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

Picture 1Picture 2Picture 3

 

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

Director 1Director 2Director 3

 

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

Actress 1Actress 2Actress 3

 

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

Actor 1Actor 2Actor 3

 

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

Supporting Actress 1Supporting Actress 2Supporting Actress 3

 

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

Suporting Actor 1Suporting Actor 2Suporting Actor 3

 

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

Original Screenplay 1Original Screenplay 2Original Screenplay 3

 

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

Adapted Screenplay 1Adapted Screenplay 2Adapted Screenplay 3

 

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

Animated 1Animated 2Animated 3

 

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

Foreign 1Foreign 2Foreign 3

 

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

Documentary 1Documentary 2Documentary 3

 

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.

Freddy vs. Jason vs. Michael: Quantifying Cinematic Killers

Halloween Showdown

As Halloween rolls around and you dig out some horror films to watch I imagine you debating with yourself and loved ones; just who is the greatest cinematic serial killer? Is it A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Freddy Krueger, Friday the 13th‘s Jason Voorhees or Halloween‘s Michael Myers? To help you settle the debate in the only way I know how, with data to back you up, I have built a dashboard collecting some statistics on the three murderers and their franchises.

To gauge each killer’s critical appeal I have collected critic and audience scores from Rotten Tomatoes. To compare the monetary value of each film I have taken budget and box office figures from The Numbers, adjusted for inflation, and calculated profitability as the box office as a proportion of the budget. Finally I have collated the most important metric of all; how many kills our three supernatural psychopaths racked up per film.

As the more astute horror fans will know already the homicidal trio don’t actually appear in all of the films in their respective franchises, Jason first kills in the second Friday the 13th, so I have given you the option of filtering out those anomalies. You can also see the charts for just one killer by selecting their face or filter by year if you want to snub the modern remakes in favour of only considering the classic films.

So with all the preamble done who is the best cinematic serial killer?

If you ask my opinion I’d have to say that from a popularity standpoint Freddy Krueger comes out on top with the best average audience and critic scores whereas if you want quantity rather than quality then Jason Voorhees wins with the most money rolling in and the most bodies piling up. As for Michael Myers? The original Halloween film not only came first but has not yet been beaten for pleasing fans and critics alike while raking in serious money.

Who is the best of these three? I think I’d like to see them fight it out…

WIGS – Strong Female Characters Ahoy!

Serena WIGS

While searching for something completely unrelated on YouTube last week I stumbled, as I often seem to do, over something a little different. WIGS is an online channel that has been producing high quality scripted drama and releasing it on the internet for free since 2012. I realise that this makes me somewhat late to the game but my research technique mostly involves me clicking through the internet one page at a time so forgive my lateness.

If you are already aware of WIGS then please move along but if not bear with me a second.

What made WIGS stick out to me was firstly the fact that the short films and web series starred actual actors whose names and faces I recognised. Much as I realise this shouldn’t matter to me I have to acknowledge that it does, particularly in the Wild West of YouTube filled with plenty of videos so awful you’d be better off watching the adverts that precede them. I am to blame for some of these videos so I know what I’m talking about.

Faces you might recognise include Julia Stiles, Jennifer Garner, Dakota Fanning, Michael C. Hall, America Ferrera, Stephen Moyer, Jason Isaacs, Jena Malone, Alfred Molina, Allison Janney, Alison Pill, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and plenty others.

The second thing that intrigued me about WIGS may have become evident while reading that artfully copy and pasted list of names; there are women all over the place. It has not been a great time for women on the internet recently/ever and it was refreshing to be offered the opportunity to see female actors take on complex leading roles rather than being offered the opportunity to see female actors take off their shirts without their permission. The phrase “strong female characters” is bandied about a lot and often refers to examples of women in dystopian futures being manipulated and punching authority figures in the throat. A strong female character doesn’t need to possess physical strength just character, real motivations, and to be a protagonists not just a prop or pawn. WIGS provides these in abundance.

I have not been asked to push this particular channel so hard but liked what I saw and wanted to share it with you. To watch their videos I advise visiting their YouTube channel and I have embedded some highlights below:

Serena
Jennifer Garner & Alfred Molina star in a short about a woman taking confession.

Celia
Allison Janney & Dakota Fanning star in a short about a young woman visiting a doctor who also happens to be a friend of her mother.

Denise
Alison Pill & Chris Messina star in a short about an actress being picked up by a man she may have met before.

Dakota
Jena Malone stars in a series about a young mother relying on poker wins to survive.

Michael Apted’s Boyhood

Apted Boyhood

As an aspiring film writer and chronic procrastinator an above average amount of my spare time is spent reading what the rest of the world has got to say about film. Doing so allows me to stay in touch with the latest fads, deepens my belief that a good sub-editor is vital, and highlights when someone has been copying somebody else’s homework.

The numerous glowing reviews for Boyhood are a key example of when film journalists seem to be influencing one another or tapping into a limited group archive of cultural references. A striking number of reviews for Boyhood have made at least a passing reference to Michael Apted’s Up documentary series and I call shenanigans.

To back up my case I have performed a literature review of sorts and checked the coverage of Boyhood in 14 popular UK publications, skipping lowly blogs like this, to see how frequently Apted’s documentary oeuvre was mentioned alongside Linklater’s opus. The result is below:

Apted Chart

As you can see exactly half the reviews I read mentioned Michael Apted or the Up series. I am being generous to myself here and including Mark Kermode’s review in the Observer which merely refers to all the other critics referencing Apted because 50% is much more satisfying a figure than 42.86%. As I see it there can be only two reasons for the ubiquity of the comparison:

  1. It is a valid and obvious observation.
  2. One person had the idea and everybody else copied.

First let’s see if Apted’s Up series is a valid and obvious companion piece for Linklater’s Boyhood.

