Oscars: The Math Points to a 'Spider-Man' Animated Feature Victory

6:15 AM 2/21/2019

by Ben Zauzmer

Lady Gaga's "Shallow" has the best chance of collecting the best original song Academy Award.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse-Publicity Still-H 2019
Sony Pictures Animation

So which movie has the best chance of winning the best animated feature Oscar, and does any film have a lock on the documentary feature trophy at Sunday night's 91st Oscars?

In yesterday's article, I announced percentages for each nominee in the eight most prominent Oscar categories: best picture, best director, the four acting awards and the two screenplay awards. Those are the categories that people pay the most attention to.

In the final two portions of my eighth annual Oscar predictions, we arrive at the categories that draw less attention, which has a number of implications. For one, there are fewer precursors, making some of them harder to predict. Two, math is arguably more important in these categories since there are fewer indicators pointing the way, so we need to handle each one correctly. Three, and perhaps of most interest, these are the categories where Oscar pools are won and lost.

I make no promises that these percentages will help win your Oscar pools; upsets happen every year. But if you'd like to know who the mathematical favorites are before making your picks, this is the article for you.

Tomorrow: Film Editing, Visual Effects, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing.

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 Animated Feature

    Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse flew through awards season, picking up wins from the Golden Globes, Producers Guild, and BAFTAs, among many others. Both math and common sense point to it as the film to beat.

    But this win isn’t as automatic as some would suggest. Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs quietly scooped up a number of honors that come with less fanfare but are still somewhat predictive of this category, including quite a few critics’ circle nods. You should still probably pick Spider-Man in your Oscar pool, but the math says this one remains a race.

  • Best Documentary Feature

    Last year, when 20 of the 21 films my model identified as the favorites won their Oscars, the lone category to witness an upset was best documentary feature. What happened? Jane won most of the major precursors before surprisingly being left off the Academy’s nominee list, leaving the model relatively little data to work with.

    This year, we may have the same situation. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? took home many prizes throughout awards season yet wasn’t invited to the Oscars. That left RBG and Free Solo fighting for any unclaimed trophies, and statistics is basically shrugging on this one. National Board of Review winner RBG emerges just 1.7 percentage points ahead in a thrilling battle.

  • Best Foreign Language Film

    Why isn’t Roma at 100 percent? How could a film be the only foreign language entrant among the best eight movies of the year and yet not be the year’s best foreign-language film?

    The Academy may have to answer precisely that question if Cold War, whose director Pawel Pawlikowski is also nominated for best director, pulls off the upset. It could come down to different groups of people voting for nominees versus winners. Or perhaps voters will anticipate Roma wins in other categories and look to spread the wealth. But in all likelihood, the logical conclusion that Roma is the best foreign language film will hold true Sunday night.

  • Best Production Design

    The Art Directors Guild doesn’t make this easy, as they split their top live-action film award in three by genre. Crazy Rich Asians won the contemporary category but wasn’t nominated at the Oscars. Black Panther received the fantasy honor. The Favourite earned its trophy in the period film category.

    So why does the math prefer The Favourite over Black Panther? Part of it has to do with the categories themselves, as historically more period film winners than fantasy film winners go on to repeat at the Oscars. But the bigger part is the other awards shows, including the BAFTAs, which tended to favor The Favourite, though not overwhelmingly so.

  • Best Cinematography

    Alfonso Cuarón already made history by being nominated for directing and cinematography in the same year, and now he is the odds-on favorite to win both. It’s an intriguing group with more nominees who filmed foreign-language nominees than English-language ones, and the American Society of Cinematographers chose another one of those foreign-language contenders, Cold War.

    But the math is more impressed by Roma’s BAFTA win and its sheer number of nominations. Not since Legends of the Fall (1994) has a film won best cinematography with fewer than five total nominations.

  • Best Original Score

    When all five percentages are in double-digits, that’s the math’s way of saying that it has relatively little confidence on this one. First Man’s score won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards, while A Star Is Born earned best original music at the BAFTAs, and neither was nominated for the Oscar.

    Among the nation’s critic circles, however, a shaky consensus emerged in favor of Nicholas Britell’s score for If Beale Street Could Talk. That said, if you’re trying to win an Oscar pool and you anticipate a number of your friends are skimming this article and picking all the favorites, this isn’t a bad category to try and distinguish your picks, in hopes of getting one right that others may miss.

  • Best Original Song

    Though Lady Gaga’s hit “Shallow” lost the Grammys for song and record of the year — although it did win best song written for visual media and she and Bradley Cooper won for best pop duo/group performance — here it faces no competition from Childish Gambino’s Grammy-winning “This Is America.” This is one of the rare categories in which one nominee has led wire-to-wire: from the moment the film premiered, “Shallow” has been dubbed the song to beat, and no awards since then have changed anyone’s mind.

    If another song does manage to take down “Shallow,” look to fellow Grammy nominee “All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar and SZA for Black Panther as the most likely victor.