This week, most of the major figures in film-making will gather in Hollywood for the 89th annual Oscars ceremony. You can bank on seeing a few painfully inane red carpet interviews, several fawning acceptance speeches and some jokes that fall flat. In all likelihood, there will be one more certainty on the night – an award or two the logic of which will be questioned for years to come.
It’s now over a decade since race-relations melodrama Crash pipped Brokeback Mountain to the 2006 Best Picture award and it still leads most lists as one of history’s least explicable choices. But despite the occasional curve ball, the Oscars are actually remarkably predictable - if you look in the right place for information.
You’re just so predictable
If you want to know who’s going to win the awards, your best bet is the bookmakers - especially if you leave it late enough. By the time the ceremony rolls around (after the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Screen Actors Guild Awards have been and gone) the betting agencies generally have a great handle on who the Academy will recognise.
For example, since 2004, the bookmakers’ favourite has won Best Actor every year apart from one (in 2009, Sean Penn was narrow second favourite but won for Milk.) Over the same period, only two Best Actress favourites have missed out on the Oscar, and both of those winners were second favourites.
In fact, across the six main categories - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress – you have to go back a full nine years to find the last time an award was not won by the favourite or second favourite.
Much of the perception that the Academy makes unpredictable decisions is simply people forgetting what popular opinion was at the time. Looking back at the legendary “upset” win of Crash in 2006, it was actually still second favourite. It also had a lot of momentum in the public’s eyes, with its odds shifting from a huge A$9 to just A$2.50 in the days before the ceremony.
You can see this effect in the chart below. The data were collected from a variety of sources as close to the awards ceremony as possible for each year. Across the six major categories since 2004, over 82% of the awards have gone to the bookmakers’ favourite. When there’s a red hot (A$1.20 or below) favourite, the awards have been even more predictable. In the last 13 years, no such heavily-favoured nominee has ever failed to take home the award in one of these categories.
This is a remarkable run of predictability. By comparison, looking at Australia’s major sporting leagues, even contests with A$1.20 or below favourites are much more uncertain. Over the past four years, around 11% of heavily-favoured AFL games have ended in upsets. In the NRL, the rate is even higher at almost 28%. In this context, the Oscars seem to be a relative “sure thing”.
The Oscars are chosen by more than 6,000 voting members of the 17 branches of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences. Why are they so predictable? Bookmakers derive their odds from public opinion - where people are putting their money. Perhaps the Oscars are so certain because previous awards tip off the public, or maybe people are good at sensing broader public opinion. Perhaps also, there’s a good old-fashioned Oscar voter leaking their ballot to influence the odds.
You can figure out approximately how likely the bookmakers are rating a nominee to win by doing the following calculation: A$1/odds x 100%. For example, with odds of A$2.50, 2006 Best Picture Crash was thought to have about a 40% chance of success.
Over the period of this dataset the biggest upset was Tilda Swinton’s Best Supporting Actress win for 2008’s Michael Clayton. The bookmakers thought she had a below 10% chance of winning (with odds set at A$11).
Why everyone else gets it wrong
What’s even more remarkable about the predictability of the Oscars is the number of people who overthink things and get it wrong.
Last year, Nate Silver’s data science site, FiveThirtyEight collated nine different mathematical models which crunched available data to produce predictions of the Oscar winners.
Some of these models were by amateur data scientists (albeit amateurs with PhDs or with Harvard degrees) and others by professionals, including teams at Ernst and Young, at predictive analytics operation Solution by Simulation, and at FiveThirtyEight itself.
Each model used different datasets – some from Twitter mentions, others from box office performance and others from themes of historical winners or recent film reviews.
So how did these mathematical models do…? Well, overall, their performance could only be described as miserable. Of 48 predictions made across the main six categories only 50% of these were correct. Some of them even missed absolute certainties such as Leonardo DiCaprio (A$1.01 or 99% to win) and Brie Larson (A$1.04 or 96% to win).
Why did these models perform so poorly? You’ve probably heard the term “big data” and the idea that large datasets can be searched for patterns that allow us to predict the future. While nobody can ever quite define what “big” means, in this context, the Oscar datasets are certainly not “big”.
