1. Step 1: Compile the winners of the major Oscar precursors for the last 18 years.
Every year across the country, groups ranging from small (the Central Ohio Film Critics Association) to large (Hollywood Foreign Press Association) give out awards. Most of these are not predictive of Oscar winners. Throw out all of them except for the Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards, Critics Choice Movie Awards, New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the Directors, Producers, and Screen Actors Guild Awards. These are the “major Oscar precursors” (or MOPs).
2. Step 2: See which were best at predicting the eventual Oscar winner.
Guilds, which hand out awards in select categories, were generally better predictors of Oscar success than more prominent awards like the Golden Globes or the BAFTAs. Surprisingly, the less-buzzed-about Critics Choice Movie Awards has been the best across-the-board barometer of Oscar success, predicting 10 of the last 13 Best Picture winners and 13 of the last 17 Best Director winners.
3. Step 3: Weight each Oscar precursor by how well it predicted the winner.
The winner of the top award at the Golden Globes has gone on to win the Oscar seven times in the last 17 years; the DGAs awarded 13 future Oscar Best Picture winners during the same time. Argo won both this year, but it gets more love in my model for winning the DGAs.
4. Step 4: Stir.
“Confidence” represents the relative strength of each nominee — a 0.4 nominee has a better chance of winning its category than a 0.2 nominee — but is not a percentage or probability of winning.
Based on how all the nominees fared this awards season, three nominees emerged as clear front-runners: Argo for Best Picture, Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor, and Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress.
Defying consensus — which holds Tommy Lee Jones and Robert De Niro as the current one-two favorites — Golden Globe and BAFTA winner Christoph Waltz has a slight edge for Best Supporting Actor. Jones’ momentum is coming off a win at the SAGs, which is conventionally given most clout as an Oscar predictor. But in the supporting categories, the Globes are actually as good or better predictors, especially recently. (De Niro, meanwhile, hasn’t won a single MOP, a harbinger of Oscar failure 16 of the last 17 times.)
5. Step 5: Filter out the funny business.
The whims of the AMPAS voters can make forecasting tricky, especially when all signs point to a prohibitive favorite (Ben Affleck for Best Director) who’s not even nominated for the award. Going back to 1995, the eventual Best Director winner took home at least one MOP every time. This year, none of the MOP winners (Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, and Paul Thomas Anderson) were even nominated. With that, I looked at the two best predictors of Oscar success in this category — the Directors Guild Award and the Critics Circle Movie Awards — and eliminated the directors who weren’t nominated, leaving Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, and Tom Hooper. Seeing how much love Lincoln’s getting in other categories, consider Spielberg the slight favorite.
6. Step 6: Break the ties.
In the Best Actress category, Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain appear equally likely to win, according to the MOPs. But Lawrence did take home the SAG, the most predictive of all the Best Actress awards. The momentum has also been with Lawrence, for whatever that’s worth. For fear of messing with Harvey Weinstein, I give the edge to J-Law.
7. All together:
Best Picture: Argo
Best Director: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained