Oscar Predictions 2015 – Breaking the Enigma with Data, Maths, and Educated Guesswork

Oscars 2015

Last year I used maths to successfully predict 10 out of 11 key Oscar winners and now want to try it again to take all the glory for me and my calculator. I’ve had to leave it relatively late in the day to share my findings as the Independent Spirit awards can be key Oscar predictors and only take place the day before the Academy awards. Below I will take you through my methods, my predictions, and make clear where the data, and my sanity, has let me down.

If at anytime the heady mix of maths and popular culture becomes too much excitement for you to bear please close your browser, have a ten minute nap, and then come back and resume reading.

For each category I will be showing three predictions for each category; they have each been worked out in a different way to help me decide the best method to use going forward. The methods are as follows…

Statistical Method 1: This is the same method used last year. Every award a nominee wins leading up to the Oscars increases their chance of winning on the night. How accurate each award has been since the year 2000 in predicting the Oscar winner affects the amount it increases the nominees chances. If the BAFTA matches the Oscar 80% of the time it has greater weight than an Independent Spirit Award that agrees with the Oscars 24% of the time. Make sense? Good stuff. All maths here is performed in trusty Excel.

Statistical Method 2: In order to get a little more statistically robust this year I built a second set of predictive models using stepwise regression in R. This might be a good point to look away if you’re feeling faint. For each category I am looking at which other awards Oscar nominees win before the Academy awards and throwing Box Office and Rotten Tomatoes data into the mix too. I have built a model that only takes into account factors that have statistically significant correlation with Oscar winners, leaving some data points null and void, and allows for the fact that some awards might actually have been seen to have a negative impact on Oscar chances. Pretty sexy stuff.

Statistical Method 3: I emailed Adam Richmond from the late and great film podcast Out of the Canon and asked who he thought would win. One of the simpler techniques I’ve used.

Enough bad explanations of statistics. On with the guesswork!

 

Best Picture

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Most commentators seem to have Birdman down as taking the top award but both my statistical models have settled on Boyhood while Adam has selected Selma. Adam is clearly delusional and my regression model (Method 2) is very healthy for this category and ranks Birdman in second to last position so I think it is Boyhood‘s to lose.

Prediction: Boyhood

 

Directing

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The old Excel technique gives Richard Linklater a clear lead for Boyhood but the newer model ignores a lot of the data and fixates on the DGA award which went to Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman. Adam agrees with this prediction so statistical significance and film knowledge win this round.

Prediction: Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman

 

Actress in a Leading Role

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Having won endless awards Julianne Moore has bamboozled both my models into giving her an insurmountable lead for her performance in Still Alice. Interestingly a lower Rotten Tomatoes critics score here actually makes you more likely to win the Oscar. Make of that what you will. Adam has gone for Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything which I would love but is a complete fantasy.

Prediction: Julianne Moore for Still Alice

 

Actor in a Leading Role

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What can I say? Michael Keaton, Michael Keaton, Michael Keaton. Consensus feels like it is behind Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything but he only takes second place in my old method whereas the regression analysis and Adam give it to Michael Keaton in Birdman easily. For this award a good Rotten Tomatoes audience score helps you win suggesting there is definitely something going on with the reception of films and the gender of their lead actors. Analysis for another time perhaps.

Prediction: Michael Keaton for Birdman

 

Actress in a Supporting Role

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Another hat trick of predictions here for Patricia Arquette in Boyhood. In model 1 you need as many awards as possible. Done. In model 2 you just need the BAFTA and SAG awards. Done. In model 3 you need Adam’s blessing. Done. Nobody else has a chance.

Prediction: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood

 

Actor in a Supporting Role

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A clean sweep for J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. He has won all but one of my predictor awards and my second, stricter methodology only looks at who won the Golden Globe which Simmons has somewhere on his crowded mantelpiece. Even Adam agrees which means that Simmons will not only win but deserves to do so.

Prediction: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash

 

Original Screenplay

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My old technique for predicting the screenplay awards was a big shaky but with consensus across the three methods we can safely give the Oscar to Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel now and not even bother having the ceremony. Key predictors here are the BAFTA and WGA awards but weirdly the lower the Box Office the better.

Prediction: Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel

 

Adapted Screenplay

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Interestingly here methods 1 and 2 use almost completely different factors for this award but come out with the same result. Method 2, the sexy new technique using only the most robust predictors, eschews nearly all award ceremonies preferring to look at just the WGA awards, Box Office takings, and Rotten Tomatoes critics scores. Either way you do the sums The Imitation Game by Graham Moore takes it. Unless you are Adam in which case Whiplash by Damien Chazelle is the favourite.

