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Oscars 2016 Category Breakdown: Best Picture

Every year before the Oscars I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category, how it typically goes, voting-wise, historically and also as a precursor to my picks article, allowing me to get most of the heavy lifting out of the way beforehand.

What I do is go over each category’s history, give you all the previous winners and nominees, then list the current year’s nominees. And then I’ll go over how each of the guilds (if there is a corresponding guild) have voted, how that corresponds to the Oscars (some guilds mean a lot to how a category will play out. Others mean nothing). It’s basically everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision when you make your picks on Oscar night. And then I also rank the nominees at the end in terms of where I see them in terms of their likelihood to win. So you know what the general favorites are.

Today is the big one, Best Picture. I’m gonna talk a lot and then tell you to ultimately take the favorite. Because I’m not stupid.

Year Best Picture Winner Other Nominees
1927-1928 Wings The Racket

Seventh Heaven

1928-1929 The Broadway Melody Alibi

The Hollywood Revue of 1929

In Old Arizona

The Patriot

1929-1930 All Quiet on the Western Front The Big House

Disraeli

The Divorcee

The Love Parade

1930-1931 Cimarron East Lynne

The Front Page

Skippy

Trader Horn

1931-1932 Grand Hotel Arrowsmith

Bad Girl

The Champ

Five Star Final

One Hour with You

Shanghai Express

The Smiling Lieutenant

1932-1933 Cavalcade A Farewell to Arms

42nd Street

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Lady for a Day

Little Women

The Private Life of Henry VIII

She Done Him Wrong

Smilin’ Through

State Fair

1934 It Happened One Night The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Cleopatra

Flirtation Walk

The Gay Divorcee

Here Comes the Navy

The House of Rothschild

Imitation of Life

One Night of Love

The Thin Man

Viva Villa!

