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The 91st Oscars won’t be handed out until Sunday, but Roma has already made history. With a 32.6 percent chance to win best picture, it sets a new record: No foreign-language film has ever had a higher chance of winning the top award on Oscar night.
How do I know this? With a little help from math. Every year, I predict the Oscars using nothing but data and statistics — no personal hunches or opinions involved. My model considers which categories a film is nominated in, other awards shows, and betting markets, weighting each of these factors by how well it has predicted each Oscar category in past years.
By that model, the previous record-holder for the most likely foreign-language best picture winner was Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which had a 26.3 percent chance, good for second place behind Gladiator’s 50.5 percent (Gladiator went on to win the award).
But when it comes to this year’s nominees, these are definitely percentages, not guarantees — especially since this year, no best picture frontrunner emerged as the various guilds all chose different films as the year’s best. Some years, the mathematical favorites win their categories — last year, 20 of the 21 nominees that my model pegged proved victorious. But other years see more upsets. And we’re just a few days from finding out what kind of a year 2019 will be.
Coming tomorrow: Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, Foreign Language Film, Production Design, Cinematography, Original Score, Original Song.
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.
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