Numlock Awards: 2022 Awards Season Wrap-Up and Mailbag!
The real Lydia Tár were the friends we made along the way.
Numlock Awards is your one-stop awards season newsletter! Every week, join Walt Hickey and Michael Domanico as they break down the math behind the Oscars and the best narratives going into film’s biggest night. Today’s edition wraps up the 2022 season.
This is our last edition of this season! Thanks for coming along for the ride, it was a very fun season.
Normally the next email you get from us would be toward the end of the year, but just a heads up you might be hearing from us sometime earlier than that about a very fun project I’m excited to reveal sometime over 2023. Anyway, onto the questions!
How’d the model do?
- Walter, just to get the obvious out of the way
Walter: Feels great to regain some confidence in our Best Picture forecasts. It’s been a good couple years for us, but after a few years of razor-thin Best Picture races this one definitely was more relaxing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really give us a lot in terms of year-to-year model adjustments, so I’m not sure if we’re better off next year, besides being able to knock down the Golden Globes another notch.
With Fraser and Yeoh, delighted with their wins on a personal level, I think the whole year is obviously a big boost for SAG going into next year, and I had kind of expected the Fraser win at this point because I really didn’t trust the Golden Globes in his category. Yeoh and Blanchett was always going to be a toss-up, we figured as much at the way beginning of the cycle, and you win some you lose some.
Director and Supporting Actress felt like clean successes. The latter particularly was a very, very tough category and the Curtis call was a lonely one so it’s always fun to get the win there.
Either way, it’s a productive year and I continue to feel more confident about how we’re capturing the Academy as their numbers stabilize and the preferences of the “new Academy” become more reliably understood.
To tie up two remaining threads from this season, I am interested in two things the Academy does this year.
First, I am very intrigued by how many people they invite to join. My gut is between 300 and 400. If it’s lower, they really are slowing the growth to a crawl. If it’s higher, well, the ride isn’t over yet.
Second, I am very, very interested in the financial performance of the museum this year. The Academy is on a clock now, and the firehose of money from ABC dries up in 2028. I want to see significantly lower post-opening programming costs at the museum or higher revenues — ideally both — if this is going to be a viable bunker for a post-ABC era.
I would love to learn about All Quiet's good sweep.
Michael: A great question! There were some murmurs that All Quiet on the Western Front could be a potential EEAAO spoiler, something Walter’s model never took super seriously. Still, the win at the BAFTAs and picking up four awards going into Best Picture might have had A24 slightly nervous.
I think a lot of this has to do with Netflix’s other major awards contenders — White Noise and Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths — fizzling out, and money and resources being diverted to All Quiet, which clicked with critics and audiences in the way the other two films didn’t. It somehow blanked on a Best Director nod at the Oscars, but nine nominations showed a ton of support for the film across various different branches, so it’s not altogether surprising it clinched some of those. The late-breaking BAFTA surge probably got a few more eyeballs to tune in.
One of its closest competitors was Elvis for some of those craft awards (like costume design and cinematography, where Elvis had done decently with precursors) and Elvis got completely goose egged, so clearly the Academy as a whole did not feel the enthusiasm for Elvis we thought they did going in, which I’m sure inured to All Quiet’s benefit.
I’ve read that “momentum” is not actually a thing in sports and that it’s really a matter of regression to the mean. But in awards shows (that are based on people who can be influenced by a narrative), does momentum matter? Meaning statistically, should a late win for Brendan Fraser or Jamie Lee Curtis be more valuable in the analysis than an early win for Austin Butler or Cate Blanchett?
Walter: A very fun question!
What you’re alluding to in the first sentence is, I think, the concept of “the hot hand” and you are correct in that it is controversial. Ben Cohen had a whole book about the idea — there is, in fact, some evidence underlying the idea that players can indeed get hot, and it's worth a read — but I think your question has more to do with model weighting than that so let's dive in there.
So let's talk weighting. One reason I'm hesitant to add all sorts of extra flags in the model is that it risks adding noise to the thing, or over-counting impacts that are already factored into the model. Common suggestions include stuff like rewarding the timing of a win, rewarding for the number of nominations a film got, rewarding actors for momentum around a movie featuring their nominated performance, and so on.
Essentially, all of that is already implicitly in the model if not explicitly: BAFTA and SAG and PGA voters are following the same campaigns we are, are seeing the same nomination lists we are, are feeling the same vibes we are, and if it's going to affect them that will be manifested already in who wins the precursors.
The reality is, later wins for actors and movies are already more valuable in the analysis than early wins, because the most predictive shows already happen at the end of the season rather than the beginning. I think one reason they may be more predictive is that they are in fact at the end of the season, but the chicken and the egg here are somewhat immaterial. Effectively, this is already implicit in the model.
I do think momentum matters. I think the question asker was smart to point to the Jamie Lee Curtis win, because that seems like a situation in which momentum really put her over the line. We also successfully called that win, because she won the big actor award that is televised (or at least streamed) right before Oscar-voting week.
Best Song should be Best Visual Song. I grew up with Indian language cinema, mainly Bollywood (Hindi). Naatu was nominated in a category called Best Song. Not best visual song to watch. Naatu won because its a great song to WATCH and a slightly above average song to listen to (by Indian movie/song standards). I've written about great Bollywood songs to watch and think about the inherent non-movie-visual-medium-utlization of this category often. What does Oscars winner history tell us about the weight of VISUAL Songs winning?
