The British Academy of Film and Television Arts handed out its BAFTAs on Sunday — the last of the pre-Oscar movie honors to be awarded. That means the model that we’ve been using for the past several years to forecast the Academy Awards finally has all the data it needs for its ultimate projection.
There are lots of people who try to predict the Oscars, and no strategy is foolproof — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of secret voters who aren’t polled and who are evaluating a subjective art form, after all. Still, we like our approach because it’s simple, transparent and repeatable. The model’s philosophy: Guild and critic awards with a better track record of predicting Oscar winners get higher weights than other awards.1 For example, over the past 25 seasons, the best picture at the BAFTAs won the Oscar 12 out of 25 times, making it a fair indicator of which movies are ahead in the race.
So, let’s see where the race stands. First up …
The clear front-runners
Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) won at the Critics’ Choice Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes. The next most predictive win would be at the Satellite Awards, which broke for the not-nominated Diane Kruger (“In the Fade”).
It’s “Coco.” Nothing has changed since we called it a “juggernaut” a few weeks ago. It has nearly swept the animated picture race, especially after its American Cinema Editors “Eddies” and BAFTA awards.
Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) has had a steady march to the top prize here, pulling wins at both the SAG Awards and the BAFTAs. That, plus a steady performance at the most predictive critics awards (the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice), makes her the undisputed favorite. By our metrics, the least-expected winner in the past 10 years for best supporting actress was Tilda Swinton for “Michael Clayton,” and all of our other nominees in the category are well below where Tilda was at this point.
Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) is the massive favorite here, and by all rights his wins at the SAG Awards, the Globes, the BAFTAs and the Critics’ Choice Awards make this his to lose. But Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) remains inexplicably in contention in light of his very early wins among the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago critics. Also worrying for Rockwell’s lead is that supporting actor is a fluky category; Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”) and Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”) both won with fewer points than Dafoe has now.
Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) won at the BAFTAs, the Directors Guild of America Awards, the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Golden Globes. The closest runner-up is Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”), and the only precedent for a win with Nolan’s awards season record is Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”), who won in a year that Ben Affleck (director of best picture “Argo”) was somewhat notoriously snubbed.
It’s been a complicated awards season, and what looked like a two-horse race has evolved into … a two-horse race where we give the edge to the fish guy. “The Shape of Water” won big with the directors, producers and editors guilds, while “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” won at the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards and the BAFTAs. All things considered, neither film looks anything like a slam dunk; a “Three Billboards” win has only vague and recent precedent, while “The Shape of Water” is only slightly better positioned.
This category is ripe for an upset for two reasons. First, ranked preference voting (in which voters rank their preferences and “wasted” ballots are continually reallocated until a majority of votes backs a single feature) makes gauging later rounds super hard. Second, of the 7,258 eligible voters, a staggering number of them have been added to the academy in the past five years: Since 2013, the academy has invited 2,296 people to join its ranks, which, after accounting for deaths, declined invitations and loss of voting status, translated to a net increase of 1,402 voters. This means somewhere between 19 and 32 percent of the Academy voters have joined in the past five years. As such, the 25-year reliability of the guilds and critics groups we use to forecast this prize may not be as useful as it once was; look for a second opinion from a model like James England’s, which has nailed the past two difficult best picture races by crowdsourcing the ranked-preference vote of the academy.
We have no clue
In the absence of information, sometimes the best you can do is vaguely gesture at the data you have and let the reader make the call. “Jane” won top doc from the Producers Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, the American Cinema Editors and the National Board of Review, while “I Am Not Your Negro” won at the BAFTAs and “City of Ghosts” won at the Directors Guild Awards.
Neither “Jane” nor “I Am Not Your Negro,”2 nor “City of Ghosts” is nominated for an Oscar this year. We have no idea what is happening in this category. Good luck, documentarians — you’re on your own.