A few years ago I spent a fair bit of my free time collecting data on all of the films nominated for an Academy Award and I built a statistical model for all 24 categories. In that first year, my model predicted a big win for The Hurt Locker, and it was right. The next year I decided to publish the predictions of the model on the internet. Unfortunately, the model picked The Social Network. After that I've been occasionally tinkering with it. It successfully picked The Artist in 2011, but who didn't? It also picked Argo pretty early in 2012. So on the whole, the model has been pretty successful. But it isn't as if it has had a hard go of it. In the most contested of these past 4 years, it chose the wrong film. And that brings us to this year. 

12 Years a Slave is the consensus favorite. Most experts are picking it to win, and it certainly is the film most favored by the critics. Nine out of the fourteen critics groups I track in the statistical model chose it as the best film of the year. But when you look at the other categories, it looks like a dud. The experts don't think it will leave with more than three, including best picture. That isn't the profile of a winner. 

Gravity seems to be the most worthy. It is nominated in 10 categories, and is the favorite to win in 7 of them. And that doesn't include Best Picture. But it does include Best Director, which would suggest an unusual split. It is hard to say that a film had the best directing, best cinematography, best editing, best score, best sound mixing, best sound editing, and best special effects, but wasn't the best picture of the year. Yet it has only managed to win in a tie with 12 Years a Slave at the Producers Guild Awards, which tends to favor movies that made a lot of money, like Gravity

American Hustle is the most liked. It nabbed 10 nominations as well, including a nomination in all four of the acting categories. The acting branch is by far the largest of the Academy, and it's members chose American Hustle for Best Cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. It also won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical. It's profile going into the Oscars isn't unlike Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, or Crash. All films which upset the more critically acclaimed fare with the support of the actors. 

Now. If only we had a way to objectively process all of this information based on their observed relevance among past winners and losers. Oh! Wait! That's what statistics is for! 

The model predicts the winner separately based on three areas: other awards, other Oscar nominations, and critics awards. It then combines those predictions into one based on how well those areas predict winners. Here is what it says for Best Picture.

Film
Odds
Awards
Noms
Critics
American Hustle
46.20%
38.05%
35.30%
8.57%
Captain Phillips
2.91%
2.97%
14.99%
9.04%
Dallas Buyers Club
9.51%
0.76%
32.99%
9.04%
Gravity
9.79%
58.47%
2.65%
7.28%
Her
1.12%
0.23%
0.61%
15.52%
Nebraska
0.99%
0.14%
1.23%
9.04%
Philomena
0.98%
0.91%
0.68%
9.04%
12 Years a Slave
26.50%
7.92%
21.09%
73.02%
The Wolf of Wall Street
2.00%
0.46%
11.06%
9.04%

I've left the sub-predictions for the narrative. American Hustle is winning on it's formidable awards success and the clear love displayed for it in the nominations. You may be wondering why Gravity is doing so poorly with it's 10 nominations compared to an equivalent number of nominations for Hustle, and 4 more than Dallas Buyers Club got. That is because American Hustle was nominated for the "artistic" Oscars like acting and costumes, while Gravity was nominated for "technical" Oscars like cinematography and special effects. 

That said, American Hustle is more likely to lose than it is to win. There is a 53.8% chance something else takes the prize, and the most favored of those is 12 Years a Slave, somewhat distantly followed by Gravity. And in this chaos, the model even thinks Dallas Buyers Club has a shot. 

Now, here is where I have to give a nerdy caveat. The model is calibrated on past winners and losers, most of which were decided in a different system. A system where you could win best picture with just 21% of the vote. Since 2009, the Academy has used a "preferential voting system" in which voters rank the nominees, and the winner is decided by eliminating the lowest vote getter and redistributing those votes to their next choice. It is a system designed to choose a consensus nominee and avoid surprises like Dallas Buyers Club

If I had to guess, I'd say that Gravity wins the most first place votes, but not enough to win outright. American Hustle will win the second most, followed by 12 Years a Slave. Then it is just a match to see who wins the "second choice" contest for the members who picked one of the other films first, and that is an incredibly tough call. But I'll try and make it.

