Welcome to the first of FiveThirtyEight’s Oscars chats, this one held in the hungover light of the Golden Globe awards. Later this month, after the nominations are announced, we’ll be debuting our Oscars model. But that doesn’t mean we have to wait until then to check in on the state of the Oscars races. Today, chief culture writer Walt Hickey is joined by FiveThirtyEight editor Meghan Ashford-Grooms and by Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan, who also has a great Oscars podcast called “The Awards Show Show.” We’ll chat about Sunday night’s Globes, which were particularly Golden Globes-y, with surprise wins from Isabelle Huppert and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, along with a definitive cleanup by “La La Land.” The transcript below has been lightly edited.
Walt Hickey, chief culture writer at FiveThirtyEight: So, what did y’all think of the night overall?
Kyle Buchanan, senior editor at Vulture: Even though “La La Land” took home so much hardware, it was still a surprising night. I don’t think anyone expected a record-setting seven Globes to go to Damien Chazelle’s movie, and what’s more, the movie’s main Oscar rivals — “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” — underperformed in their own categories.
Meghan Ashford-Grooms, editor at FiveThirtyEight: I am a total “Moonlight” partisan, and I thought it was going to go home empty-handed! When it won best drama, it was very reminiscent of “Spotlight” at last year’s Oscars — only recognized at the very end, but in the best way possible. (Admittedly, “Spotlight” won best screenplay, in addition to best picture.)
Kyle: When Mahershala Ali of “Moonlight” lost in best supporting actor, and “Manchester by the Sea” writer-director Kenneth Lonergan came up empty in best screenplay, which he had been favored to win … you could feel a little bit of air go out of both films’ balloons.
Walt: Let’s just address the biggie then: What is your view on the state of the best picture race, and how did the shindig Sunday night change that?
Kyle: Whenever we’re talking about the Globes, we should start by noting that there’s virtually no crossover between the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which votes on them, and the Academy.
Walt: It’s like 90 fanboys, right? Last night we launched a million tweets over the opinions of about 90 people who got to hang out with David Schwimmer.
Kyle: So there is always room for the Oscars to go their own way, and they often do: Neither of the last two best picture winners, “Birdman” and “Spotlight,” won the top prize at the Globes. That said, it never hurts to be seen as having momentum. And “La La Land” has that in spades.
Meghan: So I did a little homework ahead of time by looking at the Irish betting odds and reading up on some expert takes. And before the Globes started, it seemed like the best picture race was “La La Land” with a lead, followed by “Moonlight.” That didn’t really change after Sunday night, because both of those movies won the top prize in their Globe category — “Moonlight” for best drama and “La La Land” for best musical/comedy.
Walt: Right, so, we get to my favorite part of the year, which is when we take the opinions of Irish gamblers very seriously because it’s one of the only ways to turn Oscar vibes into numbers. And while late Sunday night it looked like “Manchester by the Sea” hadn’t really regressed all that much, by now it’s actually suffered a pretty deep blow. “La La Land” went into the Globes with 2-to-5 odds of winning a best picture Oscar and left them with a 1-to-5 chance, which is about a 10 percentage point jump in its chances. “Manchester by the Sea” went in with a 6-to-1 chance — the second-best shot in the bunch — and left a 10-to-1 long shot, about a 5 percentage point drop. But “Moonlight” got the most comparative momentum, basically doubling its odds overnight.
Does that mimic the mood in Hollywood, Kyle?
Kyle: Because “Moonlight” and “Manchester” competed head to head in the best drama category — while “La La Land” essentially had best comedy or musical all to itself — a lot of people looked to the outcome of the “Moonlight”/“Manchester” race to codify which film would be the best-positioned “alternate” to Oscar front-runner “La La Land.” That gives “Moonlight” a slight edge, but both films felt like they took a hit overall, simply because “La La Land” was so dominant.
Walt: So how much should we factor in the Globes when it comes to best picture? Historically, the comedy/musical category is miserable at predicting the eventual winner — only three of the Globe winners went on to win the best picture Oscar in the past 25 years! — while the dramatic category is bad but somewhat less bad; just under half of Globe winners went on to win best picture.
Kyle: I think we’ve known since September that “La La Land” was the best picture front-runner, and while this obviously confirms that long-held assumption, it also puts wind into the film’s sails right as it’s going into wide release. Boosted by the Globes, I expect “La La Land” to make over $100 million at the domestic box office, which would likely make it the highest-grossing contender of the likely best picture nominees. That said, there is still room for a surprise yet to come, though not much! Two years ago around this time, pundits thought “Boyhood” was cruising to victory, and indeed, it won the best drama prize at the Globes. The shakeup happened just a week or two later when the Producers Guild of America gave its top prize to “Birdman,” not “Boyhood.” And from then on, “Birdman” steamrolled all of the guilds, eventually taking best picture at the Oscars.
Those guilds are ultimately more indicative of how the Oscars will go because they’re made up of actual Academy voters. So watch and see if the Producers Guild throws us a curveball.
Meghan: Yeah, Kyle, FiveThirtyEight publishes a model each year in which we track the Oscars race based on the awards shows that lead up to the ceremony, including the Producers Guild. The model says the Producers Guild Awards are one of the most predictive ones!