Up is a series of documentaries following the lives of fourteen British children. The first installment was made when the kids were just seven years old in 1964 and the series has revisited the participants every seven years with the most recent film made when they were fifty-six. In contrast Boyhood was filmed for a few days every year for 12 years taking the lead character Mason from the age of six to eighteen.

While both do follow children growing up I would argue that the comparison of Up and Boyhood is neither obvious nor valid. Boyhood‘s filming process may have been periodical but compared to Up it has a relatively smooth flow. Watching the former it isn’t always obvious when one year moves into the next apart from when hairstyles or levels of pubescence have dramatically changed. The two projects have completely different rhythms with Up actually following a similar beat to Linklater’s other most popular cinematic work; the Before trilogy.

In the Before trilogy we follow the romance of Jesse and Céline at nine-year intervals taking them from youthful love to embittered marriage in the space of three films. This pattern is much closer to the Up series if we really do have to find an Apted-Linklater connection. I have visualised the pattern of filming for the three works below to prove my point beyond any doubt and perhaps beyond all reason.

The Up Pace

Boyhood‘s filming schedule is a relative uninterrupted shoot when compared to both the Before and Up franchises. I think we can happily dismiss the first option and say that referring to Michael Apted when discussing Boyhood is both invalid and disputable. Linklater himself has dismissed Up as being a source of inspiration and now we have the charts to back him up.

Maybe it’s just because of my age – the Up kids have always been grown ups closer to Jesse and Céline but for older wiser critics they are always going to be seen as the children that started the series decades ago. If only they could have seen my charts before they submitted their reviews.

All of this leaves us with the second option; that one critic had the crazy notion to compare the documentaries to the story of Mason and everyone else jumped on their wobbly bandwagon. I’m not saying they did this maliciously but by foul means or fair the idea lodged in their brains and resurfaced when time came to write their reviews. Perhaps a critic loudly made the comparison at a press screening, critics do love to say impressive things to each other, and it was subconsciously picked up by those seated nearby. Only a seating plan for all Boyhood screenings can prove or disprove this theory.

There really is no other conclusion; Boyhood is not akin to the Up series (but the Before trilogy may be) and if you read too many reviews for the same film certain analogies and opinions will start to repeat themselves until the cinema journalism community starts to resemble one hive mind.

A worthwhile investigation I am sure you’ll agree.

Appendix

Reviews mentioning Apted:
Radio Times
Independent
Telegraph
Guardian
The Times
Daily Mail
Sight & Sound
Observer

Reviews not mentioning Apted:
Empire
Total Film
Financial Times
Express
Mirror
Daily Star
Little White Lies

Kickstarter is Eating Itself

Kickstarter

Good grief everyone. Good grief.

Debate Kickstarter all you like but at the end of the day it is a decent tool to get money to a creative type from those who want to help them create their art, craft, or food. We can debate all day whether Zach Braff was a little cheeky asking for fans to fund his latest film but this pales in comparison to the gluttony of spam that is currently clogging the arteries of the crowdfunding site.

On 3rd July 2014 a Ohioan going by the name Zack Danger Brown started a Kickstarter project to make himself a potato salad. Yes, you read that correctly; a potato salad. Zack was only looking for $10 and his humourous project somehow caught the imagination of thousands of backers who have given him well above his most target. The widget below shows you just how bizarre things have gotten and unsurprisingly other people are keen to cash in on this hopefully short-lived phenomenon.

I daren’t even look at the American side of the equation but at the time of writing there are dozens of UK imitators hoping to make it rich by boiling an egg or making a cup of tea. The full list of current UK rip-offs is as follows; lemonade, more potato salad, egg salad, frying a frozen egg, boiling an eggcookies, chocolate chip cookies, curry, a mega pizza, a regular pizza, another regular pizza, yet more pizza, random pizza(!)an oreo milkshake, evil cream pie, couscous, cake, another cake, the ultimate cake, a really nice cakepie, potato brownies, “a dinner”, peanut dessert, hotdogs, pimped out pasta, crumpets, punk burgers, porridge fingers, steak, coleslaw, cheese on toast, a sandwich, secret fudge, and a £100 cup of tea.

Phew.

To clarify none of these are people setting up a business, creating art, pursuing a dream, or doing anything other than trying to get money for a making some food for themselves. What is most annoying is that they have simply seen someone make a joke and are now producing poor imitations in the hope of getting reflected glory. I realise that this is what the internet is largely made up of but… it really annoys me.

Anyone with a genuine food based project is currently lost in an avalanche of secondhand jokes and stock photos of food. I don’t know why Kickstarter has become such an issue with me, perhaps it is because I am fond of the site and have happily backed over a dozen projects including comics, films, and podcasts and even helped a man his own pasta stall in exchange from some delicious samples of his produce. On the other hand it might just be that I hate seeing people being so lazy as to simply repeat the same joke they have seen and not come out with their own way to be ironic online.

And if I need to get particularly righteous here is the first of Kickstarter’s three rules:

Kickstarter Rule Number 1

Let’s just wait and see how easy it is to share out a pizza funded by thousands.

Long live Kickstarter! And may the “hilarious” faux projects be short-lived.