is a popular underdog pick here. By the numbers, there should be absolutely no reason for this- it doesn’t have even a single nomination in the precursors we track in the Oscars Model and is sitting at a measly 3.4%. However, the big story is it even managed a nomination against its budget- a relatively minuscule sub-$15M. That fact alone makes it a deserving winner, and combined with its terrific box office run globally but especially stateside, this film has a good deal of enthusiasm and intangibles (does the little Godzilla figurine gracing every event and red carpet count?) going for it. In a category filled with shrugs (is “The Creator” really going to be an Oscar-winning film?!), this passion pick makes a lot of sense despite the data.

“The Boy And The Heron” In Best Animated Feature
I wrote for the site at the beginning of the month about the showdown in Best Animated Feature between “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” and “The Boy and the Heron,” and much of what I said in that article remains true today. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” was a frontrunner then and remains a frontrunner now, with Critics Choice, Annie, and PGA award wins on its mantel. “The Boy and the Heron” has put up an impressive fight, winning the Golden Globe and the BAFTA in the category. In our Model, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” leads “The Boy and the Heron” by an almost exact 75-25 margin. Each of these precursor hauls is hard to dismiss, and it is clear that “The Boy and the Heron” has significant wind in its sails from international voters- is this enough in the increasingly international Oscars voting body? Another thing supporting “The Boy and the Heron” beyond the data is the fact that it may be generally seen as a send-off for director Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli. With only one competitive Oscar to his name, voters may be eager to give him gold once more- and this is a great opportunity. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” may also be docked in the eyes of voters not only as a sequel to the already-awarded “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” but also as an “incomplete” installment to be followed up with “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse” down the road. Thanks to these narratives, it seems highly plausible that “The Boy and the Heron” has better than 1-in-4 odds and could very well just end up as our Oscar winner.

With the exception of a few really tight and unpredictable races between multiple worthy winners, this Oscars ceremony is looking to be one of the more certain ones in recent memory in the feature categories, at least; our Model has eleven different races with a greater than 70% margin between first and second place (amazingly, eight of those leads belong to “Oppenheimer!”). But as even I will tell you, having co-created and relied on a mathematical model, stats, and numbers will only take you so far. Predicting the Oscars takes intuition, risk, and luck. While I would specifically argue against going with these picks for a number of reasons, I hope to merely present them to you as good options should you want to diverge from the math as you’re filling out your Oscars ballot. No Oscars ceremony follows the math perfectly; otherwise, there’d be no sense in having them at all once the precursors have all been awarded! There will inevitably be some against-the-odds wins tomorrow, and these are just a few of the more justified beyond-the-numbers picks of the bunch. Happy predicting!

Which categories do you think are the hardest to predict for the 96th Academy Awards? Do you imagine any of these upsets happening? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account. Also, please check out their final Oscar winner predictions here and the 2023 precursor awards tally here.

You can follow Cole and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @CurtissOnFilm

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