Prediction: Graham Moore for The Imitation Game

 

Animated Feature Film

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This is where the new method falls over drunk. The main awards to look at for the Animated Feature category are the BAFTA and Critics Choice which both went to The Lego Movie making it the clear favourite for the Oscar. This category also has the strongest predictive model from a statistical point of view so should be the easiest for me to get right. The only issue here being that it isn’t even nominated. Bugger. Both Adam and my old technique suggest How to Train Your Dragon 2 whereas the new technique is confused and says it could be any nominee but most likely not How to Train Your Dragon 2. Stupid Oscars.

Prediction: How to Train Your Dragon 2

 

Foreign Language Film

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This is the category that is hardest to predict. Very few factors align with the Oscars in a statistically significant way so my new method simply shrugs and says to look at the Golden Globes but that it really isn’t sure. Most of my models claim to be around 60% accurate, 80% for Animated Film (HA!), but here we’re at 12.6%. Model 1 gives the award to Ida with a narrow lead over Leviathan whereas Model 2 and Adam say it is going to Leviathan. Frankly I have no idea.

Prediction: Leviathan

 

Documentary Feature

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Another tricky one. Citizenfour has the greatest sheer volume of awards, and has Adam’s vote to boot. The regression model however is uncertain and with some hesitation has settled on Virunga. It is worrying how these statistical techniques have taken on human qualities for me now. I am going to have to go with my gut, and Adam’s brain, on this one.

Prediction: Citizenfour

There you have it. Eleven categories predicted in various way and with differing levels of accuracy. In the early hours of tomorrow morning we will see who was right and once again wonder if it really matters.

Love Is Strange – Film Review

Love is Strange

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have been a couple for nearly forty years but were unable to legally get married until New York changed its attitude to same-sex weddings. After finally getting married George finds himself dismissed from his job teaching at a Catholic music school. With their income slashed the couple are forced to sell their apartment leaving them at the mercy of the New York housing market and relying on the kindness of their friends and family to take them in. The loved ones who gave such moving speeches at their wedding find themselves having to actually act on their sentiments and come up short. Nobody is willing to take in both men so after decades together Ben and George find themselves sleeping not just in separate beds but in different apartments.

Ben ends up in his nephew’s family home sharing a bunk bed with a decidedly unimpressed teenager while George moves in with some former neighbours who are a much younger couple prone to hosting loud crowded parties that George no longer has any patience for. Both try to be the best house guests they can but Ben especially finds himself getting in the way and testing the patience of his hosts. Separated and under appreciated Ben and George rediscover just how much they enjoy each others company and the understated authenticity of their long romance holds their relationship, and the film, together.

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Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are not actors known for their subtlety, both being fantastic at taking on large characters and blowing them up to fill the stage or screen. In Love is Strange though director Ira Sachs has managed to take the scenery out of their mouths and drawn out much more subtle and nuanced performances. Lithgow does none of the loud shouting that had made us love him and as a result gives one of his best performances to date. With Love is Strange the familiar faces fade away to reveal an older couple who are deeply in love and whose company is infinitely preferable to their chaotic friends and impatient family members.

Within their script Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias have a funny and tender love story set many decades after most romantic comedies end. This is the happily ever after. Despite their difficult living situations Love is Strange doesn’t bring with it high drama, settling instead for a portrait of love told by showing a few periods in our characters lives. The film occasionally jumps forward a few weeks or months and it is up to the audience to find their own footing in the gently flowing narrative. As a result of its distinctively indistinct structure the film ends not with a bang but with a slow sigh. I can see how this might frustrate but instead I suggest accepting the film for what it is; a brief interlude into the lives of a lovely couple and the people that love them. The characters have had lives prior to the film and they continue on afterwards. The fact that I wish I had seen more is to the film’s credit.

A beautiful film about love, family, and getting old Love is Strange is a pleasant way to spend an evening.

Love Is Strange is in UK cinemas right now.

Anne Kirkbride 1954 – 2015

Anne Kirkbride

21st June 1954 – 19th January 2015

“I think it’s about time somebody bought me another drink.”

“Oh, Tracy!”

“Ken! Do something!”

Whiplash – LFF Review

Whiplash

Unbeknownst to him Miles Teller and I have had a tempestuous relationship until recently. He first crossed my path when he co-starred in the remake of my beloved Footloose and then the atrocity that was Project X; neither appearance endearing him to me. In the past year he has starred in two YA adaptations with Shailene Woodley, Spectacular Now and Divergent, playing unsympathetic characters with varying degrees of complexity. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Teller; was he a good actor making not so great films or a mediocre actor in mediocre films? I couldn’t be sure until I saw Whiplash this week. Everything is different now. Miles Teller has arrived and earned his place at last.

In Whiplash Teller plays the role of Andrew, a music student and aspiring drummer studying at the country’s finest music conservatory. His dream is to impress the intimidating Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) who is known for pushing his students either to the brink of sanity or into greatness. Andrew works his way into the jazz band conducted by Fletcher and while his hero is initially encouraging Andrew soon experiences to extreme high standards demanded by the musical perfectionist. In a bid to match what Fletcher demands Andrew sacrifices all semblance of a normal life to practise to the brink of exhaustion and play the drums until he has secured a place in the band and then hopefully a career for himself in music. The question is not whether Andrew wants a career drumming badly enough but whether or not he will survive Fletcher’s unique brand of training.