The White Parade

1935 Mutiny on the Bounty Alice Adams

Broadway Melody of 1936

Captain Blood

David Copperfield

The Informer

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Les Misérables

Naughty Marietta

Ruggles of Red Gap

1936 The Great Ziegfeld Anthony Adverse

Dodsworth

Libeled Lady

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Romeo and Juliet

San Francisco

The Story of Louis Pasteur

A Tale of Two Cities

Three Smart Girls

1937 The Life of Emile Zola The Awful Truth

Captains Courageous

Dead End

The Good Earth

In Old Chicago

Lost Horizon

One Hundred Men and a Girl

Stage Door

A Star is Born

1938 You Can’t Take It with You The Adventures of Robin Hood

Alexander’s Ragtime Band

Boys Town

The Citadel

Four Daughters

Grand Illusion

Jezebel

Pygmalion

Test Pilot

1939 Gone With the Wind Dark Victory

Goodbye Mr. Chips

Love Affair

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Ninotchka

Of Mice and Men

Stagecoach

The Wizard of Oz

Wuthering Heights

1940 Rebecca All This, and Heaven Too

Foreign Correspondent

The Grapes of Wrath

The Great Dictator

Kitty Foyle

The Letter

The Long Voyage Home

Our Town

The Philadelphia Story

1941 How Green Was My Valley Blossoms in the Dust

Citizen Kane

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Hold Back the Dawn

The Little Foxes

The Maltese Falcon

One Foot in Heaven

Sergeant York

Suspicion

1942 Mrs. Miniver 49th Parallel

Kings Row

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Pied Piper

The Pride of the Yankees

Random Harvest

The Talk of the Town

Wake Island

Yankee Doodle Dandy

1943 Casablanca For Whom the Bell Tolls

Heaven Can Wait

The Human Comedy

In Which We Serve

Madame Curie

The More the Merrier

The Ox-Bow Incident

The Song of Bernadette

Watch on the Rhine

1944 Going My Way Double Indemnity

Gaslight

Since You Went Away

Wilson

1945 The Lost Weekend Anchors Aweigh

The Bells of St. Mary’s

Mildred Pierce

Spellbound

1946 The Best Years of Our Lives Henry V It’s a Wonderful Life

The Razor’s Edge

The Yearling

1947 Gentleman’s Agreement The Bishop’s Wife

Crossfire

Great Expectations

Miracle on 34th Street

1948 Hamlet Johnny Belinda

The Red Shoe

The Snake Pit

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

1949 All the King’s Men Battleground

The Heiress

A Letter to Three Wives

Twelve O’Clock High

1950 All About Eve Born Yesterday

Father of the Bride

King Solomon’s Mines

Sunset Boulevard

1951 An American in Paris Decision Before Dawn

A Place in the Sun

Quo Vadis

A Streetcar Named Desire

1952 The Greatest Show on Earth High Noon

Ivanhoe

Moulin Rouge

The Quiet Man

1953 From Here to Eternity Julius Caesar

The Robe

Roman Holiday

Shane

1954 On the Waterfront The Caine Mutiny

The Country Girl

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Three Coins in the Fountain

1955 Marty Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

Mister Roberts

Picnic

The Rose Tattoo

1956 Around the World in 80 Days Friendly Persuasion

Giant

The King and I

The Ten Commandments

1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai Peyton Place

Sayonara

12 Angry Men

Witness for Prosecution

1958 Gigi Auntie Mame

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

The Defiant Ones

Separate Tables

1959 Ben-Hur Anatomy of a Murder

The Diary of Anne Frank

The Nun’s Story

Room at the Top

1960 The Apartment The Alamo

Elmer Gantry

Sons and Lovers

The Sundowners

1961 West Side Story Fanny

The Guns of Navarone

The Hustler

Judgment at Nuremberg

1962 Lawrence of Arabia The Longest Day

The Music Man

Mutiny on the Bounty

To Kill a Mockingbird

1963 Tom Jones America America

Cleopatra

How the West Was Won

Lilies of the Field

1964 My Fair Lady Becket

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Mary Poppins

Zorba the Greek

1965 The Sound of Music Darling

Doctor Zhivago

Ship of Fools

A Thousand Clowns

1966 A Man for All Seasons Alfie

The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming

The Sand Pebbles

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1967 In the Heat of the Night Bonnie and Clyde

Doctor Dolittle

The Graduate

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

1968 Oliver! Funny Girl

The Lion in Winter

Rachel Rache

lRomeo and Juliet

1969 Midnight Cowboy Anne of the Thousand Days

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Hello Dolly!