Kyle, one could argue that “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” are sad and realistic while “La La Land” is as an escapist vehicle. That narrative creates a dichotomy for Oscar voters to ponder: happy vs. sad. Do you buy into that? And will Oscar voters buy into it and reward one over the other?
Kyle: I think it’s an oversimplification — “Manchester” has a surprising amount of funny moments, while “La La Land” contains plenty of heartache — but there certainly is a compelling notion that after the rough year that was 2016, Oscar voters will flock to the colorful, “escapist” musical. Many of these movies are watched on a DVD or Blu-ray screener. And you have to think like an Oscar voter, at home after a long week, wondering which of the movies in that pile of screeners to pop in. Doesn’t it seem like “La La Land” boasts the most “pop in” appeal?
Walt: 2017: The year a peppy “High School Musical” vibe wins somebody an Oscar.
Meghan: But, Kyle, wouldn’t that be unusual for the Oscars? I think the Academy has a reputation for wanting to reward big, sweeping epics that take on super-serious topics. I guess we don’t really have one of those this year.
No, I mean the film “Silence” — it fits that description.
Walt: All right, Let’s do a bit of a lightning round for some of the other categories we saw Sunday night. First: Isabelle Huppert! What does her win in best actress/drama for “Elle” mean for the race? Is this Kate Winslet, who shockingly won best supporting actress/drama at the Globes last year but lost the Oscar, all over again, or does she have heat?
Meghan: That was the award Sunday night that changed my perspective on the Oscar race the most. She wasn’t high in the odds ahead of the Globes!
Kyle: This was a big one for Isabelle. She was snubbed by the Screen Actors Guild, but most critics’ groups have anointed her as Best Actress. That winning streak, which now extends to the Globes, will motivate more voters to watch her movie.
Meghan: How likely is it that the Academy would give a best actress award to someone in a non-English-language film?
Kyle: It’s happened before, and the most recent example is Marion Cotillard for 2007’s “La Vie en Rose.” But I think Isabelle would be happy just to be nominated. At this point, I fully expect Emma Stone to win Best Actress for “La La Land.”
Walt: I think Huppert was just outside the bubble for best actress nomination, and this pushes her into a guaranteed nomination. I still think she’s a deep long shot, but the moral is that Natalie Portman, who lost to Huppert, probably had the worst night Sunday night.
Kyle: All along, we’ve assumed best actress would come down to Stone and Portman. So the optics aren’t great that Portman was blanked last night.
Walt: Next question: What the hell is happening in best supporting actor? Who expected Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s win for his performance in “Nocturnal Animals”?
Kyle: I think this was a case of “Globes gotta Globe.” You can usually count on them for one “What, really?” win, and it definitely came there.
Meghan: This was a weird category last year, too, with Sylvester Stallone winning the Globe for his performance as Rocky Balboa in “Creed,” and then Idris Elba getting snubbed in the Oscar nominations. Is this another year like that, with the race all over the place?
Kyle: I’ll say this much: The best supporting actor category has always seemed more permeable to me than it looked over recent weeks, when Mahershala Ali of “Moonlight” took nearly every critics’ award. That said, I’m not all that convinced that Taylor-Johnson will even be nominated for an Oscar. The HFPA liked “Nocturnal Animals” better than most.
Walt: Fun fact: The Irish gambling site wasn’t even accepting wagers on Taylor-Johnson winning best supporting actor, and now he’s got 2-to-1 odds to win it all. This is what you can accomplish by sending mediocre cologne to 90 people.
For what it’s worth: If this is a fluke, it’s unfortunate, as the Globes are the best predictor of the Oscar for best supporting actor over the past 25 years.
Final lightning round question: How am I doing as a host of this Oscars chat? Would you say I’m better or worse than America’s Lowest Common Denominator, Jimmy Fallon?
Meghan: Your outfit’s not as good.
So, let’s get real now — this is FiveThirtyEight, after all: Is Meryl Streep overrated? Secondary question: Is she running for president?
I’m curious about what the data would tell us, Walt — how her movies’ reviews/scores have changed over time. Because my feeling is that Meryl Streep gets a lot of praise every time she does a movie just because she’s Meryl Streep and that lots of her more recent movies have been … not great (see: “Ricki and the Flash”). “Florence Foster Jenkins” was basically unwatchable; the acting is so over-the-top by all involved, including Meryl Streep, and the story — of a really rich woman who can’t sing but can’t seem to stop doing it — is not compelling.
Walt: Meryl Streep’s movies have an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 68.5 percent. That strikes me as about right, if a little low. So she’s probably perfectly rated, and if anything underrated.
Meghan: But over time, Walt? Hollywood Taxonomize Meryl Streep!
Walt: There aren’t substantial differences between the range of scores we see at the beginning and most recent periods in her career. I realize we need the principled press to hold powers like Streep to account, but I think she’s good on this one, not overrated.
Any final thoughts on how the Globes changed your view of the Oscar race? Anything major that could happen between now and when the nominations are announced, Kyle?
Kyle: Nope! Unless Meryl’s stirring speech inspires a groundswell for “Florence Foster Jenkins” to make it into the best picture race.