Brian's Oscar Picks


Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave

My Vote: Gravity

My favorite film of the year was Gravity, and I will be delighted if it wins, but I think both it and American Hustle have lovers and haters, and not a lot in between. In other words, those who don't pick them as their top choice probably won't pick them above 12 Years a Slave, which seems to be the definition of a "consensus" win. But honestly, I think this can go to any of the three. My gut instinct odds are 35% 12 Years a Slave, 35% American Hustle, and 30% Gravity. At least it will be exciting.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón

My Vote: Alfonso Cuarón

The model gives him a 99.59% change of winning, and rightfully so. But it is worth re-iterating that the Academy does not often split Best Director and Best Picture. If anything, though, this bolsters Gravity's chances, rather than harming Cuarón's. He's won every award that matters so far, and he will win this one too. 


Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey

My Vote: Matthew McConaughey

Unlike the model, which gives McConaughey an 85% chance to win, this is a tough call for me. I think Leo's performance in Wolf of Wall Street is amazing. He is also more deserving. McConaughey is one of the worst actors of all time. He's just terrible, and he should quit. He is bad in everything he does. Except this. In this one role, he turned in a truly spectacular performance. Somehow, he earned it. 

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett

My Vote: Cate... no Sandra... no Meryl... Judi maybe?... Ok, Amy Adams. 

Blanchett is the 99% favorite here, but what an incredible set of performances! All five were Oscar worthy in my view, but if I were a voter, I think I would probably end up checking the box next to Amy Adams. 

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto

My Vote: Jared Leto

Leto is a 97% favorite to win, and he ought to. There has been a fourth quarter push for Michael Fassbender, who would be a worthy winner (like Best Actress, all the nominees here are deserving), but I'd pick Leto over the bunch. He didn't hold back. Nobody would admit it, but I'd bet anything that almost everyone who saw this film recoiled when his character was introduced. Transgender is still too taboo, still too weird for most people. But everyone was won over by the end. Through his incredible performance, Leto did for the audience what his character did for the story. He helped us overcome our prejudice by offering a deeply human side to those who are marginalized and discriminated against. That sort of thing should be honored. 

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence

My Vote: Jennifer Lawrence

The model gives Lupita a 76% chance to win. Lawrence has a 22% chance. But I'd like to point out something a bit odd. Jennifer Lawrence was the only one from American Hustle to get nominated by the Screen Actor's Guild. That suggests that the actors in the Academy liked American Hustle A LOT more than their fellow SAG actors did. The Academy also has a lot of "money" people. A lot of producers, and even a whole branch of lawyers. Of all the people nominated, Lawrence is almost certainly drawing the biggest number of viewers, and I think many will see rewarding those viewers as enough reason to give her the award. Lupita is the odds-on favorite. But my gut says Lawrence. 

Best Original Screenplay: Her

My Vote: Dallas Buyers Club

So... this is where I'm drawing the line on updating the data for the model. You'll just have to do without calculated odds from here on out. But I can guess that it would spit out something close to what the experts say. It is a super close race between Her and American Hustle. The critics and the Golden Globes have picked Her. So has the Writer's Guild, which tracks incredibly well with the Oscar. The BAFTA went to American Hustle, but Her wasn't even nominated. I think Her has the edge. My personal choice would be Dallas Buyers Club though. It was a movie that could have been done very poorly (e.g. Philadelphia), but it wasn't. It told an incredible story incredibly well.

Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave

My Vote: Philomena

This one looks to be the only slam dunk for 12 Years a Slave. And in a way it will be a win-by-proxy for the author of the original work, which is a nice symbolic gesture. But I was genuinely surprised by Philomena, and the screenplay was the driving force behind that surprise. Of all the places where my vote differs from my prediction, this is the one I'd most like to see go the way of my vote. 

