According to exclusive Gold Derby odds that are derived from the Oscar predictions made by our expert journalists, in-house staff editors, contest entrants like you and our Top 24 Users — of which I’m a member — the odds-on favorite for Best Picture is currently “The Revenant.” However, that wasn’t always the case in Gold Derby’s predictions. First, it was “Spotlight.” Then it was “The Big Short.” Then “Spotlight” again.
It has been said that this Oscar season has been full of surprises. After all, not a single Expert or Editor correctly predicted the outcomes of both the PGA and DGA Awards. I did. Below, see my five reasons for why I have been predicting “The Big Short” to win since before Oscar nominations were announced. (Click here to see my Oscar rankings in all 24 races.)
1. This might not be an anomalous year after all
An oft-repeated sound bite this season is that we have to throw out all of the old rules. The Best Picture champ almost always has Screenplay and SAG Ensemble nominations, but “The Revenant” has neither. It almost always has ACE Editing and BAFTA Director and Editing nominations, but “Spotlight” does not. It has always won PGA since they adopted preferential voting, but “The Revenant” and “Spotlight” lost. What would be unprecedented about “The Big Short” winning? It has been nominated everywhere that matters and has had a decent run of guild wins, between PGA, WGA and ACE. It lost BAFTA, but BAFTA was wrong last year. It lost DGA, but DGA was wrong the year before. Conspiracy theories can be fun, but why have they become so accepted? When “Bridge of Spies” was snubbed by SAG and DGA, the takeaway was not that it would be a crazy Best Picture winner for the ages; it was that it would not win Best Picture.
2. The importance of PGA cannot be overstated
PGA is as good a simulation as the season provides for the Best Picture Oscar. PGA is the only organization that also employs a preferential ballot and it helps that it pits so many of the Oscars’ picks against each other through its 10 slots. BAFTA only has five; one more would shift the vote — maybe enough to make a difference in this erratic year. Only two up for SAG Ensemble this year are Best Picture nominees, making for a radically different field (of five). PGA is also about the same size as the academy (6,000). The more voters, the likelier that results skew populist. The academy is elite by definition, so take large votes like DGA (16,000) and SAG (160,000) with extra salt. Finally, there is an inherent fallacy in correlating other guild awards with Best Picture. Although the Best Picture sometimes has the Best Director or Ensemble, Best Director and Best Ensemble are ultimately not synonymous with Best Picture. PGA is the only guild that votes for Best Picture.
3. Competition is fairly light
PGA will be wrong eventually and it follows that it would be for a film like “The Big Short” that keeps losing plurality votes. It would be one thing if another film won everything except PGA — flukes happen. “The Revenant” is not that film. It fared unremarkably in the critics’ awards, lost ACE and was not nominated by WGA and SAG. Beyond statistics, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu lost Best Picture and Director last year for “Birdman” at BAFTA and the Golden Globes, so did they award “The Revenant” to compensate or did they really respond better to “The Revenant,” a film with lesser reviews? “The Revenant” actually has considerably less enthusiastic reviews than any recent Best Picture. With the rise of Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, the academy has drawn from the critics’ crop to avoid embarrassment, albeit with variance on the single best film. The last nine winners scored at least 86/100 on Metacritic and 91% favorable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes; “The Big Short” (81 and 88%) is closer than “The Revenant” (76 and 83%). As for the other top-three contender…
4. “Spotlight” has not been a legitimate Best Picture threat for a very long time
“Spotlight” won critics’ awards, but critics do not vote on the Oscars (and neither do Globe voters). They provide good early fodder, but should be discounted once the guilds and BAFTA announce nominations. Many critical darlings have swept the critics’ awards, then fallen short when the industry piped up. We learned our lesson five years ago when “The King’s Speech” beat “The Social Network,” relearned it last year with “Birdman” versus “Boyhood” and apparently have to learn it a third time, instead of taking the tealeaves from ACE and BAFTA at face value. Apologists cling to the SAG Ensemble award, but that is a terrible precursor. It has forecasted Best Picture 10 times out of 20, so a film is equally likely to win Best Picture statistically if it loses SAG. Given the strong ensemble of “The Big Short,” it was surprising that it lost, but it was no deathblow. Just two years back, “American Hustle” defeated Best Picture “12 Years a Slave,” even though the latter had more SAG nominations and actually won an acting Oscar. This is not a three-horse race.
5. “The Big Short” would not actually be a weird winner
It may seem surprising now as Best Picture because it missed precursor nominations and wins. Stepping back, “The Big Short” is a well-reviewed December release from a major studio with an awards-friendly A-list cast, good box office and important and timely subject matter, not to mention a production company (Brad Pitt‘s Plan B) that prevailed two years ago for “12 Years a Slave.” Is it any wonder that this could win Best Picture?
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