One datapoint per category per year for less than a century is not much to overcome any other randomness or unpredictability in the system. For example, there are often short-term trends in the tastes of Oscar voters.
In the 1960s, four musicals won Best Picture. The 1980s seemed to favour films dealing with colonialism and its aftermath. Around the turn of the millennium, the Academy lauded safe, uncontroversial box office hits. From the point of calibrating a mathematical model, though, by the time a popular trend has influenced the model, tastes have likely already moved on.
This year in the main six categories, there are five short-priced (A$1.20 or below) favourites. As I’ve shown above, it’s well over a decade since any such favourites left empty-handed.
If history repeats itself, it seems safe to assume that the cast and crew of La La Land might just skip, twirl and dance away from Hollywood Boulevard with a little bit more gold for their mantelpieces. The film itself, plus actress Emma Stone, and director Damien Chazelle are all heavily-tipped for success.
Similarly, Mahershala Ali for Supporting Actor in Moonlight, and Viola Davis for Supporting Actress in Fences look to have every reason to feel confident. According to the bookmakers, only this year’s Best Actor race should be difficult to predict. Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea is favoured at A$1.57, barely ahead of Denzel Washington at A$2.10.
Do remember, however, that odds can change leading right up to the night. A week before the 2006 ceremony, the longstanding confidence around Brokeback Mountain started to crumble and it drifted from a near-certain A$1.10 to a more doubtful A$1.50. With hindsight, the creeping doubts about its success proved correct.
About The Author
Stephen Woodcock, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics, University of Technology Sydney
Binding: Kindle Edition
Format: Kindle eBook
Studio: Xenion, Inc
Label: Xenion, Inc
Publisher: Xenion, Inc
Manufacturer: Xenion, Inc
He’s never met an obstacle he couldn’t overcome or a woman he couldn’t have. Until now.
Grace Evans is the kind of girl you’d find curled up with a good book on a Saturday night—at least, usually. This Saturday night is different. This Saturday night she’s gotten all done up, in a dress she can barely breathe in and heels she can barely walk in. She had to. She had to venture into the lair of the enemy.
The enemy is Oscar Davenport, and his lair is his swanky nightclub. When she lays eyes on him, she’s ready to believe he’s the devil incarnate. His wicked smile, his beautiful eyes—everything about him is an invitation to sin. He moves with the grace and arrogance of a big cat about to pounce. Unfortunately, he’s moving straight toward her. He’s singled her out as his prey. He’s moving in for the kill.
Little does he know that she isn’t about to surrender; in fact, he’s in for the fight of his life.
This book is intended for adult readers 18+
The Davenports Series
Meet the sexy brothers, of the Billionaire Davenport family.
Summer Lake Romance Series
The Summer Lake series follows a group of friends from a small lakeside town in the California hills. They have kept in touch over the years and now, in their early thirties, their lives are drawing them back to Summer Lake and to each other.
Each Summer Lake Romance can be read as a stand alone book – no cliff hangers here! Each book contains one couple's story. However, they are best read in order to get full enjoyment of the underlying story and friendships.
Love Like You've Never Been Hurt - Emma and Jack
Work Like You Don't Need the Money - Pete and Holly
Dance Like Nobody's Watching - Missy and Dan
Fly Like You've Never Been Grounded - Smoke and Laura
Laugh Like You've Never Cried - Michael and Megan
Sing Like Nobody's Listening - Kenzie and Chase
Smile Like You Mean It - Gabe and Renée
The Wedding Dance - Missy and Dan's Wedding
Chasing Tomorrow - Ben's backstory with Charlotte
Dream Like Nothing's Impossible - April and Eddie
Ride Like You've Never Fallen - Nate and Lily
Live Like There's No Tomorrow - Ben's story
The Wedding Flight – Smoke and Laura’s Wedding
Remington Ranch series
Meet the sexy brothers of Remington Ranch! Just like in SJ's Summer Lake Romance series you can expect a story that is both sweet and steamy!
Four Weddings and a Vendetta
A Chance and a Hope series.
These are NOT meant to be read as standalone stories and need to be read in order.
Book 1: Chance Encounter
Book 2: Finding Hope
Book 3: Give Hope a Chance
The Hamiltons Series
This series follows the Hamilton family in California wine country. If you recognize the name Hamilton it’s because this is Smoke’s family who own one of the largest wine growing and distribution businesses in the country. In this set of connected stand-alone books you will meet Smoke’s brother and sister as well as a couple of cousins.
Red Wine and Roses
Champagne and daisies
Marsala and Magnolias
Prosecco and Peonies
Summer Lake Seasons
A return to the wonderful small town so many readers have grown to love. We'll see our old friends around town and they'll feature to a greater or lesser extent in the new stories. I want you to be able to catch up on their lives if you know them - and to not feel like you're missing anything if you didn't read the original series.
Angel and Luke in Take These Broken Wings
Studio: Abbeville Press
Label: Abbeville Press
Publisher: Abbeville Press
Manufacturer: Abbeville Press
85 Years of the Oscar, newly revised and expanded, is the official history of the Academy Awards. Following an introductory chapter on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the birth of the Oscars, the book presents the story of each year's awards, beginning with the very first, for the years 1927–28. Author Robert Osborne surveys the movies in competition, recounts the speculation on various winners, and describes events during the awards ceremony. He also provides a complete listing of the all the nominees and winners in every category.
Each year is illustrated with evocative stills from winning films and candid shots from the awards ceremony. Altogether, the book features more than 750 rare photographs, including original movie posters for every best picture. Drawing on Osborne's profound knowledge of film, the Academy's exceptional archives, and the personal reminiscences of stars from Katharine Hepburn to Clint Eastwood, 85 Years of the Oscar is unrivaled in illustration, accuracy, and completeness.
Binding: Kindle Edition
Format: Kindle eBook
'The Book of the Year, perhaps of the decade, has to be Matthew Sturgis's Oscar' TLS, Books of the Year.
A SUNDAY TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR.
'Simply the best modern biography of Wilde ... A terrific achievement' Evening Standard.
'Page-turning ... Vivid and desperately moving. However much you think you know Wilde, this book will absorb and entertain you' Sunday Times.
'Wonderfully exciting ... Sturgis's great achievement is to take on board his great flurry of contradictions' Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday.
'[Sturgis] is a tremendous orchestrator of material, fastidious, unhurried, indefatigable' Observer.
'Oscar Wilde is more fashionable than ever ... Sturgis's account of the hearing at the Old Bailey is as gripping as it is grim' Guardian.
'The Book of the Year, perhaps of the decade, has to be Matthew Sturgis's Oscar which captures the wit, the love-ability, the dramatic genius, the insane self-destructiveness, the originality of Wilde ... [Sturgis] is the greatest chronicler of the 1890s we have ever had' TLS, Books of the Year.
Oscar Wilde's life – like his wit – was alive with paradox. He was both an early exponent and a victim of 'celebrity culture': famous for being famous, he was lauded and ridiculed in equal measure. His achievements were frequently downplayed, his successes resented. He had a genius for comedy but strove to write tragedies. He was an unabashed snob who nevertheless delighted in exposing the faults of society. He affected a dandified disdain but was prone to great acts of kindness. Although happily married, he became a passionate lover of men and – at the very peak of his success – brought disaster upon himself. He disparaged authority, yet went to the law to defend his love for Lord Alfred Douglas. Having delighted in fashionable throngs, Wilde died almost alone: barely a dozen people were at his graveside.
Yet despite this ruinous end, Wilde's star continues to shine brightly. His was a life of quite extraordinary drama. Above all, his flamboyant refusal to conform to the social and sexual orthodoxies of his day make him a hero and an inspiration to all who seek to challenge convention.
In the first major biography of Oscar Wilde in thirty years, Matthew Sturgis draws on a wealth of new material and fresh research to place the man firmly in the context of his times. He brings alive the distinctive mood and characters of the fin de siècle in the richest and most compelling portrait of Wilde to date.