Best Animated Feature: Frozen

My Vote: Frozen

This is the first category where I haven't seen all the nominees. Unfortunately, I did see The Croods. What an unbelievably terrible film. Nevertheless, Frozen has this one locked up. 

Best Foreign Film: The Great Beauty

My Vote: None.

This is the first category where I haven't seen any of the nominees. But the signs point to The Great Beauty from Italy. This is a notoriously hard category to predict, however, and I am a prime example of why. Not a lot of people actually watch these movies, so the voting pool is a bit random. 

Best Cinematography: Gravity

My Vote: Gravity

Emmanuel Lubezki has been burned before, but this time I think he has it locked down. Gravity was undeniably the best shot film of the year. 

Best Editing: Gravity

My Vote: Gravity

I always feel weird about editing. I don't know how to judge the category. Editors can be incredibly important to the filmmaking process. They help choose between takes, they help set the pacing of the film, and they help tell the story. They are essentially co-directors. So I tend to default towards giving it to the same film as Best Director. Incidentally, the Academy often does the same. But watch out for Captain Phillips here. It picked up the award from the Editor's Guild, which also tracks well with the Oscars. It would also be a very worthy winner. 

Best Production Design: The Great Gatsby

My Vote: Her

When it comes to production and costumes, the Academy loves excess, and The Great Gatsby had excess. I just wish it weren't such a bad movie. The production design for Her is what makes the film Oscar worthy. Forget screenplay, this is where Her should be competing. Unfortunately, the BAFTAs and critics forecast a victory for excess. 

Best Costume Design: The Great Gatsby

My Vote: American Hustle

I'd really like to be casting my vote for Gravity here. Apparently the Academy forgot they were in space suits. Ask me to make you a 3-piece suit from the 20's and I think I could probably do it. Ask me to make you a space suit, and I think I'd have a better chance of becoming an actual astronaut and lending you mine. Seriously, this category is always super lame. Gatsby is winning this award elsewhere, so it is good bet here as well. But American Hustle is making a play for it (and I think its the most deserving of the nominees). 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club

My Vote: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

American Hustle won this at the BAFTAs, but wasn't nominated at the Oscars. Beyond that there is little to go on. Voters probably won't have seen Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger, so Dallas Buyers Club is the safe bet here. I'll be rooting for Bad Grandpa though, which I think is truly deserving. Those makeup artists didn't just have to convince the audience, they had to convince the people standing next to Johnny Knoxville, and they did. 

Best Original Score: Gravity

My Vote: Gravity

I'm a huge John Williams fan, but The Book Thief felt like a minor effort. Gravity was the only indispensable score of the year, though I don't think it was particularly masterful. In fact, none of the nominated scores were particularly impressive. Gravity has the edge with previous awards, though, so you should feel comfortable marking it down on your ballot. 

Best Original Song: Let It Go - Frozen

My Vote: Let It Go - Frozen

This category is turning out to be fairly competitive. U2 has been promoting their work, and Pharrell is getting the "no backlash" boost from not campaigning and being incredibly popular right now. Nevertheless, I think Disney will win the category they have long dominated. 

Best Sound Mixing: Gravity

My Vote: Gravity

This film is a candidate for the best sound mixing of all time. Richard Donner once said that it was John Williams' score that made us believe Superman could fly. We saw it happening on screen, but Williams is the one who sold it. Gravity's sound mixing is what put me in space, and previous awards predict the Academy will agree. 


Best Sound Editing: Gravity

My Vote: Gravity

See above.

Best Visual Effects: Gravity

My Vote: Gravity

Are there even any other films nominated in this category? I'm surprised the Oscar's aren't giving a special award for the special effects achievements in this film. 

