Even Oscar predictors are embracing data journalism

February 28, 2014
Category: Uncategorized
(AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

If you’re not content to settle into your couch Sunday night and see for yourself, predictions abound on the actors and films that will win at the Academy Awards. You know what else abounds? The means they use to reach those predictions. So let’s look at several different news outlets and see how they call it.

The New York Times

“Picking Oscar winners is a blood sport,” media critic David Carr said in a a Times’ video “The Sweet Spot: Here Come The Oscar Winners,” with Times film critic A.O. Scott. “You have to run it through like several algothirms, do a little gut check. I’m serious. I have the record to back this up.”

AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, File

Here are Carr’s picks for the winners. He’s calling “Gravity” as this year’s best film.

The Times’ Melena Ryzik, chose “12 Years a Slave.”

The Hollywood Reporter

Ben Zauzmer offered his Oscar predictions this year through The Hollywood Reporter. According to THR, Zauzmer, who’s majoring in applied math at Harvard, has predicted the Oscars for the past two years “using nothing but math, calling 75 percent in 2012 and 81 percent in 2013.”

To explain my methodology, I calculate all of these standings using only math; no personal preferences or hunches are involved. I use data from previous years such as other awards shows, other nomination categories and critic’s scores to determine the relative weights of each factor for each Oscar category.

His choice for best picture? “Gravity.”

(AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)


On Wednesday, Will Herrmann at BuzzFeed wrote about “what the numbers say.”

My method in generating the following forecasts was fairly straightforward. I gathered data going back to 1996 on the winners of each pre-Oscar award to determine its predictive power. Each category considered a separate set of relevant precursor awards with weights based on their historical performance in that category.

Herrmann’s model chose “12 Years a Slave,” pulling ahead of “Gravity” by 13 percent.

(AP Photo/Fox Searchlight Films, Jaap Buitendijk)


For Slate, Ben Blatt uses a “What-if” calculator “which will allow you to see how victories in various categories, from acting to editing to writing, affect the odds of the three Best Picture front-runners taking home the statuette.”

How much confidence should you have in any statistical analysis of the Oscars? I’m someone who usually believes that numbers trump instincts and data points are more telling than narratives. But after examining the problem of predicting this year’s Best Picture winner, I’m now convinced that when it comes to the academy, fancy formulas aren’t actually of much use, my handy widget notwithstanding.

The problem isn’t that basic data points—like nominations and wins at other awards shows—are not a good indicator of who will win the Best Picture Oscar.

With that model in mind, pre-Oscars, Blatt chose “Gravity” as this year’s winner, with 35.7 percent, but “12 Years a Slave” is quite close behind, with 33.4 percent.

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Entertainment Weekly

On Tuesday, Adam Markovitz wrote who might win based on the predictions of a Las Vegas oddsmaker. R.J. Bell, founder of Pregame.com, called it for “12 Years a Slave.”

Of course, even an oddsmaker has favorites. “As an aficionado, I strongly think that Dallas Buyers Club is better than a 50-to-1 shot,” he says. “But that doesn’t change the odds.”

(AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Jaap Buitendijk)


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