Numlock Awards: People, We Have An Oscar Race
The Producers make this a head-to-head that will ensure Best Picture is a nail-biter this year.
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 comes from Walter.
Last night, the Producers Guild gave their top prize to CODA, and in doing so completely changed the Oscar race. A win for Power of the Dog would have sealed this one up, pretty much. The PGA is the most predictive prize we have, and as the Oscars voter base has shifted over the past decade, it’s by far been the one to maintain its ground compared to, say, DGA or BAFTA.
This leaves us in a two-horse race, and I like both of their chances honestly. The Power of the Dog has been a force this season, its director is the odds-on favorite to win Best Director, and it’s racked up wins at the DGA, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice, and Golden Globes. It’s had a great season by any stretch.
CODA, on the other hand, has only two wins — SAG and PGA — but I really like those wins.
The PGA has gotten it right 7 of the past 10 years, better than the DGA (5 of 10), SAG and BAFTA (4 of 10). More to the point, the model really tries to value recent performance over more historical results, and PGA has had a lot of success in the past five years, with 3 of 5 PGA winners going on to win Best Picture. The DGA’s dominance has, bluntly, been crumbling: only two DGA winners took best picture, and SAG and BAFTA have awarded the Best Picture only once.
This is the utter state of Oscar forecasting: the instruments are functioning worse than ever, and as the Academy shifts things are in flux. And as much as I try to really over-weight the recent performance of awards, if CODA ends up winning there’s an argument to be made that I’m not even weighting recent performance enough.
In 2020, I took a dive into why exactly the Producers Guild was kicking ass. You should check that post out, it’s a fun look into a fundamentally weird organization. Namely: Guilds are coalitions of workers who advocate for labor, so why the hell do the Bosses need a Guild? It’s a good question! I don’t have a good answer!
But here’s a paragraph from that post about why the PGA has potentially been keeping pace with the changing Academy better than the other guilds:
In reality, in addition to the producers branch (which gained 100 members from 2015 to 2019) lots of people in the executive (+133 members), members-at-large (+132 members), short film and feature animation (+339 members), documentary (+249 members), visual effects (+186 members) branches and more are eligible for inclusion. Those gains are over half the total gain.
Basically, all the branches that have really been growing a lot are the kinds of Suits that get an invite to the producers guild, which can be better understood as a Producers-Members-At-Large-Short-Film-Feature-Animation-Documentary-Visual-Effects-Execs Guild.
In addition to really keeping pace with membership changes, there are a couple of other reasons to like the PGA. They vote, like the Oscars, with a ranked-choice ballot. I interviewed the brilliant Rob Ritchie of FairVote, the experts on ranked-choice, last year, and the reality is ranked-choice is a fundamentally different beast than first-past-the-post and it’s one other reason why the Oscars are hard to forecast and why they’re so fun to watch.
The PGA also has a habit of nominating pretty much any movie with a chance of getting nominated for an Oscar. The Oscars just locked in 10 Best Picture nominees, up from the 5 that there had historically been and the “between 5 and 10” they messed with over the past couple years. As a result, the PGA will always be dealing with pretty much the exact field the Oscars is, give or take a few bubble movies. This means that you don’t get a situation where, for instance, The Power of the Dog isn’t even up at SAG, or CODA isn’t even up at BAFTA. You get everyone competing in the same race, and preferences get revealed.
This is a real race this year. A few years ago I wrote about why Best Picture frontrunners aren’t locks anymore. That post is never more pertinent than today. It goes into also why large pools of nominees — like the 10 we have this year — can destabilize a forecast model and make it harder to actually discern the true frontrunner:
Basically, it’s not that more nominees mean less advantage for the movie that’s ahead. Better stated, more nominees mean that we have less certainty that the movie that looks like it’s ahead actually is.
I love it! I don’t watch the Oscars to feel bored.
Power of the Dog has the edge, but edges don’t mean a whole lot anymore. The Academy has done a great job of making sure their intentions are obscured, it makes this kind of work of prediction truly difficult and a really delightful challenge.
The good news is that whether it’s Power of the Dog or CODA or anyone else, we’re going to get some incredible data about how precursors are doing this year. As the Academy’s growth slows and they settle in at around a 10,000-member organization, we can start to expect that the precursors that are truly strong at predicting the award will begin to reveal themselves.
Photo: CODA from Apple TV+