Numlock Awards: How the BAFTAs and DGA have set us up for Oscar night

Numlock Awards is your one-stop awards season newsletter, and it’s back! 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 comes from Walter.

We have all the knowledge we’re going to get when it comes to what’s going to happen going into Oscar night. I’ve got a few fun things coming up, but for now let’s see where we’re at according to the model.

To recap the usual spiel: The model works by assigning a weight to each precursor award given the historical reliability of that precursor prize correctly predicting the Oscar. You get a fifth of the credit if you score a nomination and full credit if you win it. You can see the weights for all precursors in this spreadsheet.

Best Actress

Frances McDormand (Nomadland) won the BAFTA, Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) won the SAG, Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) won the Critics’ Choice, and Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday) won the Golden Globe for Drama. It’s a completely split decision, and anyone’s game.

As the Academy changes, we’re continually hunting for new understanding about how the different precursor awards are getting better or getting worse at rolling with the changes of the Academy. We already went into this year with a pretty openminded definition of what a predictive success looks like given the unprecedented conditions of this award season, but needless to say this one is very much a tossup. Good news is that we’ll get some decent insight into which precursors in Best Actress are really worth looking at; split decisions between SAG and BAFTA are always informative.

Best Actor

Hopkins (The Father) won his fourth BAFTA award, the first major prize this season to not go to the late Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

To me, Boseman is still pretty much a lock. The Hopkins win complicates things, but if anything shows the BAFTAs still do love rewarding the local talent. That sort of home-field advantage isn’t to be ignored: this is Hopkins’ third competitive BAFTA, though he’s only got the one Oscar.

Best Director

Chloé Zhao is one Oscar away from pulling off a perfect game! After enormously predictive wins at BAFTA and at the DGA, she’s won every major precursor. As I wrote about last week, Zhao has cleaned up among the local critics’ prizes in a manner that no director, actor or actress has over the past three decades.

Best Picture

Nomadland notched wins at BAFTA and at DGA. It’s now the frontrunner going into Oscar night, but this year is very weird and you never really want to say that a Best Picture nominee is a prohibitive frontrunner given the ranked-choice voting used by the Academy to select the winner.

I’m going to get more into this over the next couple of weeks, but ranked-choice voting has an effect of being sort of a referendum on frontrunners. In order to win, a film must (functionally) lead its nearest rivals on at least 50 percent of ballots. The plain and simple of it is that a film simply cannot win if it’s got just 49 percent support compared to its nearest competitors. The Oscar precursors don’t use this style of voting, and as a result what we get is an understanding of what the floor is for support of different films, while what we must know to discern Best Picture is an understanding of the ceiling.

Again, I’ll go into this later, but the result is that Best Picture has been upset-prone lately and there is a reason for it.

Best Supporting Actress

Yuh-jung Youn (Minari) has cemented her lead with wins at BAFTA and SAG. While she’s been in the lead all season, many of her early wins were spread across lots of local critics and as a result this category looked a little murkier a few weeks back. After a decisive two weeks, she goes into Oscar night a frontrunner.

Best Supporting Actor

Daniel Kaluuya has run the gauntlet, and while his performance among the local critics’ prizes was not as decisive as Zhao’s in directing, he’s also run the table at the top awards and enters Oscar night a striking frontrunner with no major competitor.