Oscars By Statistics

Here’s something I thought would be interesting to do…

I don’t really know how much I’m into the whole statistical thing. Generally I like having all information at my disposal and then doing what feels right. Statistics to me feel more like rationalization than playing the odds. You know?

That said, I got this idea from playing the ponies. Every year, before the Kentucky Derby and the other Triple Crown Races, my hometown newspaper (that’s the New York Daily News. My family is middle class. We’re not sophisticated enough to get (or care about half the stuff written in) the Times and we’re not low enough to bother with the Post) prints a big section where they go over all the horses in the race and writes a little something and all that. It’s mostly useless. My father always says, “Let me lose my own money.” It’s all luck, anyway. Unless you know what you’re doing.

But, there is one thing at the bottom I always found interesting, which is — they show you all the post positions that the horses start from (usually 20), and then they tell you, based on the number of Derbies there have been, which post positions have won the race the most. Not the most helpful of information, since, a lot of it has to do with context. Yet, if you wanted to, you could probably make a case, saying, “Well, this position has won the most times, so why not?” It’s as good a system as any. It really comes down to how much you want to believe in it.

So this came out of that. What I did was — I went through every Oscar category (nominees in alphabetical order), and saw which position won the most times. Of course, context is big. There’s one category where somebody won from the first alphabetical position and their last name started with the letter S. But still — first position. Doesn’t matter. So, it comes down to how much you want to believe in stuff like this.

I find it interesting, because, if it doesn’t come out, who cares, it’s stupid statistics that are purely coincidental. And if it does, I can think, “Interesting. That spot wins most of the time.” Especially if it’s an upset or something. It’s kind of like the Oscars themselves. It matters only as much as you want it to. It could be a stupid award, or it could be, “Yeah, King’s Speech won Best Picture!” So, I feel, the more information, the better. It’s all for fun, anyway.

So, here’s what I discovered. Starting with Best Picture.

Best Picture is probably the toughest of all the categories to deal with, because they had the most — shall we say — flexible sets of nominees.

Of all 83 Best Picture categories (so far. I’ll update after the ceremony tomorrow), 68 of them contained 5 nominees, 11 of them had 10 nominees, 2 had 12 nominees, 1 had 8 nominees, and 1 had 3 nominees. Obviously 1-5 are gonna have the most winners. But, with 12 — it gets murky.

So, how I did it was, I just listed 1-10 (thank god #11 or #12 didn’t win those two years), and did it that way. Because, no film past #10 ever won, and we’re at 10 nominees (maximum) now. So we have to take that into account. You’ll actually be surprised at how, despite having 15 years to have a winner between #6 and #10, it only happened three times.

Here’s how they fell:

#1 – 21 times

#2 – 12 times

#3 – 15 times

#4 – 15 times

#5 – 15 times

#6 – 1 time

#7 – Never

#8 – 2 times

#9 – Never

#10 – 2 times

What this means is, most of the time, the first film alphabetically on the nominations list has won Best Picture. Like I said, this has no basis at all come voting time. And yet, after you read this, come Oscar time, if the first alphabetical film is poised to win (or does), you might be like, “Interesting, the first film usually wins…” Just another weird thing. You know?

I just find it weird how there’s a definite leader here. I was expecting it to be a lot more bunched up than it is.

Now let’s look at Best Actor.

For Best Actor, fortunately there have never been more than five nominees in the category. There was one year where there were 8 separate nominations, but three of them were the same actors nominated for two films, so I really count that as five nominees. Just because someone was nominated twice doesn’t change the fact that there are five nominees. George Arliss did happen to win for one of his two nominations this year, but I’m still counting it as 5 nominees, because, who needs the hassle?

So, of the 84 Best Actor winners (there was one tie. We have to take that into account. There were also 3 years with 3 nominees and 1 year of only 2 nominees, and 79 years of five nominees), here’s how they fared:

#1 – 23 times

#2 – 21 times

#3 – 16 times

#4 – 10 times

#5 – 14 times

Pretty top-heavy there, isn’t it? Sucks to be the #4 nominee. I’d really love to be the guy who’s like, “Oh, that person has no shot. The #4 almost never wins.” Because I’m at the point where I won’t look like a huge nerd for knowing that, but rather it would be, “Dude, you think about this way too much.” I like that.

Plus, Colin Firth was #4 this year.

Here’s Best Actress.

There’s also a tie here. However, here, of the 84 winners, 77 of them had 5 nominees, 4 of them had 3 nominees, and 2 had 6 nominees.

Here’s how they’ve fared:

#1 – 18 times

#2 – 21 times

#3 – 13 times

#4 – 15 times

#5 – 16 times

#6 – 1 time

I like the one #6. That’s Mary Pickford. Pays to be #2 in this category. Still, kind of close. Pretty diverse.

Now, Best Supporting Actor.

Fortunately, the Supporting categories are pretty normal. Always five nominees. The only difference is, they’ve only had 75 different winners, since they were introduced in 1936.

Let’s see how this category does:

#1 – 18 times

#2 – 17 times

#3 – 13 times

#4 – 18 times

#5 – 9 times

Really bunched up. Yet, in three spots. #3 and #5 don’t do so well. I find this so interesting. I don’t even know why.

