A Comprehensive Guide to Predicting the Oscars
Everything you need to know to predict the Oscars (in every category!)
The Oscars are driven largely by politics, favorites, and professional relationships – all elements that make awarding a good film difficult. The reasoning, complex voting policies, and members’ personal prejudices always seem to interfere with what the general film-going population believes is the best movie of any given category. However, it’s still the most fun to make Oscar predictions, as these are easily the most prestigious movie awards each year; and considering a total of 24 categories, an event that has decent bragging rights if you can guess them all. Since it’s a tricky task to choose the eventual winners, this in-depth breakdown will help you get that 20+ correct predictions you’ve been striving for.
The biggest secret is to know the method and process in which Oscar nominees/winners are voted for. For starters, there are around 6000 voting members, each belonging to one of 15 branches (around 400 votes per category). Only members of each branch can vote for their categories FOR NOMINATIONS, although if you’ve been personally nominated outside of your branch, you can vote for that (or those) other categories (the only nomination that is voted on by everyone is Best Picture). The other exceptions are Animated Feature and Foreign Language Film, which are nominated by a multi-branch screening committee. Again, that’s for the NOMINATION process only. Once nominees are selected, the ENTIRETY of the membership votes for the winner, which means that thousands of inexperienced, unknowledgeable people are the ones selecting the actual winner (the exception here is Animated Short, Live Action Short, Documentary Short, Documentary Feature and Foreign Language Film, which can only be voted on by members that have screened the nominees theatrically).
The most important thing to take away from the breakdown below is that just because a particular society, guild, or grouping of category-specific experts gives honors for precise technical awards, it doesn’t mean that it will win the Oscar, especially because of the ratio of knowledgeable expert votes to general membership votes. Popularity is huge. An additional drawback comes in the form of the ballot itself, which for the technical awards merely mentions the movie and not the possible recipients (allowing for many artists to be nominated dozens of times without ever getting the win – there’s no name association).
This is usually one of the most predictable Oscars given. Your best bet is to follow the slew of recent best picture awards, as nearly all of the Academy Award winners win best picture awards in the month leading up to the Oscars. The Producers Guild of America (www.producersguild.org) hands out their Darryl F. Zanuck Award (usually during January) for outstanding producer of theatrical motion pictures. Only 7 times since 1989 has the top PGA Award gone to a producer that did not win the Best Picture Oscar. Another great source for gauging the eventual winner is the Golden Globes. Since their top award is divided into two winners (Best Drama and Best Musical or Comedy), it gives a strong clue as to the frontrunners for Oscar night. Generally, the drama winner and nominees hold more weight than the comedy selection. Also, look to see who is likely to win the Best Editing Oscar, as these two awards almost always go hand in hand. Another indicator is the BAFTA Awards, Directors Guild of America, and even a few of the smaller film critic societies.
In recent years, there’s always a strong frontrunner, so this award has been easy to predict. The acting categories are all heavily influenced by seniority, favoritism, past nominations and the films that nominees are currently in. But more than any of that, the Screen Actors Guild Awards (www.sagawards.org) gives a solid indication as to the eventual Oscar winner. In the last several years, almost everyone who won the SAG award went on to win the Oscar. Minor discrepancies include when an actress is nominated for Best Actress for one award and Best Supporting actress for the other, or when Eddie Murphy lost his win because of the recent opening of Norbit, which effectively shattered the glory of his Dreamgirls work, or in 2004 when Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow lost out to Penn’s Mystic River performance (an example of “fun” losing out to “serious”). BAFTA and Golden Globe wins are also important to track, but in the event of uncertainty, go with the SAG wins.
Best Supporting Actor/Actress:
The Supporting Actor/Actress awards are roughly the same as the Best Actor/Actress awards – find out who won the SAG awards and go with them. These two categories find a few more discrepancies throughout the years than their more important counterpart categories, but not enough to question the prediction accuracy.
Best Animated Feature:
The Producers Guild also gives out an award for best Animated Motion Picture, which gives a little insight on the eventual winner. But typically, this award just goes to Pixar (they have an impressive track record, but who knows how long that can keep up?). In the few years Pixar didn’t win, they either didn’t have a film nominated, or had an obviously subpar film released (such as Cars and Cars 2). The BAFTA and Golden Globe winners should also be considered. The International Animated Film Association (ASIFA-Hollywood) presents the annual "Annie" awards (www.annieawards.org), although there has been a lot of controversy surrounding membership and the balloting system, occasionally resulting in gross discrepancies between Annie winners and Oscar winners (most notably in 2009 when Kung Fu Panda swept the awards over WALL-E).
