‘The Revenant’ Oscar advantage: BAFTA & DGA combo almost always predicts Best Picture

leonardo dicaprio the revenant bafta dga oscar

Following the victory for “The Revenant” at the DGA Awards on Feb. 6, I wrote that I was still predictingThe Big Short” for the Best Picture Oscar. I thought I’d hold firm even if “The Revenant” won Best Picture at Sunday’s BAFTAs as our racetrack odds were predicting. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” — that’s an English major’s fancy way of saying I’ve changed my mind.

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So why am I now picking “The Revenant”?

I try to stick to the math and avoid knee-jerk or emotional switches, so I did some more math: When the DGA Award for Best Director and the BAFTA for Best Picture go to the same movie, does it usually win the top Oscar?

The answer is yes.

Below are the 23 films to have won both DGA (which began in 1948) and BAFTA (which kicked off one year earlier). Noted in parentheses is whether these double champs won Best Picture at the Oscars as well as year variations in the BAFTA awards. 

2012: “Argo” (won Best Picture Oscar)
2011: “The Artist” (won Best Picture Oscar)
2010: “The King’s Speech” (won Best Picture Oscar)
2009: “The Hurt Locker” (won Best Picture Oscar)
2008: “Slumdog Millionaire” (won Best Picture Oscar)
2005: “Brokeback Mountain” (lost Best Picture Oscar to SAG winner “Crash”)
2003: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1999: “American Beauty” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1996: “The English Patient” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1993: “Schindler’s List” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1982: “Gandhi” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1977: “Annie Hall” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1975: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (won Best Picture Oscar; won BAFTA in 1976)
1969: “Midnight Cowboy” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1967: “The Graduate” (lost Best Picture Oscar to “In the Heat of the Night”; won BAFTA in 1968)
1966: “A Man for All Seasons” (won Best Picture Oscar; won BAFTA in 1967)
1964: “My Fair Lady” (won Best Picture Oscar; won BAFTA in 1965)
1963: “Tom Jones” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1962: “Lawrence of Arabia” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1960: “The Apartment” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1959: “Ben-Hur” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1957: “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (won Best Picture Oscar)
1950: “All About Eve” (won Best Picture Oscar)

Every film except “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Graduate” that won both DGA and BAFTA also won the Oscar for Best Picture. So the case for “The Revenant” is open-and-shut, right?

Well, not quite. It’s still not possible to entirely rule out “The Big Short,” and that’s largely because of the Producers Guild. The PGA Awards started in 1989, and since then all 10 films that won both DGA and BAFTA also took PGA. Not so this year with “The Big Short” winning over the producers organization. And since the guild has used the same preferential ballot as the academy for the last six years (and predicted the Oscar winner all six times), that’s still a big miss for “The Revenant.”

Add to that the rarity of winning Best Picture without a SAG bid for Best Ensemble (the only Oscar champ to overcome this snub was “Braveheart” back in 1995) or an Oscar nomination for writing, as “Revenant” would have to do.

Only seven Best Picture winners in Oscar history have won without contending for their screenplays; the most recent of these was “Titanic” (1997). Before that you have to go back to another all-time box office champ, “The Sound of Music” (1965), and then “Hamlet” (1948), an adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy. 

BAFTA Film Awards 2016: Complete list of winners (and nominees)

You might argue that “The Revenant” doesn’t have a lot of dialogue and thus wouldn’t have been nominated for writing anyway. But tell that to the similarly taciturn survival drama “The Pianist,” which won the Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2002, or “The Artist,” which contended for Original Screenplay in 2011 despite being a silent film with no spoken dialogue at all.

As for the missing the SAG nomination, “The Revenant” doesn’t have a big cast, but it certainly has more (and more famous names) than the three actors nominated for “Beasts of No Nation” this year, or the trio who were nominated for “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004. So if you’re still predicting “The Big Short” because it checks those boxes, you may still be on solid ground.

So the last factor that finally tipped me over to “The Revenant” is the potential win totals. If “The Big Short” wins Best Picture, its only other likely victory is Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s almost unheard of for a film to take Best Picture with only one other win (the last to do so was “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1952, which also won the now-defunct Best Story award).

“The Big Short” could also take Best Editing (which would be the same three victories as “Argo”). However, it couldn’t even beat “Mad Max: Fury Road” for that award at the BAFTAs, which didn’t like “Mad Max” nearly as much (seven nominations in all) as the Oscars did (10 in total).

Meanwhile, “The Revenant” is all but certain to win three or more awards before Best Picture (Director, Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio, Cinematography) as well as perhaps one or both Sound categories and Visual Effects.

But the final takeaway is that there is no analogous year to this one in terms of how the precursors awards line up or how they disagree. Our most reliable tea leaves are telling us different things, so some of them are destined to be wrong. So while the PGA has been right every year under the preferential ballot (therefore “Big Short” wins), the BAFTA and DGA combo has been right every time but twice (therefore “Revenant” wins).

Then again, the one time BAFTA, DGA and PGA were all wrong was when “Brokeback Mountain” was upset by the SAG winner “Crash,” so that even keeps hope alive for Best Ensemble champ “Spotlight.”

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“The Revenant” photo credit: 20th Century Fox

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