This is probably the question that is on many people’s minds as the Oscars are approaching this week. Who will win? The answer – we don’t know for sure. The Oscars have always been unpredictable awards , which makes it harder for any of us to say what will happen. In theory, the best film of the year should win. Yet more often than not, due to certain biases and the preferential ballot system (more on that later) this historically has not been the case. After all, once upon a time Citizen Kane was robbed of the coveted prize and it went on to be considered the greatest film of all time!
However, what if I said there were certain factors that could be used to estimate with some degree of accuracy which films are most likely to win and which ones are least likely? It is not an exact science, but it is worth the effort at least.
And so, here is every single Best Picture nominee, listed in ascending likelihood of winning the award at the Academy Awards 2020!
- Ford v Ferrari (Le Mans ’66)
The addition of Ford v Ferrari to the list of nominees was a surprise to begin with, so I think it is safe to rule it out from the beginning. Aside from Best Picture, the film was nominated for Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, neither of which are huge predictors. The film also has won very little in the awards preceding the Oscars, which is a sure sign that this film has no chance to win. The only point in its favour is that it is a biopic, and the Academy loves biopics.
- Little Women
There are a lot of factors working against Little Women’s favour. First of all, only one film in history directed by a woman has ever won the big prize: Hurt Locker by Kathryn Bigelow. Secondly, only one remake in history has won Best Picture – The Departed – and Little Women, sadly, has been remade many times. The biggest indicator that perhaps, this is not Greta Gerwig’s year (for the second time in her career) is that she missed out on the all-important Best Director nomination. Only five films have won Best Picture without this nomination, the most recent of them being Green Book last year.
- Marriage Story
Marriage Story, like Little Women, misses that Best Director nomination. Plus, the Academy has shown an anti-Netflix bias which I fear might hurt its chances. Plus, only three films in the last 25 years have won Best Picture without being nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble, which is the case for Marriage Story. Yet, if Marriage Story can bag some acting awards and Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, that might help it.
- The Irishman
Martin Scorsese is perhaps the most respected filmmaker on this list and his name alone may earn The Irishman some favour. But again, Its status as a Netflix film might also play a part in preventing it from winning. Though The Irishman has received countless nominations for the Oscars and other award shows, it is unlikely to win many categories at the Oscars – apart from maybe Best Editing – and has won very few that would help boost the film’s chances of winning the top prize.
I know, I know – Joker has 11 nominations, the most of any in this pack. So why do I think Joker has such a low chance of winning? Short answer: Joker is a controversial movie and the Academy just does not reward controversial movies. The long answer is related to the preference ballot system, a method which involves voters ranking the nominees from most to least favourite and discarding the film with the least No. 1 votes and counting corresponding voters’ second choices as the first. This continues until one film ends up with the most votes. This works against Joker because while many people may adore the film, many may passionately dislike it too, making it unlikely to accumulate enough votes over multiple iterations.
- Jojo Rabbit
Much like Ford v Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit’s inclusion in the Best Picture nominee list was surprising, and at first the odds are against this film. After all, Jojo Rabbit failed to receive a Best Director nomination. Moreover, it has failed to win any major awards (e.g. DGA, PGA, Critics’ Choice). On the other hand, it was nominated for Best Ensemble by the Screen Actors’ Guild. It also won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Writers Guild Awards, making it likely to win the same prize at the Oscars too – two-thirds of Best Picture winners have won a screenplay award. Other than that, Jojo Rabbit is in many ways the kind of film that the Academy tends to lean towards; it is sentimental, it is about war and it has a strong anti-racism message which voters will like, if not love. Jojo Rabbit could potentially be a dark horse for the Oscar race.
Now onto the heavyweights. Critics and audiences have almost unanimously branded Parasite as the best film of the year (and I agree). There is, of course, the obvious caveat that only five foreign films have ever been nominated for Best Picture in history and none of them have won it. But if any film deserves to be the first, it’s Parasite by South Korean auteur Bong Joon Ho. The preferential ballot will suit Parasite (since no one dislikes the film) and its social commentary will prove attractive to voters. It has the Best Director nomination, the Original Screenplay nod (which it could very well win), which are important. It also won the Screen Actors’ Guild Best Ensemble prize, which puts it in a decent position. Aside from being a foreign film, Parasite lost the DGA and PGA top awards, which could prove costly.
- Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Until very recently, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was at the top of my list. It won Best Picture at the Critics’ Choice award (over half that have won this have won at the Oscars too) and Best Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. It has the SAG Best Ensemble nomination. It is essentially a film about the film industry, and the Academy really loves to celebrate themselves a lot. Voters may feel that they are running out of time to reward Quentin Tarantino, who has stated that he will retire after one final film. However, “recency bias” may be a factor, as films that release closest to the award season tend to win out against summer films such as this one. But more importantly, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has lost out on some crucial awards to another film, which is why I think the film that will most likely win the Oscars this year is…
It won at BAFTA. It won at the Golden Globes. It won top prizes at the Directors Guild of America Award and the Producers Guild of America Award, both of which have historically been strong indicators of the Best Picture at the Oscars – in numbers, the former and the latter have been won by 70% of the last 30 of Best Pictures at the Oscars. 1917 ticks the box for nominations for its director – Sam Mendes, who has already won for American Beauty – and its original screenplay. Sam Mendes is a shoe-in for Best Director, which helps because two-thirds of the last thirty films have also gone on to win Best Picture. On paper, there is little reason why 1917 should do so. But this year’s race is one of the most competitive in recent history and there are at least three films that could very well be crowned. And let’s not forget: this is the Oscars. Upsets have happened and will continue to happen in the future.