Oscar Math: 'Star Wars' Looks for Visual Effects Win In the Midst of 'Mad Max' Victories

Courtesy of Lucasfilms 2015/Walt Disney Studios
'Star Wars - The Force Awakens'

'The Revenant' could also pull out wins in a couple of the crafts categories.

There’s one crafts category in which Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks as if it could claim the gold — best visual effects. Otherwise, judging by the mathematical models, many of the crafts categories are tipping in favor of Mad Max: Fury Road. Not that The Revenant won’t put up a fight.

In Part I and Part II of this article, I presented data-based Oscar predictions in 15 categories. Now it’s time to wrap things up, just in time for the Oscars on Sunday night. By the time you finish this third and final part, you will know the mathematical frontrunners in every category at the 88th Academy Awards.

But is that how you should fill out your Oscar ballot? Yes and no. The Oscars are always more than just math, and if you have a gut opinion that differs from these numbers, I say go for it. And besides, if you’re in a smart crowd, you actually improve your odds of winning your Oscar pool by not picking all of the favorites. It sounds counter-intuitive, but imagine the difficulty of winning a thousand-person March Madness pool by choosing only favored seeds to win. So consider this to be a fun starting point, and maybe with a little of my math, a little of your own gut and strategy and a little luck, you too could emerge a winner on Oscar night.

Now, for who the winners on stage will be …

Best Film Editing

If the flawlessly edited two-hour car chase wasn’t enough to convince you that this is Mad Max’s category to lose, consider this: The last film to win the Eddie for a dramatic film, given out by the American Cinema Editors, and the BAFTA but not take home the Oscar was Gladiator. It lost out to Traffic back in 2000. Since then, those two awards have agreed five times — most recently for 2012’s Argo — and all five times, the winning film took home the Oscar.

Best Visual Effects

Typically, this category goes to a best picture nominee with nominations in many other categories. But last year, Interstellar broke the mold in a race in which none of the five contenders were up for the top prize. That makes this year even more interesting, now that three best picture nominees are in contention, yet one of the other two comes out as the favorite. How did Star Wars do it? Mainly by winning the Visual Effects Society’s top honor along with the BAFTA, which has only one miss in this category in the last decade when it picked the final Harry Potter installment over Hugo in 2011.

Best Costume Design

While Sandy Powell’s feat of earning two nominations — for Carol and Cinderella — is certainly impressive, the math hands this one in a close finish to Mad Max. In addition to the BAFTA, which went to Mad Max, and the guild awards, which were handed out to The Danish Girl and Mad Max on Tuesday night, there is an oft-overlooked indicator for this category: The last time a film won best costume design without a production design nomination was 2007, when Elizabeth: The Golden Age managed that accomplishment. Neither Powell film picked a production design nomination, and while that doesn’t rule them out entirely, it solidifies Mad Max’s standing as the frontrunner.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

This is yet another category in which Mad Max claimed both the BAFTA and the guild award. Granted, the makeup and hair guild isn’t quite as predictive as some of its counterparts, mainly because they didn’t hand out awards between 2004 and 2012. That’s a nightmare for a mathematical prognosticator like myself. But when both of Mad Max’s counterparts failed to earn even a single nomination across the various guild categories, that still gives the math enough confidence to hand yet another Oscar to George Miller’s film.

Best Sound Mixing

Among truly devoted Oscar fans, the ones who care enough to study categories all the way down to best sound mixing, this is probably the single most surprising prediction. While my personal opinions never affect my formula or percentages, I’ll admit I was surprised at how this category played out. Mad Max features hundred-vehicle chases, The Martian dealt with space shuttles whizzing by and Star Wars brought its nostalgic space-operatic sounds to a new generation. But the math likes a movie that mixed the sound of men grunting with some bow-and-arrow fights? All I know is that the BAFTAs have picked this category eight years in a row, and they chose The Revenant. The Cinema Audio Society Awards have nailed this one five of the last seven tries, and they, too, picked the best picture favorite. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Mad Max steals this in an upset, but it would, in fact, be an upset.

Best Sound Editing

In a stunning turn of events the night before the Oscars, the Motion Picture Sound Editors announced a tie between The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road. The other sound predictors correlate more closely with sound mixing than sound editing, so this one is truly a toss-up. But the math leans towards The Revenant because the two sound categories tend to be correlated. Only In the Heat of the Night (1967) has ever met all of the following criteria: winner of best sound mixing, no musical component, and a nominee but not a winner of best sound editing.

A note on the short film categories: Unfortunately, there is not enough data to predict the three short film categories mathematically. But I recognize that some of you are using this article to fill out your Oscar pools and would naturally like answers on those three categories. So, while these are not my official predictions, here is what a combination of the betting markets and a survey of non-mathematical predictors are saying about the short films:

—Live Action Short: Ave Maria, with Shok in second

—Documentary Short: Body Team 12, with Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah in second

—Animated Short: Sanjay’s Super Team, with World of Tomorrow in second

Published Wednesday: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay

Published Thursday:  Animated Feature, Foreign Film, Documentary Feature, Original Score, Original Song, Production Design, Cinematography

Ben Zauzmer (@BensOscarMath) uses math to predict and write about the Oscars for The Hollywood Reporter. He recently graduated from Harvard with a degree in applied math, and he now works as a baseball analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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