Oscars 2019: Predicting the Nominees, According to the Math

6:00 AM 1/18/2019

by Ben Zauzmer

The mathematical formulas suggest that 'A Star Is Born' and 'Green Book' are the leading best picture contenders.

'A Star Is Born' (left), 'Green Book'
'A Star Is Born' (left), 'Green Book'
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures; Universal Pictures

We’re still a month away from the Oscars, and already it’s been a wild awards season. Roma is the favorite for best picture! Scratch that, it’s A Star Is Born. Wait, what about Green Book? Has The Favourite moved into the lead? Don’t forget Vice or BlacKkKlansman! Can Black Panther pull it off?

So naturally, the Golden Globes selected as best drama … Bohemian Rhapsody.

The Oscar nominations announcement on Tuesday morning should help clear some of this up. But if you can’t wait that long, we can calculate the probability of each movie getting nominated with the help of math. Every year, I gather data on which honors each film, director, actor, actress and screenplay has collected throughout December and January. I then weight that data based on how well those awards have predicted the Oscar nominations in the past. That gives us the percentage chance that each potential nominee will hear his or her name read out on Tuesday.

It’s a nervous time of year for Oscar hopefuls, and this math won’t change that. Even many of the favorites are still well below 100 percent to get nominated. But for us viewers without skin in the game, that lack of certainty is precisely what makes the race so thrilling.

Ben Zauzmer (@BensOscarMath) uses data to write about awards shows for The Hollywood Reporter. He works as a baseball analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

  • Best Picture

    The math loves the nomination chances for A Star Is Born, Green Book, Roma and BlacKkKlansman, and why shouldn’t it? With PGA, DGA, BAFTA and a host of other award noms for this quartet, they all can rest easy going into Tuesday. The Favourite is almost as safe, with just over a nine-in-10 shot of making the list of nominees, thanks to its leading 12 BAFTA mentions over in London.

    In the middle tier we have Black Panther, Vice, If Beale Street Could Talk and Bohemian Rhapsody, all of which took different paths to this spot. Black Panther is the year’s most popular film, trying to recreate Titanic or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’s paths to the throne. Vice scored a DGA Award nomination. If Beale Street Could Talk is the adapted screenplay favorite with its sights set on an even bigger category. And Bohemian Rhapsody pulled off that Golden Globes stunner.

    If only nine films make the cut — as happened each of the last two years — the others on this list might be out of luck. But A Quiet Place, Mary Poppins Returns, Crazy Rich Asians and First Man aren’t completely out of the running, with all of them having between a 10 percent and 20 percent chance of hearing their name called. These movies are hoping for either a 10-nominee list or to knock out one of the more favored films higher on the chart.

  • Best Director

    Alfonso Cuarón is a near lock for a nomination, not only for best picture and best director, but potentially for best original screenplay, foreign language film, cinematography and film editing as well. That would tie Walt Disney’s mark for the most nominations by one person in one year, set in 1953.

    Another jack-of-all-trades, Bradley Cooper, is high on this list as well, since he could find himself nominated for best picture, director, actor and adapted screenplay.

    The model likes four directors for the final three spots: Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman, Peter Farrelly for Green Book, Adam McKay for Vice and Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite. Lanthimos is the one member of this group not to receive a DGA Award nomination, putting him in sixth place, but he did earn BAFTA and Critics' Choice mentions to keep him firmly in the conversation.

  • Best Actor

    The math seems to think we’re heading for a two-horse race between Golden Globe winners Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) and Christian Bale (Vice). Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born) and Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) each look reasonably secure for their third best actor nominations as well.

    After that, the data sort of shrugs on the fifth invitee. Will it be Critics' Choice contender and critical darling Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)? How about SAG Award and Golden Globe nominee John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)? Golden Globe and Critics' Choice competitor Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)? Perhaps Critics' Choice nominee Ryan Gosling (First Man)? Or maybe an outsider who didn’t even reach this chart will shock everyone on Tuesday.

  • Best Actress

    Just like for best actor, four actresses have clearly set themselves apart thanks to Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA, Critics' Choice and other nominations: Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born) and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) are clear favorites to make the cut.

    Unlike for best actor, the math is a little more confident on which potential nominee resides in fifth place: Emily Blunt, for playing the title role in Mary Poppins Returns. But she still sits below 50 percent, meaning it would hardly be surprising for one of the other four names on this graph to slip in as an Oscar contender.

  • Best Supporting Actor

    Mahershala Ali (Green Book) is driving towards his second best-supporting actor win, one shy of Walter Brennan for the all-time record. But Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) and Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) say "Not so fast," as they’ve got all the requisite nominations to back up a successful campaign as well.

    Statistics says that Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman) and Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) are next in line, fueled in part by their SAG Award noms. But Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther) is at 29 percent and defending champ Sam Rockwell (Vice) is at 16 percent to get nominated, so this race is far from over.

  • Best Supporting Actress

    Amy Adams in Vice and Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in The Favourite reached the top of this chart in standard fashion, getting nominations from the major precursors, which should be enough to follow suit at the Oscars. Regina King’s path for her role in If Beale Street Could Talk is less conventional: She was snubbed by the SAG Awards, generally a devastating setback for an Oscar hopeful. But then she won Golden Globe and Critics' Choice honors, vaulting her firmly back into contention.

    For the fifth spot, the math likes another SAG Award nomination-less contender, Claire Foy in First Man. But the SAG choices of Margot Robbie (Mary Queen of Scots) and Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) should not go overlooked.

  • Best Original Screenplay

    The WGA and BAFTA agreed on three nominees, and those are the three at the top: Green Book, Roma and Vice. The next film on the list, The Favourite, can be forgiven for its lack of a WGA nod, as it was ruled ineligible (and my model accounts for that).

    The race for the last spot is painfully close. Critics' Choice victor First Reformed leads WGA Award nominees Eighth Grade and A Quiet Place by a mere 0.7 percent, so this one’s going to come down to the wire.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay

    If Beale Street Could Talk is off to a great start as the Critics' Choice winner and the only Golden Globe nominee on the adapted screenplay side. Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Black Panther, A Star Is Born and BlacKkKlansman achieved the other four WGA nominations.

    But don’t forget The Death of Stalin, the BAFTA nominee from a full year ago, and the USC Scripter nominee from just this week. Behind it are two films that each received one of those honors, but not both: BAFTA contender First Man and Scripter entrant Leave No Trace.