Z

1970 Patton Airport

Five Easy Pieces

Love Story

MASH

1971 The French Connection A Clockwork Orange

Fiddler on the Roof

The Last Picture Show

Nicholas and Alexandra

1972 The Godfather Cabaret

Deliverance

The Emigrants

Sounder

1973 The Sting American Graffiti

Cries and Whispers

The Exorcist

A Touch of Class

1974 The Godfather Part II Chinatown

The Conversation

Lenny

The Towering Inferno

1975 One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest Barry Lyndon

Dog Day Afternoon

Jaws

Nashville

1976 Rocky All the President’s Men

Bound for Glory

Network

Taxi Driver

1977 Annie Hall The Goodbye Girl

Julia

Star Wars

The Turning Point

1978 The Deer Hunter Coming Home

Heaven Can Wait

Midnight Express

An Unmarried Woman

1979 Kramer vs. Kramer All That Jazz

Apocalypse Now

Breaking Away

Norma Rae

1980 Ordinary People Coal Miner’s Daughter

The Elephant Man

Raging Bull

Tess

1981 Chariots of Fire Atlantic City

On Golden Pond

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Reds

1982 Gandhi E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Missing

Tootsie

The Verdict

1983 Terms of Endearment The Big Chill

The Dresser

The Right Stuff

Tender Mercies

1984 Amadeus The Killing Fields

A Passage to India

Places in the Heart

A Soldier’s Story

1985 Out of Africa The Color Purple

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Prizzi’s Honor

Witness

1986 Platoon Children of a Lesser God

Hannah and Her Sisters

The Mission

A Room with a View

1987 The Last Emperor Broadcast News

Fatal Attraction

Hope and Glory

Moonstruck

1988 Rain Man The Accidental Tourist

Dangerous Liaisons

Mississippi Burning

Working Girl

1989 Driving Miss Daisy Born on the Fourth of July

Dead Poets Society

Field of Dreams

My Left Foot

1990 Dances with Wolves Awakenings

Ghost

The Godfather Part III

Goodfellas

1991 The Silence of the Lambs Beauty and the Beast

Bugsy

JFK

The Prince of Tides

1992 Unforgiven The Crying Game

A Few Good Men

Howards End

Scent of a Woman

1993 Schindler’s List The Fugitive

In the Name of the Father

The Piano

The Remains of the Day

1994 Forrest Gump Four Weddings and a Funeral

Pulp Fiction

Quiz Show

The Shawshank Redemption

1995 Braveheart Apollo 13

Babe

Il Postino

Sense and Sensibility

1996 The English Patient Fargo

Jerry Maguire

Secrets & Lies

Shine

1997 Titanic As Good as It Gets

The Full Monty

Good Will Hunting

L.A. Confidential

1998 Shakespeare in Love Elizabeth

Life is Beautiful

Saving Private Ryan

The Thin Red Line

1999 American Beauty The Cider House Rules

The Green Mile

The Insider

The Sixth Sense

2000 Gladiator Chocolat

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Erin Brockovich

Traffic

2001 A Beautiful Mind Gosford Park

In the Bedroom

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Moulin Rouge!

2002 Chicago Gangs of New York

The Hours

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Pianist

2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Lost in Translation

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Mystic River

Seabscuit

2004 Million Dollar Baby The Aviator

Finding Neverland

Ray

Sideways

2005 Crash Brokeback Mountain

Capote

Good Night and Good Luck

Munich

2006 The Departed Babel

Letters from Iwo Jima

Little Miss Sunshine

The Queen

2007 No Country for Old Men Atonement

Juno

Michael Clayton

There Will Be Blood

2008 Slumdog Millionaire The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Frost/Nixon

Milk

The Reader

2009 The Hurt Locker Avatar

The Blind Side

District 9

An Education

Inglourious Basterds

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire

A Serious Man

Up

Up in the Air

2010 The King’s Speech Black Swan

The Fighter

Inception

The Kids Are All Right

127 Hours

The Social Network

Toy Story 3

True Grit

Winter’s Bone

2011 The Artist The Descendants

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Help

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

The Tree of Life

War Horse

2012 Argo Amour

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Les Misérables

Life of Pi

Lincoln

Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty

2013 12 Years a Slave American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

2014 Birdman or: (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) American Sniper

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

2015 Spotlight The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Since 1989, when the PGA first started handing out awards, they’ve matched Best Picture all but eight times. Those times were:

  • 1992, The Crying Game wins the PGA, Unforgiven wins the Oscar.
  • 1995, Apollo 13 wins the PGA, Braveheart wins the Oscar.
  • 1998, Saving Private Ryan wins the PGA, Shakespeare in Love wins the Oscar.
  • 2001, Moulin Rouge! wins the PGA, A Beautiful Mind wins the Oscar.
  • 2004, The Aviator wins the PGA, Million Dollar Baby wins the Oscar.
  • 2005, Brokeback Mountain wins the PGA, Crash wins the Oscar.
  • 2006, Little Miss Sunshine wins the PGA, The Departed wins the Oscar.
  • 2015, The Big Short wins the PGA, Spotlight wins the Oscar.

(Note: 2013 had a tie, where both Gravity and 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar, and 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture. Technically they were both right and wrong at the same time, but I’m marking that as being correct.)

