Numlock Awards: How the Oscar race looks going into Monday's nominations

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.

On Monday Morning, the nominations will drop. The model I operate isn’t really designed to figure out nominees, but it’s also not entirely bad at it. Today, I’ll run through the current state of the races given the new information of the past week: the outcome of the Critics Choice Awards, and the slew of nominations from valuable precursor prizes — BAFTA, Producers Guild, Directors Guild, and all the techies — that dropped in the middle of last week.

To jog your memory, the model is entirely public, and works by assigning a weight to each precursor award given the historical reliability of that precursor prize correctly predicting the Oscar. Awards from guilds are given twice the weight compared to critic prizes, and the average is weighted so more recent years are given much more weight than years further back.

Best Director

Leading off with stuff I’m reasonably certain about, Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) is continuing her unprecedented tear through critic prizes. In addition to scoring needed but perfunctory nominations at DGA and BAFTA this past week, she not only won at the Critics Choice but also won the last of the five-most predictive local critic prizes in this category with a win in Vegas. Her lead here is not insurmountable but nevertheless would require a complete reversal of fortune over the next few weeks and a shocker at DGA for this category to get competitive.

The four directors who have been reliably in the mix with Zhao are Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7) David Fincher (Mank) and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman). The only other director up at both BAFTA and DGA besides Zhao is Chung. Regina King (One Night in Miami) blanked at both BAFTA and the DGA, which would put a cap on her momentum.

Best Picture

Oh, this one is still chaotic. The wins at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice have made Nomadland a favorite, but not a prohibitive one. The DGA and PGA nominations don’t tell us much we don’t already know — the five leading contenders are the ones up at both — Nomadland, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Minari, Promising Young Woman, and Mank — and the five films only up at PGA round out the rest of the pack — Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, One Night In Miami..., Sound of Metal, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and Judas and the Black Messiah.

Gaming it out a bit, the BAFTA awards and the PGA awards are really going to be the kingmakers this year, when you play it out. For the reasons discussed in Best Director, it’s going to be real shocking if Chloé Zhao does not win at DGA given her tour-de-force awards season so far. And further, SAG did not nominate Nomadland, which means that one of the rival films will assuredly win it, which would make this a two-picture race in that first half of April.

As a result, whoever the PGA awards tap as the winner on March 24 will likely end up as the front-runner regardless of what goes down at DGA and SAG in April. The BAFTAs will either cloud or clear the waters in mid-April, but as it stands it looks like the date to watch is the 24th.

Best Actor

Really seems like Chadwick Boseman’s season after last Sunday.

The BAFTA nominations this past week were often eclectic, but I think they had the effect of eliminating the middle class of the acting awards. That is, they tended to nominate 2 or 3 of the leading frontrunners, and then 3 or 4 people who have not been in the conversation at all. This had the effect of allowing us to see the people who had been in the conversation but not atop it. For Best Actor, this meant Gary Oldman (Mank) and Steven Yeun (Minari) falling well behind Boseman, Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) and Anthony Hopkins (The Father).

Best Actress

Same effect here, and BAFTA is really good at Best Actress. Among the recurring contenders so far, only Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman) got the BAFTA nod, bad news for Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman), Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday) and Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom).

The four other women nominated at BAFTA — Bukky Bakray (Rocks), Radha Blank (The Forty Year Old Version), Wunmi Mosaku (His House), and Alfre Woodard (Clemency) — have 0 nominations between them at other precursors. This category is going to be madness, and a split decision between BAFTA and SAG would make it a coin flip, which I hate but at least will improve the model.

Best Supporting Actor

Seems like Daniel Kaluuya’s (Judas and the Black Messiah) to lose. Earlier this year I wrote about how the different precursors were changing. In the Best Supporting Actor category, I remarked at how the two critics prizes, the Golden Globes and Critics Choice, seemed to be getting better and better every year:

You should read that whole post, in retrospect I’m increasingly happy with it, but here’s the relevant section for this category this year:

In these prizes, the four main precursors have gone from “bit of a crapshoot” — between 40 percent and 70 percent reliability depending on the prize and the year — to “precise, if not always accurate.” That is to say, all of them basically get it three out of four times, give or take. The floor has gotten higher.

I fear with these that the number of precursors is sufficiently low that it’s much easier for one contender to win 2 out of 4 or 3 out of 4 and become the odds-on-favorite. Like, were someone to win both the Critics’ Choice and the Golden Globe, for a lot of people that race is pretty much over. While in the lead categories, with the Globes split up, it’s harder to speak as decisively.

That’s what I think is happening in general, and that’s what I think is specifically happening this year in this category. Other names include Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night In Miami), Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7), and Paul Raci (Sound of Metal), but that fifth spot could go pretty much anywhere.

Best Supporting Actress

BAFTA did the thing again, nominating two contenders — Yuh-jung Youn (Minari) and Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) — and four other people who have not been nominated for anything this season so far. This closes the door on the Jodie Foster post-Globes win bump, and also makes the campaigns of Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy), Olivia Colman (The Father), and Helena Zengel (News of the World) all the more difficult to close. As always, a win at SAG can make up for pretty much anything in this category, so it’s not over until it’s over, but it’s looking very much like a two-person race barring a shocker at SAG.

Tomorrow, a look at the most mysterious branch of the Academy. Monday, nominations!

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