Oscars: Math Predicts 'La La Land' Will Dance Through the Craft Awards

Courtesy of Lionsgate
'La La Land'

'Zootopia' and 'O.J.: Made in America' also look like the probable winners in their categories.

Only seven films in Oscars history have won more than eight trophies: Gigi (1958), The Last Emperor (1987) and The English Patient (1996) won nine; West Side Story (1961) won 10; and Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) won 11.

Will La La Land be the fourth film to win more than 10? In part one of my mathematical Oscar predictions, my model predicted that the musical would win for best picture, director and actress, but narrowly lose best original screenplay and actor, both to Manchester by the Sea. Should all of that transpire, that would leave no room to spare. In order to tie the all-time record, it would need to sweep the below-the-fold categories. Read on to see whether statistics indicate it’s favored to do so.

While some commentators rushed to call this victory for Zootopia early on, this is actually one of the closest races of the night. Zootopia has won many awards, including the Golden Globes and the Producers Guild. But Kubo and the Two Strings topped the BAFTAs, and no BAFTA animated winner with an Oscar nomination has ever lost the Oscar. Plus, Kubo got a boost from its visual effects nomination, the second ever for an animated film (The Nightmare Before Christmas got one in 1993).

Best foreign film is being followed a bit more closely than usual this year. Asghar Farhadi, the director of The Salesman who previously won for A Separation (2011), has announced that he will not attend the Oscars in protest of President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Will this sway Oscar voters sympathetic to his cause? Perhaps. But the math suggests that it may not be enough to overcome Germany’s Toni Erdmann, which has been winning plenty of awards here in America and across Europe.

Some awards-season watchers may be surprised that 13th is so low, following its BAFTA win. The answer is that my model for this category does not include the BAFTAs, since they only resuscitated their long-dormant documentary category in 2011. They have predicted three out of five Oscar winners in that span, but that’s not enough for my model to determine how strong a predictor it is going forward. What remains are a slew of awards — the DGA, the Eddies, the Critics' Choice Awards, the National Board of Review, etc. — that all honored O.J.: Made in America.

Let’s face it: we don’t really need math for this one. La La Land is likely to become the first original musical since Gigi (1958) to win best picture, so surely the Academy will first recognize the bedrock of any musical — its score. Lion jumped into second with a BAFTA victory, but Golden Globes and Critics' Choice victories for La La Land were enough to put it over the top.

The only danger to La La Land for best original song is if its supporters split their votes between its two nominees. Fortunately for La La Land, that hasn’t been the case thus far, as nearly all of the relevant precursor awards have rallied around “City of Stars.”

Production design, on the other hand, might prove a little more perilous for La La Land to navigate. The betting markets are strongly supportive of a La La Land win in this category, and as that’s a factor in my model, that helps put it over the top, alongside wins from a number of critics groups and the Art Directors Guild. But Passengers also won an ADG honor (the guild splits its top prize by genre, with Hidden Figures taking the third ADG crown), and Fantastic Beasts, filmed in the U.K., won the BAFTA from the Brits. To say there’s been a consensus around La La Land for production design would be an overstatement.

Typically, it helps to have a production design nomination (which only La La Land and Arrival have) in order to win cinematography. Only Birdman (2014) has proven the exception to that rule in the last seven years. Lion is still in the running, thanks to a win from the American Society of Cinematographers, but the BAFTA victory for La La Land gives it the highest probability of success Sunday night.

Tomorrow: 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.