Fun With Best Picture Numbers (Or, Might Not The Dark Knight Be Nominated?)

January 19, 2009

Over the weekend, I spent some time going through the best picture algorithm. I refined the algorithm to make sure that the values were the same for every year, and the same things were being counted. I also added a few more historical studies and more variables to each year. In short, I tried to make the numbers consistent and better. I then took a look at the last 8 years to try to learn why certain films are not nominated despite all appearances to the contrary. Here’s what I found:

31/34 movies that have a score of 3.5 are nominated for Best Picture.

32/38 movies that score higher than 3 are nominated for Best Picture.

Here are the movies that earned over 3 this year:

1. Slumdog, 7.89

2. Benjamin Button, 5.55

3. Milk, 5.241

4. Frost/Nixon, 5.09

5. The Dark Knight, 3.665

In short, things look pretty good for The Dark Knight as only 3 movies in its place have failed to be nominated in the last 8 years.

But what are the factors that cause movies over 3.5 to lose? Are there any commonalities?

Let’s look at the occasions:

Format: Film, score, (rank), Genre, Box Office

A. 2006

Out: Dreamgirls, 3.87, (5), musical, 103mil

In: Letter From Iwo Jima, 2.54 (6), Drama, 13m

Other C/M in Top 5: Little Miss Sunshine (3)

Other C/M in Top 10: Devil Wears Prada (8), Borat (10)


Format: Director, BD noms (movies)

In: Eastwood, 3 (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River)

Out: Condon, 0

B. 2003

“out”: Cold Mtn, 3.585, (6), Drama, 95mil

Movies 1-5 all scored higher with a Comedy in top 5 (Lost in Translation)


“out”:  Minghella, 1 (The English Patient)

c. 2000

Out: Almost Famous, 5.264, (2), Comedy, 32 mil

In: Chocolat, 1.675, (9), Comedy, 71 mil

Other c/m top 5: No

Other c/m top 10: Best in Show (10)


In: Hallstrom: 2 (My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules)

Out: Crowe, 0

Of the 3 movies that scored over 3.5, 2 were comedies that dropped out, and the other was ranked 6. One comedy was replaced with a drama, the other a different comedy. Is there a commonality: yes. Directors with multiple Oscar nominations.

Does this extend to movies that scored higher than 3 and didn’t make it? Here’s the short hand:

A. 2007

Out: Into the Wild, 3.125, (4*), Drama, 18mil

In: Juno, 2.595, (6*), Comedy, 143mil

Other comedy in top 5: no

Other c/m in top 10: Hairspray, Sweeny Todd

*This is pre-weighted. We don’t generally use a weighted metric, but Atonement won the Golden Globe Drama making it a “Lock” despite being ranked out of the top 5. Into the Wild has a weighted rank of 5.


Out: Sean Penn, 0

In: Reitman, 0

B. 2002

Out: Adaptation, 3.25, (5), Comedy, 22mil

In: The Pianist, 2.551, (7), Drama, 32 mil

Other c/m top 5: No

Other c/m top 10: About Schmidt (6), My Big Fat Greek Weeding (8), About a Boy (10)


In: Polanski, 2 (Chinatown, Tess)

Out: Jonze, 1 (Being John Malkovitch)

C. 2000

Out”: Billy Elliot, 3.045, (6), Drama?, 21.99 mil

Not in top 5.

Director: Daldry, 0

In 2002, a lot of “comedy” votes were likely split by Adaptation and About Schmidt. Not since the 80s has the Academy generally nominated more than one Comedy a year.

2000 was a strange year, with 2 movies having scored higher than 3 not earning a BP nom. This is despite the fact that this is not considered a great year for movies. Then again, it may be because it’s not considered a great year for movies.

Again, the common denominator appears to be multiple award nominations for the director of the movie in. (I’m not printing the data, but this rule of thumb hold for movies that sneak in, i.e. Munich and Gosford Park, Spielberg, Altman) There’s also a general preference towards nominating a comedy or musical, but it’s not a hard fast rule. Very popular comedies do tend to get nominated more than unpopular comedies (Juno in, Almost Famous out).

Can we apply this to this year? Yes.

Over the last 8 years, no movie nominated for Best Picture has been outside of the top 10 in our rankings, so we’ll restrict ourselves to those movies.

So what movies in the top 10 have directors with multiple Best Director nominees?

The Reader (1.69; 7) and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (1.52; 8 .

Daldry was on the outside looking in in 2000, but Billy Elliot was nominated for director, and he was nominated again for The Hours. The Reader got a new shot of buzz when it was nominated by BAFTA last week, and this being the year of the Kate could help it immensely. But no one seems to be talking about it at all, it isn’t doing especially big box office (7.5m so far), and Scott Rudin left the picture. With a score of 1.69, it would just beat out Chocolat for the lowest scoring movie. (Chocolat, if you may remember, had a lot of “buzz” as a result of a perfect Miramax marketing campaign)

Vicky Cristina would be the lowest scoring BP nom ever. Woody Allen has been nominated for Best Director 6 times. People like Vicky Cristina, and there are no comedies in the top 5. With Box office of 22.9mil, it did nice business but nothing to write home about. Certainly no Dark Knight. I haven’t really looked into it yet, but we may be able to change “comedy” slot to “crowdpleaser” slot, in which case, that’s TDK this year.

People like to talk about Gran Torino as a sleeper pick, but I have it at 13, bellow 1. I just don’t see it happening. Of course, it is popular.

So, when all is said and done, I feel much more confident in picking The Dark Knight for the 5 slot, but if you gave me really good odds–really good–I might bet on The Reader. Just might.

One Response to “Fun With Best Picture Numbers (Or, Might Not The Dark Knight Be Nominated?)”

  1. […] feel pretty good about identifying The Reader as the movie most likely to sneak in: Over the last 8 years, no movie nominated for Best Picture […]

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