Now, since this does sort of give you an idea, when the PGA has missed Best Picture, here’s how BFCA has voted:

  • They did not give out awards in 1992.
  • 1995: They went with Sense and Sensibility
  • 1998: They went with Saving Private Ryan
  • 2001: They went with A Beautiful Mind
  • 2004: They went with Sideways
  • 2005: They went with Brokeback Mountain
  • 2006: They went with The Departed
  • 2015: They went with Spotlight

They got three of them right. And the last two. So that’s something, right?

The point is, the PGA usually gets it right. This year, I think we all know where it’s headed.

The PGA voted for La La Land. BFCA voted for La La Land. BAFTA voted for La La Land. The Globes voted for La La Land in Musical/Comedy and Moonlight in Drama. SAG Ensemble went to Hidden Figures.

I think we all kinda get where this is going.

Now, the way voting works for the Oscars (not that we need it this year, but it helps):

Everybody is supposed to rank all nine of the Best Picture nominees from 1-9. Obviously some people don’t, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Now, assuming everybody ranks at least a #1, we’ll have a set number of votes.

After the first round of voting, you have number one votes. If, somehow, one film got 51% of the votes right off the bat, then that’s it, it’s over, that film wins Best Picture then and there. But say that doesn’t happen. What happens then?

Well, we look at what percentage of #1 votes each film has. Say one has 40%, one has 26%, one has 18%, one has 9%, and so on and so forth. I’m just making those numbers up. However, you slice it, whichever film has the least amount of first place votes of the total number of nominees, that movie is out. It cannot and will not win Best Picture.

What happens then is, they take all of those eliminated ballots and look at what was voted as the #2 film on the ballot. And all those #1 votes go to the #2 movie on all of those ballots. And the process continues. Round #2. The film with the least #1 votes is now eliminated. And those #1 votes go to the #2 ranked film on those ballots, provided that film isn’t already eliminated. If that’s the case, then they just go to the next highest movie that is still in play, and that movie gets the vote. And this happens until the movie with the most consensus high votes becomes Best Picture.

There are two things to address with this. First, for the people who say, “Well I just want (this film) to win, and I don’t care what else wins,” and only vote for one movie and don’t rank anything else. Well they just waste their vote. Because the second their film is eliminated, then their vote gets thrown away, and that’s one less overall vote in the tally.

The other thing to note is: it’s theoretically possible that a film can win Best Picture without the most #1 votes. That is to say, a film can start with 27% of the number one votes, but, say it’s a very divisive film. Say some people deliberately make it the lowest choice on their ballot for whatever reason. And say the film with the second highest number one votes after the first round is ranked #2 and #3 on a lot of the ballots. Once all the films have been eliminated, that #2 film is gonna end up with a lot of secondary first place votes, and that film can actually win Best Picture without having had the most first place votes in the initial stages of voting.

The idea is for the film that the most people like wins Best Picture. So the odds favor not the film that gets the most #1 votes, but the one that has the most #2, #3 and #4 votes on top of their #1 votes, with the least last place votes. Theoretically, a film could still place fourth on a lot of ballots and still win, even if another film had more #1 votes, if enough people had that other film toward the bottom of their ballots. You always have to keep that in mind when looking at Best Picture. It does take into account what people liked more.

Now, all of that said, let’s get into this year’s category:

Best Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

This is the first time… was it ever or in 25 years? It’s some long time. This is the first time in a long time if not ever that the PGA guessed every single nominee correctly. And I managed to guess that too. Which I’m pleased about. The only other potential contender here was Nocturnal Animals, which was pretty soundly rejected by the Oscars and managed only a single nomination, kind of like how Nightcrawler and Gone Girl fared in their respective years. So basically… dark and difficult films don’t do well with the Academy.

Otherwise, pretty solid list. Nothing I’m really unhappy about.

Rankings:

9. Fences — It’ll get middle votes, but not enough number ones to make it off the first or second round of voting. Maybe it makes it to the second round, but this won’t get very far at all. This movie’s wins will come in the acting categories. Easily the last choice in Best Picture.