Best Documentary Feature: The Act of Killing

My Vote: The Square

This category is missing a lot of winners from the other awards. The expert opinion is for 20 Feet from Stardom, but I can't figure out why. It was a decent documentary, but not particularly great. The Act of Killing was the most impactful of the nominees, and it won at the BAFTAs. I think it will win the Oscar. The Square was the best though.

Best Documentary Short: The Lady in Number 6

A 109 year old Holocaust survivor plays the piano. Sounds like a winner to me. 

Best Animated Short: Get a Horse!

Tough call, but this one features the voice of the king of the Oscars: Walt Disney. 

Best Live Action Short: The Voorman Problem

Your guess is as good as mine, but The Voorman Problem is the only one in English. It also has Martin Freeman in it. Steve Pond made a good case for Helium though. 
I've embarked on a challenge to rate and rank every film I've ever seen. I estimate that I've seen about 1,500 films, and perhaps surprisingly (though not to me), only 65 of them were released before 1970. At least at my present count. I'm sure I forgot about a few. Anyway, I thought I would publish that list. 

Each film is rated according to certain criteria, which I would rather not spend the time explaining, because it isn't really a rigorous method at all. It is more of a separating of the aspects of a film I can enjoy independently from one another. You will also notice that each film has two ratings. The first is "favorite" which includes a heavily weighted category for how much I personally enjoyed the film. The second is "best", which does not include that category. The best score a film can get is 10/10. 

Here is the list:

RankFavoriteBestFilmYear
18.769.09Lawrence of Arabia1962
27.907.86The Sound of Music1965
37.667.95Psycho1960
47.607.86The Good, the Bad and the Ugly1966
57.597.84North by Northwest1959
67.508.14Vertigo1958
77.387.54A Fistful of Dollars1964
87.387.54For a Few Dollars More1965
97.347.48West Side Story1961
107.257.36Sigin' in the Rain1952
117.257.36High Noon1952
127.157.64Gone with the Wind1939
137.147.41Mary Poppins1964
147.117.59It's a Wonderful Life1946
156.957.36Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Bomb1964
166.937.32Casablanca1943
176.937.32The Bridge on the River Kwai1957
186.887.25Lady and the Tramp1955
196.857.21Fantasia1940
206.857.21The Graduate1967
216.857.00Guess Who's Coming to Dinner1967
226.857.21Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid1969
236.837.18The Best Years of Our Lives1946
246.807.14The Wizard of Oz1939
256.787.54Citizen Kane1941
266.737.04Ben-Hur1959
276.737.04To Kill a Mockingbird1962
286.716.80My Fair Lady1964
296.686.96Peter Pan1953
306.636.89In the Heat of the Night1967
316.606.86All the King's Men1949
326.486.68The Lost Weekend1945
336.356.50Marty1955
346.356.50One Hundred and One Dalmatians1961
356.336.46Cinderella1950
366.336.46Sleeping Beauty1959
376.306.43The Ten Commandments1956
386.286.39Gentleman's Agreement1947
396.256.79Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs1937
406.216.30The Birds1963
416.186.25Gigi1958
426.156.21On the Waterfront1954
436.086.11The Apartment1960
446.006.862001: A Space Odyssey1968
455.986.82The Jungle Book1967
465.985.96The Pink Panther1964
475.955.93From Here to Eternity1953
485.955.93A Man For All Seasons1966
495.906.29King Kong1933
505.856.21Pinocchio1940
515.786.11An American in Paris1951
525.785.68A Shot in the Dark1964
535.685.96Romeo and Juliet1968
545.605.86Wings1927
555.555.79Around the World in Eighty Days1956
565.506.14Alice in Wonderland1951
575.235.75Hamlet1948
585.205.29All About Eve1950
595.184.82Gentleman Prefer Blondes1953
604.905.29Mr. Smith Goes to Washington1939
614.855.21Oliver!1968
624.704.57The Greatest Show on Earth1952
634.604.86A Streetcar Named Desire1951
642.953.36Midnight Cowboy1969
651.901.86Tom Jones1963