In this second piece about the follow-up to the Oscars, I’m going to dive in to a few tips and tricks we learned through the Oscar season this year. Now don’t get ahead of me here, betting early on films is not a lesson learned. Nearly every year, we have a major film that seems to be a big player (this year it was First Man), who then either don’t show up at all at the Oscars, or who disappoint in a big way. I’m talking more about the stats from the precursor awards shows, like Critics Choice, BAFTA, and the Golden Globes. That’s a better indicator than most as far as who wins the Oscar races.
Lesson 1: Don’t Trust BAFTA at All — Until You Have To
The Favourite cleaned up at the BAFTAs this year with 7 wins. Now, I don’t think anybody was expecting all 7 of those wins to repeat, and one of them couldn’t since one of those wins was for Best British Film. However, The Favourite did pull ahead in categories like Production and Costume Design. It also won for Best Actress, but we all assumed it was the British voters picking a British actress. Well, that turned out to be the only win for The Favourite at the Oscars, and it happened to be the one award we all said it couldn’t be: Best Actress.
Also, look at the BAFTAs vote for Best Film: Roma. After they awarded both Best Foreign Language and Best Film to the same movie, it felt like the turning point for Roma at the Oscars. It had built off of a Critics Choice win for Best Film, then being one of the most nominated films at the Oscars to a win at the Directors Guild, and then four big wins at BAFTA, one place where Roma might have slipped up. Why did most Oscar predictors fall into the Roma trap after these wins?
Well, look at the recent track record for the BAFTA pick for Best Film. They went Boyhood over Birdman, The Revenant over Spotlight, La La Land over Moonlight, and Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri over The Shape of Water. Now Roma over Green Book makes 5/5 for getting Best Picture wrong. If The Favourite had won, the same argument would still exist.
Looking at a few other categories that didn’t line up between BAFTA and Oscar: The Favourite won over Green Book in Original Screenplay, and Vice won over Bohemian Rhapsody in Film Editing, and while I didn’t take The Favourite in Screenplay, most everyone else did. The Vice win was huge, especially considering this was the British form of the Oscars, voting on a British rock biopic that had more nominations here than at the Oscars. And yet they didn’t pick it for Film Editing?
While three of the four acting races did line up at BAFTA, as did Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, the one that felt like it wouldn’t line up at all, once again, is Olivia Colman. Of all the top category picks, that seemed like the one that wouldn’t go over at the Oscars because of Glenn Close’s substantial lead in that category. So it would stand to reason not to trust BAFTAs vote there, but if you picked Olivia to win at the Oscars, you had to. So basically, BAFTA will kind of do what they want, but don’t translate every win to cross the Atlantic.
Lesson 2: More Nominations Does Not Equal More Support
The two most-nominated films at the Oscars this year were The Favourite and Roma, both with ten. Combined, they went 4/20 on their bids, with Roma taking 3 and The Favourite taking 1. If you go through the course of Oscar history, you’ll find that the most-nominated film typically wins the most Oscars. That was true last year with The Shape of Water, and also with La La Land, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel (who both went 4/9), Gravity, and Hugo, who tied with The Artist with 5 wins each. This little track record posted here represents the last eight years. So who in those last eight years were nominated for the most Oscars but didn’t take home the most? The Revenant, Lincoln, and both The Favourite and Roma.
What do they all have in common? They were all the frontrunner for Best Picture at one point in time, but disappointed in respective terms as far as number of wins at the Oscars. The Revenant especially, which was projected at one point to take home half of its twelve nominations. Lincoln became a frontrunner after also getting twelve nominations on Oscar morning, but only took two home. And Roma became frontrunner after the Critics Choice win, but went 3/10. I am discounting The Favourite in this example, but still even that film felt like one that could win three or four, but only won one.
Why these films disappointed also has a common theme: not being as hip as other multiple-winners and nominees. The year of The Revenant, we saw Mad Max: Fury Road take home six wins. It had a ton of support from tech branches, and was generally received by critics and audiences better than The Revenant. In the Lincoln year, we saw Life of Pi win four Oscars, and while it was on equal footing with critics, audiences and general Oscar voters seemed to lean more toward the exciting Life of Pi and away from the safe Spielberg production.
And as seen this year, Bohemian Rhapsody, regardless of critical bashing and production trouble, turned into a mega-hit at the box office. The reshaping of the film post Bryan Singer also turned into a rally cry to reward the film for having to put up with him. The Favourite, as I commented on earlier in the season, would generally go into each awards ceremony as one of the more nominated films, but would walk away with one or two wins each, with the exceptions being with British awards. So when we have situations like this pop up in the future, we’ll have to be more wary about which films are actually more popular with the academy: those with more nominations, or those with more hip-power, if you will?
Lesson 3: Trust the Producers Guild and Watch Out for Underdogs
Two years in a row now the PGA Award for Best Film has lined up with Best Picture. Both Shape of Water and Green Book overcame tough competition (or controversies) to win PGA, which also uses the same voting system as the Academy: the preferential ballot.
To quickly try to decipher what the preferential ballot is to those who don’t know, think of it this way. Each Best Picture nominee is ranked on the Oscar ballot 1-8. I use 1-8 this year because we have eight nominees, but that number will line up with however many Best Picture nominees we have. So when the accountants at Price, Waterhouse & Coopers tally the votes, they take all the ballots and sort them into piles. Each pile represents the Best Picture nominee that was ranked #1. So putting it into simple math, we’ll say 100 votes in this example.
