“Spotlight” won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu just won the DGA Award for “The Revenant.” So why am I still predicting “The Big Short” for Best Picture at the Oscars? I’m starting to wonder if I’m on the wrong track, but I’m not wavering — yet.
I should start by saying that I tied with just one other person for the high score predicting last year’s Oscars with 23 out of 24 categories correct (damn you, “Big Hero 6“!). That’s worth noting because my bragging rights will quickly and mercilessly expire once this year’s winners are announced, so I should get it in while I can.
Part of what I think contributed to my high score last year was that, after making major wrong calls for two years running, I decided to keep idle speculation to a minimum. I dismissed most anecdotal reports about which way a smattering of voters were leaning, and just focused on the data: namely the industry awards that actually do reflect Hollywood’s preferences. And after PGA, DGA and SAG all picked “Birdman,” it wasn’t hard for me to pick that for Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars even in what was likely a close race with “Boyhood.”
This year, however, a prognosticateor like me who goes strictly by the numbers is having a hard time analyzing this year’s contest. All the math is off. “The Big Short” won PGA, yes, but then “Spotlight” won the SAG Award and “The Revenant” won DGA. So what calculations lead me to still predict “The Big Short” at the Oscars?
First, the PGA Awards have agreed with the Oscars for the last eight years in a row, and for the last six years they have used the same preferential ballot that decides the Oscar champ. Also, PGA has close to the same number of voting members as the academy (around 6,000), so that might make it a uniquely accurate Oscar barometer.
Second, “The Big Short” is the only film that has hardly missed any important precursors that usually indicate strength at the Oscars. For instance, no film since “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989) has won Best Picture without an ACE Eddie Award nomination — “The Big Short” got in (and won), “Spotlight” was snubbed. Next, no film since “Braveheart” (1995) has won Best Picture without a Best Ensemble nomination from SAG — “The Big Short” and “Spotlight” got in, but “The Revenant” was snubbed.
“The Big Short” and “The Revenant” both did well at the BAFTAs, but “Spotlight” was snubbed for the directing prize, and only one film in the last 25 years has won Oscar without a BAFTA directing bid: “Million Dollar Baby” (2004).
“The Big Short” earned an Oscar nomination for its screenplay too. So did “Spotlight,” but not “The Revenant,” and the only film in the last five decades to win Best Picture without a writing nomination was “Titanic” (1997).
And “The Big Short” scored in every single Oscar field that a film usually needs to win the top Oscar: writing, acting, editing and directing — and that directing nominee, Adam McKay, previously best known for the “Anchorman” movies and “Talladega Nights,” impressed those snobby Oscar voters so much they nominated him over loftier names like Steven Spielberg (“Bridge of Spies“), Todd Haynes (“Carol“) and Ridley Scott (“The Martian“). That’s how much they like this movie.
One deficit for “The Big Short” is its relative dearth of total nominations (five), but that may not matter. The contemporary film doesn’t have the kinds of lavish production values that would appeal to designers, makeup and effects artists, or cinematographers, so it was never going to match “Mad Max” (10 nominations) or “The Revenant” (12) below the line. Its five nominations are what the film could have realistically expected — no more, no less.
Of course, “The Revenant” could win BAFTA, and that would throw another wrench into my math formula — or maybe not. The British academy disagreed with the Oscars just last year (picking “Boyhood” over “Birdman”), and before that they split with the Oscars every year from 2004-2007.
Where will I stand when those results are revealed? Ask me after this weekend.
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“The Big Short” photo credit: Paramount Pictures