Best Production Design (formerly Art Direction):
The best indicator for the Art Direction Oscar recipient is the Art Directors Guild (www.adg.org) and their Excellence in Production Design Award – although this is not because of their accuracy. Since 2000, they split the award into two categories, one for Period or Fantasy Film and one for Contemporary Film. Since 2006, they split it again into three awards: Period Film, Fantasy Film, and Contemporary Film. The catch is that the Academy only gives one. Here’s a breakdown of the ADG awards matching up with the eventual Oscar winners since 2000:
2000: no match (Oscar winner was fantasy)
What can be determined from these results? As far as accuracy goes, it’s around 50%. And in the last few years, even with three separate winners, the Academy went with a different choice. However, a trend definitely appears. First of all, the contemporary nominees never win the Oscar. It also seems that Fantasy typically trumps Period, and if a film teeters into both Period and Fantasy, it has a significant advantage. It’s also helpful to note that the award used to be separate for Art Direction and Set Decoration, so films that incorporate a lot of lavish locations do well. The key to this prediction (along with many others down the line) is to choose the film that is most popular amongst filmmakers/professionals (which actors or director is involved?) or most popularly artsy. What does the average filmmaker/actor think art direction is all about? Many voters just go for their favorite film (sweeping epics do well) or their Best Picture vote (to rack up more wins) – these two concepts can be applied in almost every technical and artistic category. Another very important thing to consider is that the names of the individual artists are NOT on the ballot – just the films. So voters definitely won’t vote based on recognition of accomplished artists, especially on technical awards, but rather the title of the movie alone.
Cinematographers also have their own society, called the American Society of Cinematographers (www.theasc.com). Like art direction, it’s useful to examine the statistics of past winners of this award in comparison to the eventual Oscar winners. Here’s the breakdown since 2000:
2000: no match (winner was fantasy)
Again, there is a poor percentage of ASC winners that went on to win the Academy Award, but it does shed some light on the kinds of films that win (primarily period and fantasy). This category is particularly tricky because, again, all 6000 members get to vote on it. This results in a win for the most popular film (which actors or director is involved?), especially since many voters will vote for the film they want to see win the most awards – closely linked to their Best Picture choice.
This category also has a guild – the Costume Designers Guild (www.costumedesignersguild.com). They too give out three separate awards, one for Contemporary Film, Period Film and Fantasy Film. This time, it makes more sense just to examine past Oscar winners, since the disconnect between CDG winners and eventual Oscar winners is great – frequently, of the three CDG winners, the eventual Oscar winner isn’t one of them (not unlike the Art Direction award). Perusing Oscar winners of the last decade, you’ll note that almost every winner is a Period film or a sweeping epic – the brighter, more extravagant and more costume-stuffed pictures usually prevail. If the Period film isn’t terribly well received or widely seen, keep in mind once again that the entire membership votes, and that popularity is important.
This is one of the few categories that is easy to predict, based on the Directors Guild of America Award (www.dga.org). Almost always the DGA winner goes on to win the Oscar, many times even in instances when the Best Picture doesn’t correspond.
The PGA and DGA give out an award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary, respectively (the ACE also gives out a documentary award, but it doesn’t coordinate much with the Oscar winner). However, rarely are the nominees the same films that are nominated by the Academy (instead recognizing bigger budgeted, better advertised films). Popularity, advertising and reach are important for this prediction, considering winners are generally the films seen by the widest audiences or the ones with the biggest DVD releases. Look at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, WGA, and all the other awards groups handing out Best Documentary awards leading up to the Oscars, as this reveals the reach and popularity of the nominees.
Documentary Short Subject:
The short subject categories are notorious for being difficult to guess. Documentary short might be the easiest of the bunch (which is still tough) because the winner is almost always a hard-hitting, emotional, heart-wrenching and/or uplifting document of human drama. When taking a stab at this category, be sure to read about (or watch them if you can) the subject matter. The broader group of people the topic might affect, or the more timely it is, the greater its chance at success. As with the other two short film categories, only members who claim they’ve seen all of them (generally by attending special screenings) can vote. Documentary.org hosts the International Documentary Association (IDA Awards), which has plenty of details on releases each year.
Film Editing Oscars almost always go to the eventual Best Picture winner. The American Cinema Editors (www.ace-filmeditors.org) give out “Eddie” Awards, and based on their last several years, they’ve established a pretty decent track record of choosing the eventual Oscar winner. Their awards are also split into two major categories (Dramatic and Comedy or Musical) and two minor categories (Animated Feature and Documentary). If there’s any doubt, lean toward buzz (such as when Bourne Ultimatum or The Matrix won) or complex epic when the Best Picture frontrunner is a slower moving drama (such as when Black Hawk Down beat out A Beautiful Mind, or when Saving Private Ryan beat out Shakespeare in Love).
Foreign Language Film:
The BAFTA Awards have this category, and while several nominees line up with the Oscars nominees, rarely do the winners coincide (the release years of films also possess different eligibilities, so many films are nominees during a year the Academy doesn’t recognize them as eligible). The Academy is also notorious for voting against the most popular choice, having corrupt, unfair standards for selecting nominees, and having rules that work against compiling five worthy films. The frontrunner usually loses, so study the nominees and go for the tear-jerking, historical drama, which almost always beats out the comedies. Also consider for inspiration the Cannes Film Festival winners for Palme d’Or and Grand Prix prizes, unless they go to an American film (which is rare for the former award, almost never for the latter). They practically never line up, but the subjects Cannes chooses possess similarities. Some years, when a foreign film is nominated for other Oscars outside of Best Foreign Language Film (especially Best Picture), it's a surefire win - such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000), Life is Beautiful (1997), or Amour (2012).
