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Nate Silver Predicts the Oscars -- Statistical Frontrunners and Nominees with "more noise than signal"

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood February 22, 2013 at 1:10PM

"Political calculus" election guru Nate Silver is taking his third stab at Oscar predictions in the six major categories -- he previously predicted in 2009 and 2011 -- and using a no-nonsense approach. While Silver doesn't boast a perfect Oscar track record, he claims that his method of basing the winners off other awards given out in the run-up to the Academy Awards is "the best predictor of Oscar success" and the closest equivalent to pre-election polls.
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Nate Silver
Nate Silver

"Political calculus" election guru Nate Silver is taking his third stab at Oscar predictions in the six major categories -- he previously predicted in 2009 and 2011 -- and using a no-nonsense approach. While Silver doesn't boast a perfect Oscar track record, he claims that his method of basing the winners off other awards given out in the run-up to the Academy Awards is "the best predictor of Oscar success" and the closest equivalent to pre-election polls.

Like many Oscar prognosticators, Silver looks at how often percentage-wise an award recipient has corresponded with a certain Oscar win over the past 25 years. For example, the winner of the DGA has gone on to win Best Picture 80 percent of the time, while the winner of the PGA has gone on to Oscar success 70 percent of the time -- making "Argo" the clear statistical frontrunner this year. (Of course others argue that Affleck's "snub" in the Best Director Oscar category could make this less of a certainty, but Silver doesn't go in for such alchemy -- he writes that "methods that seek to account for a more complex array of factors are picking up on a lot of spurious correlations and identifying more noise than signal.")

One could argue that this method neither accounts for this year's anomalies nor the idiosyncracies of the Academy, who vote on gut instinct much of the time. That said, I agree with all the votes below except for the directors' race, which is extremely close. I went for Ang Lee. (Check out my predictions, the latest Gurus 'O Gold poll and Oscar Talk.) Silver's predictions for the six major categories and chart are below. His full blog post with charts and more in-depth mathematical explanations is here.

Nate Silver Chart

Best Picture: "Argo"

Best Director: Steven Spielberg ("Lincoln")

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis ("Lincoln")

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook")

Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln")

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables")

This article is related to: Awards, Academy Awards, Oscars, Awards, Nate Silver, Argo, Steven Spielberg, Steven Spielberg


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.