For the sake of argument, let’s say Vice had the last number of #1 votes this year: of the 100 voters, 10 chose it as #1. So what happens is these ballots get the #1 vote scratched off and the #2 vote circled. Their #2 vote has now become their #1, and their ballots will be put into the new pile they correspond to. Let’s say of the eight ballots, four of them had Green Book as #2, two of them had Roma, and the other two had Bohemian Rhapsody. Now with seven films left, the next film with the least #1 votes gets broken down and the #2 votes on their ballots become #1 votes, and so on and so on. This continues until one film reaches 50% plus one of the #1 votes. In our example, let’s just make it easy and say Green Book already had 47 ballots, and with four coming from Vice, it now has 51 ballots, and has won Best Picture.
So that voting system relies heavily on a film not being the most artistic, the most beautiful, or the biggest achievement of the year in filmmaking. No, you have to be the consensus choice. This year, something like Vice or BlacKkKlansman (or Roma, as it turns out) were likely either in the top spot on the preferential ballot, or down toward the bottom. This doesn’t reflect anything of the films, but more with how they hit the Academy. These three would be listed as “love it or hate it”, and those type of films have a hard time winning.
So both Green Book and The Shape of Water were consensus votes, but that seemed to be a lot more obvious with Shape than with Green Book. Even last year, when the majority of predictors said Three Billboards would triumph over Shape at the Oscars, most of us thought Shape of Water was still in the discussion, in second, or at worst, third place. I think the same was true this year for Green Book. But the underdog and rooting factors that came into play with Green Book, also paired with the heartwarming story it told, helped it become your #1 pick if you were a voter, or if not #1, your #2 or #3.
Lesson 4: Voters Are Going To Like What They Like
Last year, the most controversial film in the discussion, for unfortunate and BS reasons, was Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. While I and many others took that for granted and were disappointed on Oscar night, Green Book looked like this year’s Three Billboards. It was hit with being too soft on race issues, not being accurate to the true story, and several strikes were brought up against the filmmakers and one of the actors involved on the film.
So how did Green Book still pull it off? Well, I alluded to this in my first follow-up: Green Book became an underdog. It had a number of wins in the precursor season, did well at the box office, and generally was well received by critics and audiences (though, to be fair, audience ratings were higher). Added to the fact that it’s now been cemented that Netflix films are not the go-to for Oscar voters (Beasts of No Nation and Mudbound both failed to be nominated for Best Picture), I think there is also a sense going on with Oscar voters that hasn’t been well-covered this year.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes to be told what they should like. That’s part of the reason we often don’t see films that are considered Oscar frontrunners in September win in February. La La Land is a prime example of this, and Dunkirk last year also showed this, and as already mentioned, First Man wasn’t exactly the favorite this year (har-har). So it’s up to the Academy as a group to say which films they liked. And when you have a mass shout-out of people on Twitter, YouTube, and the various other platforms, say that Green Book is this and Green Book is that, and Roma is a vast artistic achievement, and The Favourite is hilarious and empowers women, and Vice lines up with the liberal thinking, etc., there’s only so much that Oscar voters listen to before they turn a blind eye (or ear) to it.
If I may wade into some potentially controversial waters here for a minute, there are a ton of people in the days following this year’s Oscar ceremony saying that the Academy has ruined itself by picking Green Book as Best Picture over the rest of the field. Well, the Academy didn’t ruin itself when How Green was My Valley won over Citizen Kane, or when Crash won over Brokeback Mountain. These supposedly “notorious” choices by the Academy are nothing more than a reflection of what film subjectively was more to their liking as a whole.
Back a few years ago, we saw a large influx of African-American male and female voters being added to the Academy in lieu of the #oscarssowhite controversy. It maybe shouldn’t surprise us that the following year, Moonlight, a film exclusively starring African-Americans and created by a fair share of African-Americans, wins Best Picture. While the supposedly biased, racist, and out-of-tune Academy voters picked 12 Years a Slave three years earlier, everyone pointed to this new voting body as the cause of Moonlight’s victory, and unfairly perched new standards on their shoulders for more inclusive films to win year after year following that.
Here’s the difference, though: Moonlight and Shape of Water were considered “cool” choices by those who put themselves out on the various platforms of social media. Green Book definitely was not. So why did it win? Once again, the Academy shouldn’t be, and doesn’t like to be, forced into voting for something. We saw similar arguments last year for both Get Out and Lady Bird, and several, including myself, were accused of racism, sexism, and all the other isms that stuck for not picking them to win. Sorry, but this isn’t the People’s Choice Awards. These are the Oscars. If Lady Bird and Get Out didn’t hit it as big with the Academy as you wanted them to, there’s nothing you or I can do about that.
I’ll wrap this up with this: since the 2016 year when the voting body shifted toward a more inclusive voting body, we’ve also seen a bigger push on women voters, foreign voters, and more African-American voters being given ballots. So if you’re blaming the old, white men in the Academy (who may still make up the majority of the voting body, but evidence of that is not 100%) for picking Green Book, you’re technically also blaming African-American, women, and foreign voters for picking Green Book, too. To say that all of these demographics picked something else and all put Green Book at #8 on the preferential ballot is nonsense. Everyone has different tastes, and Green Book clearly went over well with enough of them. Like it or not, when the 8,000 plus voters were given ballots and asked to rank the films, Green Book turned out to be higher up in the rankings than it was at #7 or #8.
Well, I guess that just about wraps up the awards season. It has been a lot of fun writing all through the last six months about which films were ahead, behind, could sneak up on us, and dragging in the Oscar race. I, for sure, find this stuff fascinating, and when the late summer months come toward an end, and the endless pounding of summer blockbusters reaches its peak, I always look forward to knowing that the next Oscar season is just around the corner. Here’s hoping the next Oscar season comes just as quickly. Oh, and also hoping I can do better next time, cause 14/24 (58%) is not exactly what I’d call a great score.