Although there is a Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild, it’s not very well publicized, so the key to predicting this category is simply to be reminded that the entirety of the Academy gets to vote. In the minds of Academy voters, “most” makeup usually means “best” makeup. Generally, if a drama has a comparative amount of makeup effects to a fantasy, the drama takes the prize. Looking back through the history of the award, it appears rather obvious:
2011: The Iron Lady (up against Albert Nobbs, with debatably the "most" makeup)
Original Music Score:
For this category, consider the Golden Globes winner and the World Soundtrack Awards winner, but basically just determine the film with the most memorable/successful/famous score. This is one of the easier Oscars to predict.
This one generally goes along with the method for predicting the score – choose the film with the most memorable song. In the event that a musical is chosen and has multiple songs nominated, consider just how popular the songs are. If they’re practically indecipherable, multiple nominations for the same film cancel each other out (this happened most recently in 2009 with two nominations for The Princess and the Frog, in 2007 with three nominations for Enchanted, and most unforgettably with Dreamgirls in 2006, which also had three songs nominated, only to ultimately lose).
Animated Short Film/Live Action Short Film:
These are easily two of the hardest categories to predict, although generally based on the subject matter, the decision can be narrowed down to about two choices (the frontrunner and the upset). The topics are vast, as are the wins, with comedies, tragedies and oddities alternately taking the cake. If there are four tragedies and one comedy, the comedy will usually win, and vice versa. Although it’s rare, if any film has stars or a known director, it definitely helps. The animated short typically goes to comedies and if there’s a weird comedy, it helps. Unlike in the Animated Feature category, Pixar doesn’t always win. Also, remember that, like the Short Documentary category, only those members who have attended special screenings can vote – and quite importantly, those screenings show all the nominees back-to-back. So the most memorable, most shocking, or most likely to induce crying is going to stick out in the minds of voters immediately after seeing all of them in one sitting. If you want to do some extensive research, shortfilmcentral.com is an exhaustive source. As each year passes, the Annie Awards (presented by the International Animated Film Society) (www.annieawards.org) become a little more useful in predicting the animated short winner.
Sound (Mixing)/Sound Effects Editing:
These are the two Oscars with the silliest wins in Academy Award history, and most commonly the two categories that demonstrate just how ridiculous it is for all 6000 voters to vote on technical awards they couldn’t possibly know or care less about. Sound Mixing is typically just for combining each of the different element tracks and re-recording, while Sound Effects Editing is largely about effects and sound design. There is indeed a Motion Picture Sound Editors (www.mpse.org) group (that gives out the Golden Reel Award for Sound Editing – Music, Sound Editing – Dialogue & ADR, and Sound Editing – Music in a Musical Feature Film) and a Cinema Audio Society (www.cinemaaudiosociety.org), which hands out CAS Awards (for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Motion Pictures). It hardly matters what they choose, since the Academy voters don’t know what to pick. So either both awards go to the same movie, or they split them between their favorite loudest movies. Sound Effects Editing always leans toward special effects heavy, explosion-filled films, while Mixing leans toward the most epic movie. Also, don’t forget about favorites (such as voters liking actors or directors or those attached to Best Picture frontrunners).
2011: Hugo (drama)
Conclusion: Dramas typically win, with complex fantasy/actioners coming in second.
Sound Effects Editing:
2011: Hugo (drama, competing against Transformers: Dark of the Moon and War Horse)
Conclusion: Loud, special effects heavy movies generally win, with war movies besting science-fiction/fantasy.
Technical awards usually lump together, so it’s not uncommon for this award to wind up going to the same film that won the two sound awards. The Visual Effects Society (www.visualeffectssociety.com) bestows several awards, one for Best Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture, one for Best Supporting Visual Effects in a Motion Picture, one for Best Character Animation in a Live Action Picture, and one for Best Character Animation in an Animated Feature (all lovingly dubbed “Vessies”). Odds are, the Best Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture is the eventual Oscar winner, especially since these are mainstream, blockbuster flicks that utilize plenty of effects (most equals best). The occasional Supporting Visual Effects prize denotes an Oscar win, especially when the film itself is up for multiple Oscars, but it’s a safe bet to go with the most effects-driven feature.
Writing Adapted Screenplay/Writing Original Screenplay:
The American Screenwriters Association hands out awards (with very little coverage), as do the Golden Globes, but most important is the Writers Guild of America (www.wga.org). Their WGA Award nominations almost always match up with Oscar nominees, and they have a decent track record for choosing the same winners. In general, follow the WGA’s choices. The exceptions are for popular, complex stories, or Oscar/BAFTA/Golden Globe favorites (such as Alexander Payne, Quentin Tarantino, or Woody Allen).
WGA Winners vs. Oscars:
2012: Original - Midnight in Paris (match)
- Mike Massie
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