The Race: What Awards Predict Oscar Best?

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Analyzing which shows are most in sync with the Academy.

This originally ran in the Nov. 30, 2010 edition of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Oscars is the big Kahuna of awards shows. While the grandees of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences resent the fact that so many other awards try to elbow their way into their limelight, it’s a compliment of sorts. As if suffering from an inferiority complex, most of the other awards boast of whatever connection to Oscar they can manufacture. “If you’ve ever wondered where the road to the Oscars begins, it’s here,” claims a video on the website for the Gotham Independent Film Awards.

“Historically, the Critics Choice Movie Awards are the most accurate predictor of the Academy Award nominations,” the Broadcast Film Critics Association boasted last year as it announced its nominations. The DGA is equally proud of its track record: Its best director winner has gone on to take home the helming Oscar more than 90 percent of the time.

It’s not a matter of psychic powers; awards groups are all wading into the same pool of films. Some groups — including the National Board of Review and the Broadcast Film Critics — have enjoyed an advantage: Because they nominate 10 or more movies a year, they’ve had the best shot at covering the Academy’s five best picture nominees. But now that the Academy also is nominating 10 pictures, those groups that select just five nominees enjoy the edge going forward.

During the past 10 years, which groups have the best — and worst — track record for predicting the Academy’s nominations for best picture, as well as for crowning the eventual winner? We worked out the percentages for those groups that have a best picture award or its equivalent, and some of the answers are surprising.

Note: Each awards group is shown with the percentage of nominations and wins in Oscar’s best picture category that were also picked by that group, 2000-09.

Best Picture Noms: 11% | Best Picture Awards: 10%

New York’s Independent Film Project has championed an occasional Oscar nominee like Sideways or best picture winner The Hurt Locker but not often. Continually looking to define what an indie film is, in 2006, the awards ventured into big-budget territory with a nom  for Martin Scorsese’s The Departed and was roundly criticized. So it has refined its focus to concentrate on smaller, nonstudio pictures like this year’s Winter’s Bone. As a curtain-raiser, the Gothams kick off the red-carpet parade, but its winners rarely find themselves invited to the Academy’s party at the Kodak Theatre.
Noms announced: Oct. 18 | Ceremony: Nov. 29

Best Picture Noms: 20% | Best Picture Awards: 10%

On the West Coast, Film Independent’s equally indie-minded Spirit Awards shines more of a spotlight on movies that also are invited to the Academy Awards. In its best feature category, it usually finds room for one or two films that also are nominated by the Academy. But none of the Spirits’ best feature winners has gone on to win the best pic Oscar -- though Crash, nominated as best first feature, did pick up a Spirit on the way to its Oscar upset. With Spirits going to movies like Precious, the award has become a premature consolation prize for Oscar nominees that fail to capture best picture.
Noms announced: Nov. 30 | Ceremony: Feb. 26

Best Picture Noms: 80% | Best Picture Awards: 50%

A clubby group of educators, film professionals and fans based in New York, NBR raises its head once a year to produce a list of best films. Because it’s the first major list of the season, it commands headlines — for about one day. And because the group votes so early, its members don’t always see late-arriving movies. Its 10-best list often offers an early preview of potential Oscar nominees (though the board has stubbornly refused to include genre crowd-pleasers like the Lord of the Rings movies and Avatar), but its choices for best picture rarely are reflected on Oscar night.
Awards announced: Dec. 2  | Ceremony: Jan. 11

Best Picture Noms: 93% | Best Picture Awards: 80%

Handed out by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, which represents about 250 television, radio and online critics, the awards play out as if a few bugs had been planted at the Academy’s offices. By nominating 10 films — before the Academy adopted that policy — the group always has cast a lot of bets, but most of them have paid off. It has correctly predicted the Academy’s taste in best picture eight times during the past 10 years. That suggests the Academy isn’t as elitist as some charge, as its choices so often reflect those of this very mainstream group.
Noms announced: Dec. 13 | Ceremony: Jan. 14

Best Picture Noms: 11% | Best Picture Awards: 10%

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association positions its starry night as the major audition for the Oscars. But by dividing its best picture nominees — sometimes quite arbitrarily — into best drama and best comedy or musical, it virtually writes off nearly half its guesses because comedies rarely surface in the Oscar best picture race and, during the past decade, only one of its winning musicals, Chicago, won the Academy’s favor. And during the past five years, the Globes’ drama winner has matched up with the eventual best picture Oscar only once.
Noms announced: Dec. 14 | Ceremony: Jan. 16

Best Picture Noms: 64% | Best Picture Awards: 50%

SAG voters don’t actually vote for best picture, but they do have a category for the cast of a motion picture, which serves as best picture proxy. Sometimes that works in SAG’s favor; it was one of the few groups that rewarded Crash ahead of the Academy. Other times, as far as predicting the Oscar victor goes, it leads SAG astray — like when it fell in love with the actors from Gosford Park, SidewaysLittle Miss Sunshine and Inglourious Basterds.
Noms announced: Dec. 16 | Ceremony: Jan. 30

Best Picture Noms: 75% | Best Picture Awards: 60%

Among the guilds, the PGA might be the relative new kid on the block, but it has gotten its finger on the pulse. Sometimes, it has even led the way, regularly nominating animated movies like Shrek and The Incredibles for its top producer of the year award. Of course, that meant the PGA’s noms didn’t always reflect the Academy’s — until last season, when the PGA also expanded to a 10-nominee field and channeled eight of the Academy’s final choices.
Noms announced: Jan. 4  | Ceremony: Jan. 22

Best Picture Noms: 78% | Best Picture Awards: 80%

During the decade, the DGA’s oracular abilities failed it only twice when it came to foreshadowing the Oscar for best director: The DGA went for Chicago’s Rob Marshall and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Ang Lee, but the Academy opted for The Pianist’s Roman Polanski and Traffic’s Steven Soderbergh. The Academy did name Chicago best picture, but since the Academy’s director and pic choices don’t always coincide, the DGA’s choice for director also ended up helming the best picture winner eight out of 10 times when, instead of Tiger or Traffic, the Academy crowned Gladiator best picture.
Noms announced: Jan. 10 | Ceremony: Jan. 29