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"Barbie" isn’t going to win Best Picture, and that's okay


It’s my favorite time of year: Awards Season. Over the last few weeks, I've observed many of my favorite actors, television shows, and movies earn an abundance of accolades at the BAFTAs, SAGs, Golden Globes, and Emmys. With the writers’ and actors’ strikes that occurred for the larger part of 2023, it's been reassuring as someone with a deep appreciation for both writing and film to see so many talented people be acknowledged for the work they've put into creating such great pieces of art. It really is a wonderful time for any fan of film. But as much as I've enjoyed seeing the cast and crew of The Bear sweep many of these award show categories, there's one show that I look forward to more than anything else: the Oscars. 


These days, award shows aren't too popular, and it's not difficult to understand why. At their core, these celebrations are self-aggrandizing. It's a group of people in a billion-dollar industry patting themselves on the back for three hours, and yet, I'm completely entranced by it. To me, the Oscars act as a sort of staff party. A beautiful celebration at the beginning of each year to recognize and reward the best that the film industry was put forward in the previous year. Regardless of the circumstances, the continual production of good art is something anyone can appreciate. 


I think I've made it plain that I love film. I love the culture, I love going to the theater, I love reading, watching, and writing about film. But more than any of that, I love being right, and the Oscars provide me with an excellent opportunity to put my hours of film consumption to good use. Good being used subjectively here. 


Each year, when the nominees for the Oscar nominees are announced, the Academy creates a ballot for audiences to fill out with their predictions for winners. This is my favorite part of awards season, and I believe myself to be pretty good at it. That said, considering all of the great films that get released each year, sometimes it can be difficult to narrow it down. Luckily, there are much better guessers out there than myself. Specifically, American statistician Ben Zauzmer. Zauzmer has an uncanny ability to determine the nominees and winners of award shows. In his book Oscarmetrics: The Math Behind the Biggest Night in Hollywood, Zauzmer details how exactly he used statistics to accurately guess winners. According to him, "I use a mathematical model that converts each potential nominee's resume of precursor nominations and wins (such as results from the guild awards), critic scores, and betting markets into a probability that the film, actor or script will earn that coveted nomination. The basic premise of the model is that data points that have done a better job of predicting, say, the best actress nominees in the past will be the strongest predictors of this year's five finalists in that category, so those historically predictive inputs deserve more weight." By observing all of this data, Zauzmer is able to assign each film with a percentage of likeliness that they'll be nominated or win. He hasn't released his picks for winners just yet, but each of his predictions for films that would get nominated were correct. It's insanely impressive that something that, at first, seems so subjective can be easily explained with math. 


But while Zauzmer was able to correctly guess the nominees, he hasn't yet predicted this year's winner. I'm not a statistician, and I don't believe I even fully understand the gravity of all that Zauzmer is able to explain through probability. That said, I still do believe that I still have a leg in this game. I couldn't tell you what the difference of percentages is between the likeliness that Oppenheimer or Killers of the Flower Moon will take home the big prize, but I do know one key fact: if you want to win Best Picture, you have to earn Best Director first. So while I can't definitively say for sure which film I think will win Best Picture, I can say which I know won't, and that's Greta Gerwig's Barbie. 


Greta Gerwig is an incredibly talented writer and director that I admire immensely. She's released three films since her directorial debut in 2017, and all three have been nominated for Oscars, including Best Picture. Be that as it may, Gerwig has only ever been nominated for Best Director once (for Lady Bird in 2017), and that is the determining factor. Of 95 Best Picture winners, only six were for films that weren't also nominated for Best Director. Additionally, of 95 Best Picture winners, only about 11 have been Blockbusters. As well-received as that film is, the likeliness that Gerwig will overcome the fate of her predecessors is very, very low. It's unfortunate. In 2023, Barbie grossed nearly 1.5 billion dollars, making Greta Gerwig the first woman to direct a billion-dollar film. All this begs the question, what do these awards really matter? And the answer is...they don't. As much as I appreciate the existence of these ceremonies, I'll be the first to admit that they are not all-encompassing of what the film industry has to offer nor are they the end all be all of quality. Last year, Greta Gerwig created a film that got people in theaters, made people laugh, united daughters and mothers, and inspired so, so many young girls. How could a statue rival all that impact? 

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