On the basis of 75 years of awards-show history, comparing Academy Award winners in six major categories with the recipients of Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild of America, Producers Guild of America and National Board of Review awards, here’s what history says about the Oscar ballot:
Best leading actor
Put your money on Jeff Bridges. His performance as a washed-up country singer in Crazy Heart garnered the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe awards, a situation that’s resulted in an Oscar for eight of nine other actors. (Only Russell Crowe, for A Beautiful Mind, didn’t go on to Oscar glory.)
Two of Bridges’s competitors — George Clooney (Up in the Air) and Morgan Freeman (Invictus) — won National Board of Review honours and no others, typically the kiss of death for an actor’s Oscar chances.
And only 11 times in 66 years has the Academy given the Oscar to an actor who did not win another major award. That’s bad news for the remaining nominees, Colin Firth (A Single Man) and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker).
Best leading actress
We’ve studied Meryl Streep’s Oscar mojo, and unless she can stir some Julia Child magic into the tea leaves, it looks as if it’s Sandra Bullock’s year. With the SAG and Golden Globe awards for best actress Bullock joins nine other women who went into the Academy Awards with those honours for best actress. Seven won.
Streep, nominated 15 times previously for an Academy Award only won when she garnered two major precursor awards. (She won Oscars for her roles in Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice.)
This year she captured only one: the Golden Globe for best comedic actress, a position that’s brought Oscar magic only 17 per cent of the time. Carey Mulligan (An Education) goes into Oscar night with only National Board of Review honours, a nonstarter in all award categories. Gabourey Sidibe (Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire) and Helen Mirren (The Last Station) won none of the major precursor awards for best actress. The academy has honoured an actress shut out in such awards only 13 times in the 66 years that there have been parallel prizes.
Best supporting actor
The past suggests this is Christoph Waltz’s year, for his portrayal of a villainous Nazi colonel in Inglourious Basterds. He is the sixth actor to go into the Academy Awards with both a Golden Globe and SAG trophy for best supporting actor. Four of his five predecessors won the Oscar.
The only other Oscar nominee to win a major precursor award is Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), but his came from the National Board of Review, a nice feather but a bad omen. That said, this is one where you could bet on a long shot. Thirty-nine per cent of the Oscars for best supporting actor have gone to men who won none of the other major awards, like this year’s nominees Matt Damon (Invictus), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station) and Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones).
Best supporting actress
Mo’Nique, a first-time Oscar contender nominated for her role as the cruel and neglectful mother in Precious, has history on her side. Eight other women have headed into the Academy Awards, as she will, having already won the Golden Globe and SAG trophies. All but two won.
But there is room for a surprise winner in this category. Though history suggests that Anna Kendrick’s chances are dimmed by the National Board of Review award she won, the other three nominees, with no precursor honours in hand, have a better shot.
Almost half of the Academy Awards went to actresses in their position. So, Penélope Cruz (Nine), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart) can’t be ruled out.
Thanks to the predictive nature of the Directors Guild Awards, the year’s best odds across all six major categories belong to the guild’s pick, Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker. Since 1951 the guild winner for best director has gone on to win the Oscar 9 times out of 10. Enough said.
The biggest category of them all has the murkiest history for predicting a winner. Four of the nominated films (Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air and Inglourious Basterds) have won precursor awards; the only other year in the past two decades that had such disagreement was 1993, when Unforgiven became the wild-card winner.
It had nabbed none of the precursor awards, which went to four different films.
That year, however, Clint Eastwood won the Oscar for directing Unforgiven, along with the Directors Guild and Golden Globe accolades. Bigelow’s Directors Guild award for The Hurt Locker may well be the strongest predictor of this year’s best picture. The movie that won for best director has also taken home the best picture Oscar all but eight times in the last 50 years.
Among the other contenders, Avatar won the Golden Globe for best dramatic picture. Flipping a coin might predict its chances better than the Globe does, however, as slightly fewer than half of the 45 other films winning only that award won the Oscar. Inglourious Basterds took the Screen Actors Guild award for best cast. Five previous films have gone into the Academy Awards with the SAG alone, and only one (Crash) won.
Up in the Air received the National Board of Review’s best film award; 55 other movies won the National Board of Review alone, and only six won the Oscar. Nor is box-office dominance any guarantee of a victory. (Sorry, Avatar.) In the last 20 years the nominee with the top gross box-office revenue at the time of the Academy Awards won best picture only five times.
What about the chances of the six nominated movies that reaped none of the precursor awards? Well, the producers shouldn’t spend too much time working on their acceptance speeches. Such films have won the Oscar 29 per cent of the time.