8. Lion — The minute it was nominated you knew this was coming. It was an easy choice through the nominations, but after that, you knew straight up it was gonna end up winning nothing. It’s just that kind of movie. This won’t get number ones to get very far. And even so, it’ll get a handful of #3 and #4 votes, but not enough to pull it anywhere near the top half of this pack. There’s always one of these every year. They never win.

7. Hacksaw Ridge — The Best Director nomination helps it, but this is one of those movies that I feel is the most roundly disliked among voters. It feels like straightforward Oscar fare, and I think people will be tired of that. Voters now like more interesting things. I think it’ll get enough votes to hang around for a little while, but there’s a chance this is one of the first two or three movies off the voting list. We know this has no chance at it, so it’s all just guessing numbers at this point. You’re safest picking the films with the Best Director nominees as the top five, but I honestly feel like this won’t get enough votes to make it through to the top five in the voting.

6. Manchester by the Sea — People love this. Problem is, some people will have it near the bottom. And that will hurt it. Also, the people who rate this highly will have one other film in particular also rated highly, and that will be what ultimately takes this out of contention. This will be a #2 or #3, but the #1 on those ballots is gonna be in the race until the end. So this will be cast off fairly early on in things. Definitely middle of the pack. This also might be below Hacksaw and Lion. I just don’t know. My gut tells me it hangs around a little while, but not enough to crack top five.

5. Arrival — It has the nominations all around, but where are the votes coming from? Will this be #1 for more than like 5% of voters? Will this be #2 or #3 for people? I don’t see it. I’m only putting it this high because of the overall nominations tally. It doesn’t stand any chance at winning, but it’s got 8 nominations and Director, Screenplay and Editing nominations. Didn’t even manage the acting nominee you generally need to win Best Picture. This is the only film without an acting nomination. It might actually be lower than #5, but we’ll keep it here since none of the others have a shot anyway.

4. Hidden Figures — This movie is loved. It won SAG, the actors love it, everyone loves it. It’ll get more than enough #1 votes, and it’ll be #2 and #3 on a lot of ballots. It’ll hang around and have a very small puncher’s chance at it. Honestly, were it not for the lack of Editing and Directing nominations, I might have put this third. It’ll definitely get in there and make some noise, but ultimately it’s gonna fall short. You know these people. You know how they think. This will not win Best Picture. And even if you think it could, it’s not one of the three favorites to win. I think we all recognize that. This list is about current favorites. This is not a current favorite.

3. Hell or High Water — It’s got everything you want to see out of a potential winner. And were it not for Hidden Figures, this could be the dark horse contender that gets in on those hypothetical “Well, you know, with enough 2s and 3s on the ballots…” There’s always one. It never comes in. This and Hidden Figures are the two that’ll have enough high ranking support all around to make a play for it, but in the end, I think we realize this is a two-horse race, and it’s gonna be one or the other.

2. Moonlight — I wish I could say this has more of a chance at it, but it really doesn’t. That said, it’s definitely the second choice. It’s the Boyhood. Boyhood, though, at least won BAFTA and made it seem like it was a major contender. This one basically lost everything to La La Land. It’s second choice, but I don’t even know if it actually has a chance at it in the end. 14 nominations and all the precursor wins? Good luck.

1. La La Land — It’s tied for the most nominations all-time. It won every single precursor you can win. It’s gonna take home at least 6 Oscars and as many as 11 (I’m thinking it loses Actor for sure and Screenplay for sure. It’ll lose one of the two Song nominations. And I’m sure they’re gonna try to spread some wealth, so it’ll lose any combination of Actress, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design and Sound Editing. It should be a lock for Picture, Director, Editing, Score, Song and Sound Mixing. At this point, we know this is the favorite, and it’s less about if it’s gonna win than it is about how many is it gonna win. But that we’ll deal with on Sunday when we pick. For now, clearly the favorite.

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