Oscars: The Math Predicts 'A Fantastic Woman' Foreign-Language Film Win

7:30 AM 3/1/2018

by Ben Zauzmer

'Coco' and 'Faces Places' are the mathematical favorites in the animated and documentary features categories, respectively.

'A Fantastic Woman'
'A Fantastic Woman'
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The countdown to Sunday's 90th Oscar ceremonies continues. Yesterday, I released Oscar percentages in the top eight categories: the mathematical chance that each nominee for best picture, best director, the four acting categories, and two screenplay categories will win awards on March 4.

Today, I present part two of this three-part series, with mathematical odds in seven more races. The Shape of Water, which is the weak frontrunner for best picture and strong frontrunner for best director, again leads in two categories in today’s installment, but neither is a sure thing. The only truly safe bet among any of these categories is the race for best animated feature.

Tomorrow, this series will include with a look at the remaining categories.

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.


  • Best Foreign Language Film

    This is a difficult year to predict best foreign language film with math. The BAFTAs chose The Handmaiden, which wasn’t nominated by the Oscars. The Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards agreed on In the Fade, which also didn’t make the Oscars cut.

    What we’re left with is a bunch of critic and online awards which predict at best one out of every three winners in this category. Nearly all of the groups that did honor of one of the Oscar nominees split their awards between two films: The Square and A Fantastic Woman. Add in the latter’s advantage in aggregate critic score and the betting markets, and Chile's A Fantastic Woman is the slight, slight favorite to get the first win for Chile in this category. But with just 1.6 percent separating the top two, it’s sure going to be a nail-biter.

  • Best Documentary Feature

    If Jane had been selected for the list of nominees, it may have had a good chance to win this race. Instead, with a top competitor out of the way, the five nominees were left to fight for scraps. None of them got many other wins, but at least Faces Places, directed by Agnes Varda and the French artist JR, reliably picked up nominations from enough precursor groups to enter the Oscars as a somewhat shaky frontrunner.


  • Best Animated Feature

    For the ninth time in the 17-year history of this category, Pixar’s got this one in the bag. Coco won nearly everything there is to win in the world of animation, and this prediction should come as a surprise to no one. If you’re looking to save time when filling out your Oscar ballot, pencil in Coco without taking so much as a moment to think.

  • Best Cinematography

    The sci-fi sequel Blade Runner 2049 finds itself pitted against The Shape of Water along with Dunkirk in the race for best cinematography. Like with best production design, no film cracked the 50 percent threshold. But Blade Runner won both the BAFTAs and the American Cinematographers Guild, and no film since Children of Men (2006) has won both of those but lost in this category. Coincidentally, Children of Men lost to Pan’s Labyrinth, another Guillermo del Toro film.

  • Best Production Design

    My personal hunches and opinions have nothing to do with these percentages. But I will say, I still can’t get over how visually striking The Shape of Water was, so I was hardly surprised when my computer produced these standings. My computer didn’t see the movie, of course, but it did see Paul Denham Austerberry, Jeff Melvin, and Shane Vieau win best Production design at the BAFTAs and the Art Directors Guild Awards. That said, the ADGs split their honors by genre. Blade Runner 2049 claimed the fantasy category, so if any film is going to upset The Shape of Water, that’s the best bet.

  • Best Original Song

    Oscar fans from a couple decades ago may think Coco leads the best original song race because it’s an animated film. That was once true – The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Prince of Egpyt (1998), Tarzan (1999), and Monsters, Inc. (2001) all won this category.

    But in the 15 years since, Toy Story 3 (2010) and Frozen (2013) are the only animated winners, so the trend has clearly tailed off a bit. However, thanks to a Critics Choice victory and numerous critics wins, Coco's “Remember Me” leads the race and will try to score one for the cartoons once more.

  • Best Original Score

    The last time a composer won best original score from the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and Critics Choice Awards, but not the Academy Awards, was 2005. That year, Memoirs of a Geisha swept the precursors but lost the Oscar to Brokeback Mountain, though it was certainly not the most memorable upset involving Brokeback Mountain. This year, The Shape of Water won all three of those honors, and sits in pole position to win Alexandre Desplat his second Oscar (he also won for The Grant Budapest Hotel).