And Best Supporting Actress.

Same deal. 75 of them. All 5 nominees.

#1 – 11 times

#2 – 15 times

#3 – 17 times

#4 – 15 times

#5 – 17 times

Very bunched up. Except for #1. Definitely the closest of all the categories.

And finally, Best Director.

This one is interesting because — there were 76 years where there were 5 nominees (though, one of them had a director nominated twice, and he won for one of the films, which made it appear as six), 1 year of 4 nominees, 4 years of 3 nominees, and 1 year where both a Comedy and a Drama Best Director award were given. So there are 84 winners here.

#1 – 23 times

#2 – 13 times

#3 – 14 times

#4 – 19 times

#5 – 15 times

So, just for the hell of it, let’s see what that means in terms of this year’s Oscars.

This year’s Best Picture nominees are:

The Artist

The Descendants

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Help


Midnight in Paris


The Tree of Life

War Horse

According to these statistics, The Artist is the film that’s most likely to win.

The #1 film has won 21 times, and the next closest is 15 (by the #3, #4 and #5 films).

Would you look at that… that’s a nice little coincidence.

In fact, based on the statistics, the order in which the films are most likely to win is:

1. The Artist

2 (tie). Hugo

2 (tie). The Help

2 (tie). Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

5. The Descendants

6. The Tree of Life

7. Midnight in Paris

8. Moneyball

9. War Horse

Obviously not exact, but the interesting thing to note is how The Artist manages to fall right in with the statistics. (Also of note is that only five times in the Academy’s history — which admittedly, isn’t that many categories overall — has a film from the 6-10 spots won Best Picture. Which means that Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life and War Horse theoretically (that is, based on the statistics alone) stand no chance at winning. Which kind of works, since the big three films are all in the top five.

I know it’s mostly coincidental, but it’s fun to see how it somehow works. I’m sure it won’t continue all the way through.

Now, this year’s Best Actor nominees are:

Demián Bichir, A Better Life

George Clooney, The Descendants

Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Based on the statistics, Demián Bichir stands the best chance at winning.

The #1 ranked person (alphabetically) has won Best Actor 23 times. However, the #2 spot has won 21 times, and is also right up there. So Clooney does work out if he wins. But that’s not looking totally likely at this point.

Based on the statistics alone, here is the order in which the nominees are most likely to win:

1. Demián Bichir

2. George Clooney

3. Jean Dujardin

4. Brad Pitt

5. Gary Oldman

This is why we can’t totally count on statistics. But I find it interesting.

Now, Best Actress…the nominees are:

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis, The Help

Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Based on the statistics, Viola Davis stands the best chance at winning. Look at that. That’s pretty good. I mean, Meryl could still take it, but right now, you have to consider Viola Davis a strong contender with that SAG win.

The order in which the nominees are most likely to win, based solely on the statistics, is:

1. Viola Davis

2. Glenn Close

3. Michelle Williams

4. Meryl Streep

5. Rooney Mara

Swap Meryl and Glenn and that’s right on the money.

Best Supporting Actor now. The nominees are:

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Based on the statistics, the two most likely winners here are Kenneth Branagh and Christopher Plummer. (Wow.) #1 and #4 (alphabetically) have both won this category 18 times.

The order in which they are most likely to win, based on the stats, is:

1 (tie). Christopher Plummer, Beginners

2 (tie). Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

3. Jonah Hill, Moneyball

4. Nick Nolte, Warrior

5. Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Pretty solid so far, I’d say. (On winners. The order thing is irrelevant.) Almost makes me want to see how it works in every category (but that would be way too much work. Not a chance that happens unless I’m being paid to do it).

Best Supporting Actress. We’re almost done. The nominees are:

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist

Jessica Chastain, The Help

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer, The Help

Based on the statistics, the two most likely winners here are (wow, again) Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy. #3 and #5 have each won this category 17 times.

So the order in which the nominees are most likely to win (based on the statistics) is:

1 (tie, 1). Octavia Spencer

2 (tie, 1). Melissa McCarthy

3 (tie, 3). Jessica Chastain

4 (tie, 3). Janet McTeer

5. Bérénice Bejo

And finally, Best Director. The category I’m sure will blow all of these general consistencies out of the water. The nominees are:

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Alexander Payne, The Descendants

Martin Scorsese, Hugo

And according to the statistics, the person most likely to win this category is…

Woody Allen.

Had a feeling that was gonna happen. #1 has won this category 23 times.

The order for this one based on the statistics is:

1. Woody Allen

2. Alexander Payne

3. Martin Scorsese

4. Terrence Malick

5. Michel Hazanavicius

You win some, you lose some.

This was fun, though. Like I said, I don’t put too much stock in statistics, since the fact that they’re statistics inherently states that they can change, and everything has a chance. But it’s fun to talk about them. It interests me to see what statistics come up with. Just like we’re interested to see who wins the Madden Bowl simulation, or were (since it died) interested to see what the giant squid picked to win the World Cup. Or the groundhog and six more weeks of winter. It’s just simple probability that be invoked if it works and ignored if it doesn’t.

Plus it gave me an extra article to put up today. And that’s nice.


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