The Academy Awards are all glitz and glamour from the outside, and studio campaigns and after parties from the inside. But there’s also over eight decades of Oscar trends, a whole host of unwritten rules and more than 40 critics’ ceremonies to take into consideration each year.
Attempting to crack the Oscars is a bit like trying to decipher the Da Vinci Code, so buckle up as we get into the nitty gritty of where to place your chips come Oscar night.
1. You need a Best Director nomination to win Best Picture
Like Spielberg and Hanks, DiCaprio and Scorsese, these two go hand in hand.
Only four films have ever won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination: Wings, Grand Hotel, Driving Miss Daisy, and, of course, Argo. On the flipside, two Best Director Oscars have been won for films without a Best Picture nomination – but these (Two Arabian Nights; The Divine Lady) were in the 1920s, so the chances of that ever happening again are surely zero.
Everything except Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Manchester By The Sea and Moonlight can wave goodbye to their hopes of winning this year’s Best Picture Oscar.
2. To win Best Director, you need to win the Directors Guild of America’s big prize
In 2013, Argo won Best Picture even though Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for Best Director. Which is big news when you consider the DGA and Oscar director prizes have matched every single time bar seven (Oliver! beating; The Lion In Winter; Cabaret over The Godfather; Out Of Africa instead of The Color Purple; Braveheart over Apollo 13; Traffic beating Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Pianist trumping Chicago; Life Of Pi instead of Argo). Three of those instances (The Color Purple, Apollo 13, Argo) were purely because the Academy didn’t nominate a director.
This year that spells bad news for Mel Gibson, who found himself replaced by Lion’s Garth Davis in the DGA’s list of nominees.
3. Want to win Best Picture? A screenplay nod will help
Alright, so Titanic didn’t get a script nomination, but it was the only Best Picture winner in five decades not to do so. Such is the power of Jack and Rose, apparently.
Hacksaw Ridge is the only 2017 Best Picture nominee without a screenplay nod.
4. You can’t win Best Picture without a SAG Best Ensemble nomination
As well as defying Academy Award logic by taking Best Picture in 1996 (we’ll get to that later), Braveheart snatched the top prize without its ensemble receiving a SAG nomination – which is practically unheard of. It’s worth noting the overlap of votes between SAG and the Academy – something that reared its head when the guild awarded Crash Best Ensemble prior to its infamous Oscar win over Brokeback Mountain. (For the record, BAFTA’s voting membership also overlaps, but less so than SAG, and the Critics’ Choice lot are entirely journalists. So no overlap.)
La La Land is this year’s Best Picture favourite. But it doesn’t have that all-important SAG nomination. Is this a problem? We’re saying ‘no’, putting it down to Damien Chazelle’s film being a definite Stone/Gosling two-hander as opposed to an ensemble piece.
5. Animations, sequels and foreign films don’t win Best Picture
And that’s if you’re nominated in the first place... Of the nine foreign films (2012’s Amour being the most recent) and three animations that have been considered for the top prize, none have ever won. Sequels have had it slightly better, but only two have made the grade (The Godfather: Part II, The Return Of The King). Scorsese’s The Departed flies a solo flag for remakes taking top honours on Oscar night, with documentaries yet to gain a single nomination.
6. Female director? Then you probably won’t get nominated at all
Only one (yes, one) female director has won a Best Directing Oscar. Take a bow, Kathryn Bigelow. Prior to her win for The Hurt Locker in 2009, only three (yes, three) other women were up for the prize: Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties, 1976), Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993), and Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation, 2003). Here’s looking at you, Ava DuVernay, Lisa Cholodenko, Claire Denis, Kelly Reichardt, Jodie Foster, Ana Lily Amirpour, Lone Scherfig, Agnès Varda, Lynn Shelton, Reed Morano, Andrea Arnold, Lana Wachowski and so many, many more…
7. The Critics’ Choice Awards have a surprisingly good record of predicting the big Oscar categories
Back in 1996, the Broadcast Film Critics Association held their first ceremony, aka the Critics’ Choice Awards. It may sound like it’s voted for by teenagers, but there’s a lot of reason to keep their picks in mind. (Here comes our Ray Winstone floaty head bit…)
In the 20 years since their inaugural awards, they have * an 80% success rate for Director; 65% for Supporting Actress and Best Actor; 60% for Best Picture; and 55% for Actress and Supporting Actor. Over the same period, BAFTA predicted 55% of the eventual Best Picture winners, SAG following with 50%, and the Golden Globes’ Drama category with 45%.
Shakespeare In Love, Chicago and The Artist winning Best Comedy or Musical would boost the Globes’ success rate up to a much more respectable 60%. The PGA and DGA come out on top, however, with 70-75% respectively. Not bad.
(* as of 2015)
8. Winning a Golden Globe, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice and SAG award makes you a shoo-in for an acting Oscar
Every year sees actors and actresses battle it out (in a thankfully non-Hunger Games-style) to grace the stage come Oscar night. You may be hard pushed to sweep the 'big five' if you’re competing alongside Meryl-in-waiting Jennifer Lawrence, but if you take the BAFTA, SAG, Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award, well, you better hope you’ve got a personal Oscar polisher on speed dial.
24 have managed the ‘big five’ since 1996, including Brie Larson for Room, Javier Bardem for No Country For Old Men, Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight, Reese Witherspoon for Walk The Line, Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls and Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood and Lincoln.
9. Always bet on Colleen Atwood and Sandy Powell
Betting against costume designers extraordinaire Atwood and Powell is a risky business. Post-2016 Oscars, they boast 22 nominations, resulting in six wins. Alright, so that’s just under a third each, but this is undeniably impressive stuff. The hardest part is choosing who to bet on: each of their three wins meant they beat the other. Powell also beat herself in 1999, when Shakespeare In Love’s ruffs and tights triumphed over Velvet Goldmine’s sequins and spandex.
This year sees Atwood receive her twelfth nomination for Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, facing strong competition from Florence Foster Jenkins, Jackie, and La La Land.
10. But maybe you should bet against Roger Deakins
13 cinematography nominations + no wins = one of the biggest Oscar injustices in history.
11. A DGA, PGA and SAG triple-win is the key to success
The last film to win the holy trifecta of SAG (Best Ensemble), PGA (Best Producer), DGA (Best Director) and not take the big prize on Oscar night was Apollo 13 losing to Braveheart in 1996. And this is where those who kept supporting Birdman over Boyhood in 2015 really knew their stuff. Why was that? You’ve got it: it had won SAG’s Best Ensemble, and top honours from the Producers and Directors Guilds.
12. There will always be Oscar upsets
Crash over Brokeback Mountain, anyone? What about Shakespeare In Love over Saving Private Ryan, and – as we promised to return to earlier – Braveheart over Apollo 13 and Sense & Sensibility? Adrien Brody? Loretta Young for The Farmer’s Daughter? Oscar upsets have been happening since the awards began back in 1929. There will always be stories of people refusing to watch screeners (hello, Brokeback Mountain) or tales of people reading the wrong name (hello, Marisa Tomei), but the fact is that there’s no surefire way to predict how over 6500 people are going to vote. It is, quite frankly, impossible. At the end of the day it’s all just personal taste. Right?
Head here for our thoughts on how the 2017 Oscars will play out on the night.