Even if it’s too late to adjust your Oscar pool, why shouldn’t we be curious about Nate Silver’s picks for the 85th Academy Awards this Sunday?
Possibly the best-known statistics guru out there, Silver vaulted to geek fame after his impressive predictions during the last two U.S. presidential elections where he hardly called a race incorrectly. Now, the New York Times blogger and author is turning his hand to the Oscars — something he’s done in the past, but this year, he’s hoping to improve upon his 75% success. In the 2009 and ’11 Oscars, he went nine for twelve across the six major categories of Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actor.
The good news is that, even for us, we can just about get our heads around Silver’s model. As he notes in his FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times,
Our method will now look solely at the other awards that were given out in the run-up to the Oscars: the closest equivalent to pre-election polls. These have always been the best predictors of Oscar success.
And so, when it comes to Best Picture, Silver gives more credence to the likes of the Directors Guild of America, which has an 80% track record of choosing the same winner as the Academy, rather than those who, he writes, “almost never get the answer right (here’s looking at you, Los Angeles Film Critics Association).”
It’s surely no surprise then that Silver reckons Best Picture will go to Argo, which is considered the front-runner in the eyes of oddsmakers and pundits alike. The Ben Affleck–directed movie, which recounts how six American diplomats in Iran managed to escape during the hostage crisis of 1979, has been on a real roll ever since, ironically (or, perhaps not, if it upset Academy voters) Affleck was supposedly snubbed of a directing nomination. Argo has won a slew of recent awards, and Silver has it far ahead in his weight score of 4.77 compared with 1.02 for Zero Dark Thirty and 0.83 for Lincoln.
Silver notes that Affleck would have been the clear favorite for Best Director if he’d been nominated. Instead, Silver narrowly plumps for Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) over Ang Lee (Life of Pi) because Spielberg was nominated this awards season “slightly more regularly” than Lee though Silver concedes “it’s going to be blind luck if we get this one right.”
In the acting categories, as with seemingly everyone else on the planet, Silver is predicting Daniel Day-Lewis to win Best Actor for his role as President Lincoln in the eponymous Spielberg film, and he forecasts Anne Hathaway will walk away with Best Supporting Actress for her short but clearly impactful part in Les Misérables. He also goes for another acting Oscar to emerge from the Lincoln cast when it comes to Best Supporting Actor — Tommy Lee Jones, though he’s smart to point out that “this is almost certainly the most competitive category: all five nominees have won Oscars before, and there is no consensus choice.”
But, if we may be so bold, Silver may stumble over himself in calling Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence. To be sure, the movie has his surname in the title (Silver Linings Playbook). While it’s been said that it’s Lawrence’s Oscar to lose, will the voters go with their hearts, rather than their heads, and make Amour actress Emmanuelle Riva’s 86th birthday a night to remember? Silver’s model only has her as the third favorite, behind Lawrence and Zero Dark Thirty’s Jessica Chastain. But let’s face it: the Academy might not have many more chances to reward Riva.