Winning Formulas: Using Statistics to Predict Oscar-Winners

February 24, 2011


Stochastic process. Technical analysis. Quantum mechanical. Soft rule-based. Total nonsense. These are terms that might describe what you see here. If we were sure, we would be stock-market billionaires, not journalists. Let’s call it “a set of algorithms that, based on data from the past 10 years, will accurately predict which films will win the Academy Award categories for which you’d normally just guess blindly.” For everything else, check off “The King’s Speech.” That’s what the Academy voters did!

Sound Editing
Good-versus-evil movies are sure bets. The presence of hand-to-hand combat breaks the tie. That means “Inception” will win, based on both its plot and the intimacy of the fighting.

Makeup
Fantasy usually takes this category — with one exception that should play out Sunday. Movies that feature aging defeat fantasies IF the latter are critically panned. So, “Barney’s Version,” in which Paul Giamatti’s character goes from his 20s to his 60s, will defeat “The Wolfman.”

Visual Effects
A fantasy film will carry the day. Within fantasies, victory nearly always requires an epic battle scene, and the only film with one of those this year is “Alice in Wonderland.” So, congratulate the Red Queen, because she’s taking home a statue.

Sound Mixing
This is the wild card category, with almost no predictability. As no musical is in contention, we conjecture the Oscar will go to a good versus evil film, preferably one that celebrates a lone-wolf killing machine of some kind. So we’re calling it for “Salt,” though we don’t really believe it will win.

Art Direction
This tends to go to fantasies, particularly if there’s no musical in the running. That means four fantasies duking it out for 2010. Historically, the tiebreaker seems to be the presence of a foreign language (real or imagined). Thanks to Parseltongue, the language of snakes, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1″ will triumph.

Costume Design
Period pieces (particularly those set before WWII) dominate. To resolve a period-versus-period stand-off, pick the film that has royalty. If there are two royalty-centric movies, go with whichever one features Brits. “The King’s Speech” should thus win, since the royals in “The Tempest” are technically of Italian birth.

For the in-depth method, check out our chart:

WINNERS!

Animated Short: The Lost Thing
A boy searches for a safe place to store a lost, bell-wearing, steampunk-alien-dog-octopus hybrid in a world that only values conformity. Three points:
+1 for nation of origin (Australia); +1 for Germanic language (English); +1 for non-U.S. setting (Australia); -1 for plot-critical non-human; +1 for being a Class 2 tearjerker.

Live-action Short: Wish 143
A cancer-stricken teenager wants to lose his virginity before dying, much to the chagrin of a Make a Wish-esque foundation, who’d rather send him to either Disney World or a soccer match. Five points: +1 for nation of origin (U.K.); +1 for Germanic language (English); +2 for European setting (U.K.); +1 sick teen.

Documentary Short: Strangers No More
Refugee children from all over the world come together at a special Tel Aviv school, where they find stability for the first time. Don’t even try to compete with happy kids kicking adversity’s ass. Four points: +1 for low cynicism; +1 for poverty; +1 for plot-critical children; +1 for oppressed group.

Documentary: Exit Through the Gift Shop
A meta-heavy look at art, filmmaking and graffiti artist Banksy, who hijacks someone else’s documentary midstream. Or does he? Was it planned all along? And what does it all mean, man, and what if what I see as red you see as blue? All the strange means we invoke Autowin for the weirdo wearing the monkey mask.

Foreign Language Film: In a Better World
Dad’s kind of a crook, but he loves his kids. And he has terminal cancer. Four points: +1 for European nation of origin (Spain); +1 for Romance language (Spanish); +1 for moderate cynicism; +1 for dead or dying parent; -1 for plot-critical children; +1 for big name actor (Javier Bardem).

Autowin!
These attributes lock down any award, no questions asked.
The Holocaust: Includes films in which characters escape
beforehand. Merely being set in World War II does not invoke.
X-Factor: Invoke if the answer to “was the creator high when he
or she had this idea?” is “yes.” Rare. Do not invoke casually!
Class 1 Tearjerker: Must be of “E.T.” or “Toy Story 3″ caliber.

Written by Express’ Holly Morris and Kristen Page-Kirby

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