Michael: I’d argue this is already factored in. The three most recent Bond songs have won (“Skyfall,” “Writing’s on the Wall,” and “No Time to Die”), for example, and I think they’re all helped by being the song that plays over the opening credits and a bunch of cool visuals. If you go back even ten years, you’ll see a lot of strongly visual songs — “Let It Go” from Frozen, “City of Stars” from La La Land, “Remember Me” from Coco, “Shallow” from A Star Is Born — winning, but then even songs like “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman that purely play over the end credits have gotten their due. While we see a bias toward visual songs winning, I don’t think making a visual component a requirement enhances the category much, since visual songs tend to have a leg up, but there are some worthy winners in there that come over the end credits, and I think the more the merrier. If the song is good, it should be nominated. “Into the West” is an end credits song and if you want to see a grown man cry, just pull up your Spotify and hit play.
I have a question about the Film Independent Spirit Awards: did you two ever consider adding it to the model? Or is the voting body too diverged from the Oscars' to make it a good predictor, even if there's a lot of indie representation on the ballot (like EEAAO this year)?
Walter: This is a great question, too, so let's talk about what gets into the model and why.
When I left FiveThirtyEight, I made a couple of tweaks to the model, and one of the biggest ones was reassessing the critics’ awards. The previous edition had lots more critics’ prizes baked directly into it, including the New York Film Critics Circle, the LA Film Critics, the Chicago Film Critics, the National Board of Review, and so on. One thing I was interested in was really honing the model inputs to be things that actually predicted the Oscars, and some of those awards were clearly in the accounting because of notoriety (large cities) or longevity (the NBR).
However, if you follow this closely, the NYFCC doesn't give a shit about predicting Oscar winners. Much to the contrary, they seem to really like being idiosyncratic and recognizing work that might get missed by the mainstream prizes! And then at the same time, there were a whole lot of smaller-city critics groups that actually did seem to like recognizing the work that would eventually become the Oscar winner early, groups that were being left out because they were based in Phoenix or Atlanta rather than New York or L.A.
So we have the model we have now, where the only critics’ groups that are guaranteed a place in the model are the national, televised Critics’ Choice and the Golden Globes, and the other critics’ groups are rotated in and out based on the five most-predictive local critics’ groups in a given category. This means that critics’ groups that actually want to predict the Oscars get their due, and the ones that really don’t give a damn aren’t arbitrarily crammed into a model by virtue of being coastal.
I'm not married to this format forever: I only half-joke the Globes are permanently on notice for relegation, and I'm not opposed to promoting exceptionally predictive critic prizes out of the herd and permanently into the model, should one present as deserving.
I'm going to add the Indie Spirit Awards to the list of precursors eligible to be in the local critics bundle, and while I suspect they'll continue to be idiosyncratic compared to the Oscars – and I kind of hope they do continue recognize unheralded work! — the model will evolve to reflect the awards that best call the races. Maybe that one day will include the Independent Spirit Awards.
You all answered my previously asked question about a film's "nationality" during the 2020 Oscars and extending that thought arose.
What if there was only one Best Picture category? It would avoid holes/issues with No English language foreign films (Nigeria) being excluded in the international category. I'm personally against this idea, as it would take away the highlight the category brings the nominees. But food for thought.
MD: As Walter’s written, the Academy really made a push in the 2010s to become more international, so for obvious reasons I think they’ll keep the Best International Feature category. But as a potential thought experiment, I’d have to agree with you! It’s not a perfect category as the rules can be a bit frustrating — particularly the English-language rule you highlighted, where the films must be predominantly not in English, and the fact that governments select their country’s entrant meaning movies that are critical of a particular regime might not get in — but I think it’s a noble attempt to get more international cinema represented. We all loved Jenny from Banshees of Inisherin, but where was the love for Ettore, Hola, Marietta, Mela, Rocco, and Tako, six actual donkeys who portrayed the donkey in Poland’s EO? Makes you think.
My question for you all is: Is there any likelihood to the Academy changing when Oscar voting occurs? Obviously it would have the potential to really throw off your model, but it seems like the current system is set up in such a way that it just confirms what all the previous awards have decided.
I'd be curious to see if there's a major shift in recipients if the Academy was to vote, say, prior to the Golden Globes before all of the major 'storylines' of awards-season have been established (but still have the broadcast at the end of the awards season).
WH: That would be wild, and would probably mess up the affected portions of the model for like five years. I don't think it's super likely, but one thing I do like about awards season on a personal level is approaching it in a way that doesn't necessarily center the Oscars.
Like I mentioned earlier, if you want a watch list of compelling performances that might fly under Oscar radar, you should absolutely mine the New York Film Critic Circle winners. I’m biased because I'm in it, but I think the annual GALECA Society of LGBTQ+ Entertainment Critics list is an excellent list of films and performances that (usually) counter-program Oscar voting. If you as a cinemagoer want to find out "what would Oscars be if you stripped out the damn campaign" then critic year-end lists are for you, and the aggregations of them can come up with a lot more fun watchlists than whatever is steamrolling the Oscars.
It's a fun alternate universe to consider. But on some level, we kind of know what it looks like already.
Have a great year! See you next season.