William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Best Picture Oscar Winner: Model Prediction

Who is the captain now?

For several years I have been predicting (with perfect accuracy) the best picture Oscar. (See this and this for past years.)

The “model” pick for this year is Captain Phillips. Update The model fails. See below.

To do this I created a “model”, i.e. a set of probative observations, which ranked movies from most to least likely to win. Yet I worry the observations are no longer probative because the Academy is on to me.

The “model” is this: the lead actor—not actress—is at least forty, the other featured actors are mainly older men, and the picture took in only around 20% of the money earned by the year’s top film. Women in winning movies play only a peripheral role and their parts could easily have been played by other women, or even left out.

But, like I say, the Academy is on to me. This year there have been cries of—what else?—sexism! How tedious. Women, and the men who resemble them (I do not mean sexual activity), are saying that the Best Picture should have something more to do with femaleness. This will have some effect on the voting, but how much is anybody’s guess.

In the absence of “gender” politics, here are the “model” picks. Note: I did not see any of the nominated movies (nor any others). I’m relying on public descriptions of the films. As in previous years, I used Boxofficemojo.com for movie grosses.

First, the anti-Catholic Philomena is out: all about a woman. Gravity with its one whole woman and one half is also out. However this movie wins if the politics kicks in. Her focused on Joaquin Phoenix, who was 39 when the film was released. He also played what the male sex has today become, i.e. not quite a man. Movie had to have female support, so this movie doesn’t make the grade.

The main contenders (in alphabetical order) are these.

American Hustle with Christian Bale squeaks in: he was 39 (now 40). The movie also heavily featured a woman (Amy Adams, 39), whose part looks irreplaceable. The movie took in $145 million, which was 34% of the highest grossing movie, $424 million from the latest installment of the live action cartoon Hunger Games. That’s a little high.

Captain Phillips has a lead actor at 58 (Tom Hanks), with mostly men as support; however the main antagonist (Barkhad Abdi) is only 28, which is on the young side, as are the other men. The box-office take was in the sweet spot of 25% of the top’s.

Dallas Buyers Club with Matthew McConaughey at 45, with other 40-plus men in support. The main woman (Jennifer Garner) appears replaceable. But it only made about $25 million, which is only 6% of the best. We’re all “gay” now, so that works in the movie’s favor.

Nebraska has Bruce Dern as the lead actor, who is well past 40. The other main actor is a man (Will Forte), who is 44. While there are women in the movie, they are not the main focus and all appear to be replaceable. A weakness is that the film pulled in only about $17 million, which is a rounding error to the top movie (5%).

12 Years a Slave. There’s nothing Hollywood likes better than celebrating past civil rights victories, so this would seem a shoe-in. But it starred Chiwetel Ejiofor who was only 37 (he looks much older). There are also a lot of women and younger people, but are they dispensable? Took in about $49 million; only 12% of the top. The money is important as a proxy for Academy-member viewing. Why? Because movies are like books used to be and Academy members lie about seeing all the movies they vote on, just like people used to lie about reading “must read” books.

The Wolf of Wall Street edges into competition, but barely. Leonardo DiCaprio is now 40 but was only 39 when the picture was released. He was supported, however, by mainly 40-plus men. The women in the film misbehave themselves to the extent they are not memorable (as far as I have read). Movie made $113 million, which is in the ballpark: 27% of the top.

None of these fit the model perfectly, but Captain Phillips is more probable than 12 Year which is more probable than Wolf. Barkhad Abdi and his pirate crew are young, but their deeds and ways of holding weapons ages them. The movie, though it has a female (and whose role could have been played by anybody), is really all about men.

Naturally, this is a model and not a perfect prognostication. I do not attach a probability to the prediction other than to emphasize that, given the evidence I am using and the assumptions I made, the prediction has the highest probability. This “model” is in the minority, too: scarcely anybody is picking Phillips, which (if they’re right) proves that “models” are only models.

Update And here is why I haven’t seen a new movie in over two years.

Update 12 Years wins, which suggests my model should take into account politics. Just how remains to be seen.

8 Comments

  1. “He also played what the male sex has today become, i.e. not quite a man”

    Speak for thysen, sithee

    (the Yorkshire blood is still strong…:-))

  2. It will be quite a coup if you are correct since most others I’ve seen, after a quick google search, have only considered 12 years a slave & gravity. Will it be the model versus wish casting? We will soon see. I haven’t seen any of these movies and have no prediction to make.

  3. OK, now predict how well Ellen Degeneris will do in the host(est)/emcee role.

  4. Briggs

    March 1, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Scotian,

    Oh, I think the model has little chance since it doesn’t take politics into account. Slavery is awfully juicy.

  5. “First, the anti-Catholic Philomena”
    Anti-catholic? Briggs you didn’t qualify your statement.

    The movie is adapted from the true story (IMO about approximately 95% true)
    The true story includes elements of Catholic church behavior which is incontrovertible historic fact.

    The nuns practiced a pattern of shaming unwed mothers, even forcing Philomena to use the assumed name “Marcella.” there is no love of Christ in that behavior.

    The Nuns lied repeatedly to Philomena, from the beginning until over 50 years later, long after Anthony died of AIDS, oops, no love of Christ there either.

    Oh and they lied repeatedly to Philomena’ son Michael/Anthony over the years, ditto on the absence of the love of Christ.

    The nuns made Philomena work three years doing laundryto “Work off” her dept to them. Well then the nuns can’t call what they did charity perhaps slave labor is more adept.

    The nuns charged $1,000 for the American couple to take Michael/Anthony when he was 3 years old without Philomena’s knowledge of consent. That is kidnapping and trafficking of human beings.
    So to sum up the behavior of the Catholic Church:
    absence of love,
    Shaming the vulnerable.
    chronic pattern of deception,
    Slavery, and
    human trafficking.

    Did I miss any?

    Briggs, because these were the actions of the Catholic church I guess you are correct, the movie is anti-Catholic, but “if the shoe fits…”

    Well, at least thank God Michael/Anthony didn’t grow up on the knee of an Irish Catholic priest.

    But not to worry, the for Catholics, the Catholic church still offers indulgences for these heinous sins.

  6. > And here is why I haven’t seen a new movie in over two years. [link]

    Years ago, I heard a speech by Richard Stallman about the evil things movie studios do through copyright law (and the evil things that happen because copyright law is influenced by movie studios, even if the studios aren’t doing all the evil). You could be forgiven for thinking Stallman is a little off his rocker.

    In the end, he said that while he didn’t expect people to boycott all movies, he encouraged the audience to not go to movies unless they had a good reason the expect the movie would be good. He stated this would come pretty close to an all-out boycott, but would be easier to swallow.

    I was in my early 20s at the time, and my friends could still drag me to movies I didn’t care about. I took Stallman’s advice. He was right: I hardly ever go to the movies, it saves me a lot of money, I never regret missing the next Phantom Menace, and I my money is no longer being used to justify the garbage churned out by Hollywood (“if these movies are so bad, then why did X just gross $YY million?”).

  7. “And here is why I haven’t seen a new movie in over two years.”

    Vaguely reminds me of the one about the man mugged on the road to Jericho…

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