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How to predict the Oscars 101

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For the film industry, awards season stretches for months. There are the major events, like the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Critics Choice Awards, the Independent Spirit Awards, and the Golden Globes, on top of countless regional critic association picks. All this leads up to the crown jewel of the season: the Oscars. It’s a fun time of time of year to look forward to, at least for those of us who watch a lot of movies, and it gives an excuse to hang out with friends to yell at the TV. The Oscars are sort of like the Super Bowl of movies.

However, every time Oscars season rolls around, I’m reminded that while these months can be rewarding, they are also kind of toxic. There seems to be an Oscar-winning breed of film, where anything too experimental or genre-based is frustratingly excluded from in spite of its quality.

There’s also at least one film per year where my experience is ruined by the onslaught of awards discussion. When I first saw Green Book last year I enjoyed it. However, after the complicated public discourse, it was hard not to think less of it. By the time it won Best Picture, it was surprising and maddening not because I didn’t like it — because I did, just not enough to be satisfied with the Academy’s selection.

The reality is that the Oscars — and don’t even get me started on the Golden Globes — are often not a great indicator of the best films of any given year.

While I don’t claim to be a great authority on what or who will win an Oscar, there are same strategies that you can use to give yourself an edge when making Oscar predictions.

Know who’s voting

The majority of the Academy’s 8,000 voting members are old white men. Consequently, the awards often go to ‘safer’ kinds of films — ones you could picture being made back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, or ones with progressive elements that don’t go much deeper than the surface level. They also just really like movies about Hollywood.

Know how they vote

For most categories, Oscar voting is straightforward — the winner is the film with the most votes. However, the coveted Best Picture award employs a complicated preferential ballot system. If no Best Picture nominee receives a majority of first-place votes, the one with the fewest is struck from the running, and process then repeats until a winner emerges. Because of this, it’s generally a bad idea to place your Best Picture bets on something divisive or remotely controversial — instead, try to find a nominee that’ll be pretty high on most voters’ lists.

Track the narratives

Just as most movies have internal narratives, so too do award nominees amidst the news cycle. As mentioned, the Oscars are pretty much the final step in awards season, so whether or not Academy members are swayed by the results of the Golden Globes, for instance, it’s helpful to understanding the general direction a certain award category is leaning.

This year all four acting categories have very clear front-runners, which have been defined by sweeps through past awards ceremonies. Certain nominees might also build their own narratives, hoping to be honoured for a yet-unrecognized body of work or for breaking a glass ceiling of some sort — like a non-English language film winning Best Picture.

Being cynical usually wins

When publications come up with Oscar predictions, they usually go with a dual ‘will win’ and ‘should win’ setup. Predicting the winners is less about what you really think deserves to win and more about using the above techniques to feel out what will actually happen, as unsatisfying as it might be.

See the movies!

To end on a slightly more upbeat note… it’s nice to be able to make educated decisions. Sometimes your favourite nominee really does win, and it’s very satisfying! Having seen the nominated films makes you invested in the ceremony, which makes watching it a lot more fun.

As imperfect and exhausting as the Oscars are, sitting down with friends to watch an extremely long ceremony about the films of last year is really fun, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

The 92nd Academy Awards air at 8:00 pm on February 9.