Mathematically Speaking, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Has a Slight Edge in the Film Editing Race

6:15 AM 2/22/2019

by Ben Zauzmer

'Avengers: Infinity War' is looking like the first Marvel movie to win the visual effects Oscar.

Bohemian Rhapsody Still 4 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

When the Academy announced it was reversing a plan to present four categories during commercial breaks (with edited video of each airing later in the broadcast), it made me thankful for each category. I am always excited and interested in each result, but I never thought I would be grateful for such an announcement, since I had never before pictured an Oscars with some winners not revealed in real time.

And there's a particular reason to be thankful this year, because all four of the categories whose results we would have learned on Twitter before they appeared on ABC come with fascinating storylines. As described in Thursday's article, Alfonso Cuarón has the potential to make history with a win for best cinematography. And as you'll read in this third and final part of my mathematically based predictions, two of the would-be missing categories (film editing and live-action short) are far from certain races, and one of them (makeup and hairstyling) is the only chance fans of a certain much-nominated film may get to see that movie win an Oscar.

Any one of the categories discussed below could have wound up on the chopping block, so it’s nice to take a moment and appreciate that every one of these battles will see their thrilling conclusions live on television Sunday night.

Finally, there is not enough data to predict the three short-film categories mathematically. For those of you using these articles to fill out Oscar ballots who would like quantitative recommendations, one option is to follow the betting markets. They currently favor Marguerite for live-action short, Bao for animated short and Black Sheep for documentary short.

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

  • Best Film Editing

    This is the single best race of the year. First and second place are separated by just 0.2 percentage points. Even first and third are only 2.1 points apart. You may as well flip a three-sided coin, and it’s not as if BlacKkKlansman and Green Book are at zero percent, either.
    The BAFTAs chose Vice, while the American Cinema Editors handed out awards to Bohemian Rhapsody and The Favourite. Among the critics’ circles, most of the awards went to Roma, A Star Is Born or First Man, and strangely, none of those three were nominated by the Academy. Bohemian Rhapsody gets a slight boost due to the connection between best film editing and the sound categories: The same movie has won film editing and sound mixing each of the past five years.
  • Best Visual Effects

    Amazingly, no Marvel film has ever won best visual effects. Over the past year, some pundits predicted that Black Panther would finally change that fact. Well, they may have been right to predict a Marvel visual effects win, but for the wrong movie. VES Award winner Avengers: Infinity War sits just above the 50-50 mark to win this category.

    That said, the Visual Effects Society hands out another prize for best supporting visual effects, and that one went to First Man. Among winners of that supporting category, only Hugo (2011) has parlayed it into an Oscar victory, so First Man is clearly in second place. But if you’re looking to pick an upset here, that’s the movie to go with.

  • Best Costume Design

    In years with only one costume category (in the past, it was split by black-and-white and color), there have only been five instances of a designer receiving nominations for two different films. Three of those belong to Sandy Powell, including her output this year for The Favourite and Mary Poppins Returns. Combined, Powell has a 56.7 percent chance to win her fourth Oscar.

    But she is not her own biggest competition, because in between first-place The Favourite and third-place Mary Poppins Returns sits second-place Black Panther, and designer Ruth E. Carter is not too far from the pole position. The two designers each won their respective categories Tuesday night at the Costume Designers Guild Awards, but only one can win the Oscar.

  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling

    If you haven’t seen Vice yet, go search the internet for a photo of Christian Bale as Dick Cheney. I can wait.

    Welcome back! Now you can see why people are lining up to honor the makeup work in Vice. Much like Darkest Hour’s win a year ago, transforming a well-known actor into an easily recognizable politician is evidently the path to success in the makeup and hair field, short of a surprising upset.

  • Best Sound Mixing

    Five films with a particular emphasis on music have won best sound mixing this century: Chicago (2002), Ray (2004), Dreamgirls (2006), Les Misérables (2012) and Whiplash (2014). So it’s hardly surprising to see Cinema Audio Society and BAFTA winner Bohemian Rhapsody top this list, with A Star Is Born coming up in second.

    But it’s not a hard-and-fast rule: Hacksaw Ridge took down La La Land in 2016, if you’re searching for precedent to predict a First Man or Black Panther upset over the musical nominees.

  • Best Sound Editing

    The sound categories are tricky because many of the precursors only have one best sound award, and it’s not always clear what signal that award is sending. The BAFTAs, for instance, awarded best sound to Bohemian Rhapsody, but they are generally a slightly better predictor of sound mixing than sound editing.

    The most relevant recognition here is the Motion Picture Sound Editors. While they gave out many awards, including one to Roma and two to Bohemian Rhapsody, their best Oscar predictor is the category for sound effects and foley, and that went to A Quiet Place, so the math is just barely picking the nearly dialogue-free horror film to win for its sound.