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Oscar Predictions: How Accurate Was the Math?

02/26/2013 09:12 am ET | Updated Apr 28, 2013
  • Ben Zauzmer Harvard applied math grad with a passion for statistics, movies, and sports

Sunday evening was a fantastic night if you're a fan of Argo, Seth MacFarlane, James Bond or movie musicals. But it was an equally great night if you're a fan of movie math. In my second year predicting the Oscars with only math, my model went 17-for-21, including correct calls in the tense races for Best Picture and Best Director.

Let's take a look at what went right and what went wrong for statistics in Hollywood. First, we'll turn our attention to the closest races which Ben's Oscar Forecast picked correctly.

Best Director: Ang Lee - Life of Pi. This was a very controversial category. Many "experts," including some people endeavoring to use statistics, picked Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. Mathematically speaking, though, my model found it wasn't that close. When I crunched the numbers, Spielberg was down at 10%, even behind David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook and Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild. Why? There are a few reasons, but the biggest is that Mr. Spielberg did not receive a BAFTA nomination, which hurts him severely in a model using data from the past 15 years.

Best Picture: Argo. Many correctly called this award, while a few picked Lincoln as the favorite. While it is true that Argo was not nominated for Best Director, that is not nearly as important as the plethora of predictors Argo had going for it. For that reason, my model put Lincoln way down at 9%, with Argo up at 60%.

See the rest at Ben's Oscar Forecast.

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