Wednesday 24 July 2019

Anatomy of an Oscar win: How to spot a good Academy Award contender

David Hewlett, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, and director Guillermo del Toro making Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water
David Hewlett, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, and director Guillermo del Toro making Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water

It’s almost impossible to predict all the Oscar winners but you can begin to see some patterns if you look past the glitter and glamour.

There’ll always be a few upsets so it’s never what you might call an exact science. However, there are some contributing factors to consider if you’re trying to predict this year’s Academy Award winners.

Once you’ve made your predictions, you can catch the live awards ceremony on NOW TV from 1am on Monday.

Timing is everything

Momentum is vital if you want to win one of the big categories. Voters are only human so they get caught up in the chatter and hype as much as anyone else. Release a film too late and people won’t see it or talk about it. Release it too early and the momentum can fizzle out by the time the awards come around.

Black Panther generated a huge industry buzz when it came out, driving conversations about race and genre while shattering myths about the box office appeal of films with a predominantly black cast.

It’s also the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture. It was one of the most talked-about films of 2018 but its spring release means that it faces an uphill battle to produce a shock win.

Letitia Wright in Black Panther

Box office vs critical appeal

Ironically, Marvel’s Wakandan blockbuster may also be too successful to win a Best Picture award. It topped the US box office in 2018 but the biggest-grossing film of the year very rarely wins the Best Picture award.

The likes of Forrest Gump or The Godfather may have cracked the Oscar code as box office leaders but they’re rare exceptions that prove the rule. Both of those films blended popular appeal with undoubted craft. Their combined haul of nine Oscar wins and 15 nominations shows that sometimes box office smashes are also really, really well-made.

Broad appeal beats cult favourites

As with any vote, the consensus can often go towards the middle ground. So a film that a lot of voters liked will fare better than a film that less voters loved. The nostalgic Forrest Gump beat the likes of Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption to Best Picture back in 1995 because it had a much broader appeal than Tarantino’s sophomore effort or the prison drama.

The Shape of Water is another example of a filmmaker’s film that pipped indie outliers to Best Picture. It’s a beautifully-made period movie with classic cinematic influences that almost anyone can enjoy. If it’s a choice between a retro film with a heart of gold or an edgier film that’s breaking new boundaries, conservative Academy voters will usually choose the safe option.

Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water

Everyone loves a true story

The Academy can’t get enough of biopics and actors/actresses who play real life characters – especially if it involves a physical transformation. Throw in an against-the-odds story or a tale of adversity and you’re halfway to the ceremony. Seven of the last 10 Best Actor winners played real life characters, which tells you everything you need to know.

True stories often have an added gravitas that appeals to voters, especially when dealing with major historical events or social themes. It’s hard for an original film to replicate the emotional heft of epic films like Schindler’s List, which are uniquely placed to shine a light on historical horrors.

Look at the other industry awards

Results at other awards ceremonies doesn’t necessarily predict success but it can reveal the frontrunners. Last year’s best example was Frances McDormand, a clear favourite for Best Actress after picking up a Golden Globe, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for her terrific performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. She carried that momentum into the Oscars and duly walked away with the gong.

Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Awards like the Director’s Guild of America can be a decent barometer of who will win the main prize. Since 1948, only two of the Best Picture winners weren’t nominated for the DGA’s Outstanding Directorial Achievement.

The SAG, DGA and Producers Guild awards used to provide a more reliable indication of the favourites due to voter overlap. However, the Academy recently introduced greater diversity among its members so it no longer shares as many voters with the guilds. Still, if you’re thinking of laying a bet, it’s probably no harm to check the nominees’ form in these early races.

Below-the-line appeal

The below-the-line crew in a movie are the people outside of actors, directors, producers and writers. Success in multiple craft categories like cinematography, editing, sound, and costume design can often accompany broader success in the prestige awards.

Are you planning to watch the Academy Awards on the night? Watch out for wins in these categories for indications of who might take the top prize. A film with below-the-line support can potentially translate that success into the “big five” categories of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.

Who’s overdue for an Oscar?

For whatever reason, some actors or directors can rack up lots of Academy Awards nominations without ever winning. Miss out on enough Oscars and voters can start to think that you’re “overdue” an Oscar. Think Leonardo Di Caprio, who was nominated five times before eventually winning, or Amy Adams, who still hasn’t won an Oscar despite picking up her sixth nomination this year.

For years, Martin Scorsese was widely accepted to be the greatest working director never to have won an Oscar. Having been overlooked for films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Gangs of New York and Aviator, he finally won the Best Director for his Boston-based gangster flick, The Departed.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson in The Departed

Watch the best Oscar films now

You can now watch a host of Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated films on NOW TV, including exclusive access to many of the films that are up for awards this weekend. It’s never been easier to stream the best and newest films.

So you can catch new contenders like Black Panther, A Quiet Place and Isle of Dogs or enjoy classic winners like The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Dunkirk, The Godfather, Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump and many more.

Stream the 91st Academy Awards live on NOW TV, as well as a host of award-winning films with the Sky Cinema Pass. Grab it here.

Sponsored by: NowTV

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