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Whiplash is nothing short of astonishing. The energy the film has from start to finish is literally breathtaking and the sense of release felt by the audience in my screening when the film came to a close was such that spontaneous cheering broke out. Watching Teller at work playing Andrew is exhausting as he drums and drums, and drums some more. The sheer effort of the role is self-evident and the film shows blood, sweat and tears all pouring out of Teller and onto the drum kit as his sticks flying across the screen. Effort is a key component of Whiplash; it is about not taking the easy route but about earning your dreams and demanding them when others stand in your way. Andrew sometimes comes across as entitled but he damn well earns the right to his entitlement. It’s not often that cinema shows that success requires work and sacrifice or shows it so effectively.

Opposite Teller Simmons plays the role of the surly mentor with a real vicious edge. This is not your typical irascible trainer who pushes the protagonist at first but turns out to have a heart of gold. Fletcher is a horrible man intent on bringing out the best performance at the risk of sacrificing the individual. While given a slew of amusing one-liners Simmons’ performance never lets humour outweigh the underlying nastiness of the character. Fletcher is not a nice man but he and his students believe that this is key to the success of his band. Another theme in Whiplash is ego and whether or not building it up is simply going to make it harder when you are inevitably knocked down. Fletcher is constantly undermining his students egos and stroking his own making him an absolutely fascinating character to watch.

I won’t go any further in describing what takes place in the film as it is something to experience for yourself. The journey that Fletcher forces Andrew down is a painful one and Whiplash does not follow the predictable trajectory. Writer/director Damien Chazelle has made a film of high energy, exhausting workmanship, and a real pace. Whiplash is a force of nature and I came out shaken and buzzing with energy. It’s hard to explain why without you seeing it for yourself on a big screen and a decent sound system.

The one bum note to the film is its disinterest in the sole female character. Briefly introduced as a love interest she is quickly disposed off which felty slightly wasteful and perhaps surplus to requirements. That aside Whiplash was as close to perfect as this year’s festival has gotten. Get me to a jazz bar!

Whiplash has a UK release date of 16th January 2015 and screens at the London Film Festival on the 16th & 18th of October 2014.

BFI LFF 2014

Wild – LFF Review

Wild

NOTE: For this review to work please pretend that Walk the Line never happened as I didn’t see it and forgot it existed…

As an actor you can make lots of lucrative, fun but unfulfilling films in your youth but to extend your career it helps to make the shift towards more respectable fare. Last year Jean-Marc Vallée directed Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club and took him from being the lead in mediocre romantic comedies to winning an Oscar in a single film. This year Vallée is back with Reese Witherspoon as the actor getting a career revamp, and probably an Oscar nomination, in Wild.

Based on the autobiographical novel by Cheryl Strayed, and adapted for the screen by the great Nick Hornby, Wild tells the story of Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) as she walks the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican to Canadian border. Having lost her husband following a sex and drugs downward spiral and a family crisis Cheryl decides what she needs is time to clear her head and find herself. Alongside danger, exhaustion, and pain walking this distance offers up plenty of solitude and time for reflection. As she walks Cheryl meets mostly friendly strangers and looks back on the mistakes she has made in her life so far. The further Cheryl walks the more she grows and the greater the understanding the audience gains of her character and why she felt the need to embark on this long journey.

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Witherspoon is clearly looking to put a stake in the ground and mark out a new start for her career. Far away from her Legally Blonde days Wild allows her to give a complex grown up performance as a woman who is a three-dimensional human being and not a caricature. While not a subtle film there is room for Witherspoon to demonstrate scope and depth in her acting as she plays an incredibly complicated woman who has made some truly awful decisions. The role of Cheryl does not always put Witherspoon in a flattering light and requires a certain level of exposure both emotional and physical. If nothing else Wild shows a commitment to real acting rarely seen from this particular performer. The film rests on her shoulders and she bears the burden well.

Wild is a beautifully shot film with some great performances and a witty script. While not offering anything cinematically innovative it conjures up a great sense of adventure alongside a dramatic tale of loss and errors in judgement. I am an absolute sucker for any film even remotely resembling a road trip and Wild sufficed in making me wanting to strap on a bag and walk until my feet fall off. The film earns bonus points for expertly representing the almost orgasmic relief felt when taking off hiking boots after a lengthy journey.

A solid film with a tough story to tell, Wild showcases new facets to Witherspoon’s acting chops and announces her as an actor to keep your eye on even at this stage in her career.

Wild has a UK release date of 16th January 2015 and screens at the London Film Festival on the 16th of October 2014.

BFI LFF 2014