Oscar Math: 'Inside Out,' 'Son of Saul,' 'Amy' Headed Toward Victory

Inside Out Still 3 - H 2015
Courtesy of Disney

Inside Out Still 3 - H 2015

The mathematical models for the seven Oscar categories below show the most lopsided category and why best original song remains a nail-biter.

You don’t need math to tell you that Inside Out is headed toward a best feature animation Oscar victory — that win appears almost wrapped up. But here, in the second installment of my mathematical Oscar predictions, I looked at seven more categories, where the model suggests Inside Out could be joined by foreign-language film winner Son of Saul and documentary feature winner Amy.

As always, these numbers reflect statistical conclusions based only on data — my personal opinions and hunches have nothing to do with this. My statistical model uses only cold, hard facts, and I then use historical Oscar data to determine the relative importance of each predictor.

If you use this to fill out your Oscar pool (my model has correctly predicted at least 75 percent of categories every year I’ve done this) keep in mind that these are percentages, not guarantees, and that upsets do happen.

For the fifth consecutive year, here are my Oscar predictions using only math. 

Best Animated Feature

It’s the most lopsided category of the year. Just like Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, Toy Story 3, and Frozen before it, Pixar’s Inside Out won nearly everything there is to win in the lead-up to the Oscars. What’s more, it received a best original screenplay nomination, another sign that the Academy has already made up its mind as to the best cartoon of the year. If any other film wins here, it would be a stunning upset.

Best Foreign Film

In a category that already has very few reliable predictors to begin with, the BAFTAs went and chose Wild Tales, which was Oscar-nominated … last year. That doesn’t help us. Furthermore, none of these films received nominations in any other categories. But Laszlo Nemes' Son of Saul did win the Golden Globe and an assortment of critics’ awards, and that’s more than any of its competitors can say. It’s no sure thing, but odds are that Hungary picks up its second foreign-language film Oscar.

Best Documentary Feature

Cartel Land has made a bit of a late run with its Directors Guild nod, and that will trick a lot of people into thinking it’s the favorite. Naturally, we hear DGA and we think of a great Oscar predictor. But the DGAs had a giant stretch from 1992-2008 without picking a single winner in this category, which lowers the weight my formula gives it. Instead, the math is going with Amy, thanks to its Critics' Choice, National Board of Review and Eddie victories. None are great predictors, but collectively, they launch Amy to clear frontrunner status.

Best Original Score

Normally, a best picture nominee is practically a requirement to win this category. You have to go back to 2002, when Frida claimed best score, to find a winner without a best picture nomination. And that is why Bridge of Spies, the only best picture nominee of the bunch, is in second place. But that’s more than outweighed by The Hateful Eight’s best score victories at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the Critics' Choice Awards and others. This one’s not as close as people may assume.

Best Original Song

What a thriller. Many predictors handed their awards to “See You Again” from Furious 7, which failed to receive a nomination. That left “Til It Happens to You,” from the documentary The Hunting Ground, which received critics’ nominations and rave reviews across the board, versus “Writing’s on the Wall,” from the James Bond movie Spectre, with more mixed reviews but a Golden Globe win. Normally, the Golden Globe win would be enough to launch the Bond theme into first place. But this year, since the Golden Globes make songs from documentaries ineligible, the math put less weight on that variable. What we’re left with is an exceedingly close race in which Lady Gaga and Diane Warren have the smallest of leads for "Til It Happens to You."

Best Production Design

At the Art Directors Guild awards, The Martian won among contemporary films, The Revenant won for period films and Mad Max took the fantasy award. That put Mad Max in first, The Revenant in second and everyone else way behind, since fantasy and period films are historically much more likely than contemporary ones to win this category. Add in that Mad Max took the BAFTA and a true frontrunner emerged.

Best Cinematography

The BAFTAs and the Cinematographers Guild (and hence the math) agree:The Revenant will win best cinematography. Only three films have ever won both of those awards without winning the Oscar, and those three all had six or fewer nominations. The Revenant leads the night with twelve noms, and it’s going to convert this one (and some others) into a statuette.

Posted yesterday: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay

Coming tomorrow: Film Editing, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling

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.