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Oscar Analysts Are Sincere — but Often Totally Wrong

With Oscars arriving Feb. 24, we can expect multiple “who will win/who should win” columns. There will also be a flurry of post-show analyses about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and why members voted the way they did. Since AMPAS never releases polls or voting tallies, these pundits will never be contradicted by facts.

All of these pieces are earnest, harmless and sometimes fun, but they usually overlook the complexity of Academy voters — and human nature.

There are four key areas to expect:

1. Journalists and bloggers seem to think that there are correct and incorrect votes. The “will win/should win” is just one variation of this. On Jan. 22, the staid New Yorker sighed about “The Dismaying 2019 Oscar Nominations — and Who Should Have Made the List.” In the L.A. Times, it was “Heartbreaks, and a Few That Voters Got Right.” One international reviewer presented his choice of Oscar winners, saying that their victories “seem like the only way to salvage some pride from this awards season.” Until that moment, I hadn’t realized the season needed redemption. All art is a matter of personal taste, and that includes film and, by extension, awards voting: There is no right and wrong. But these lofty proclamations are just a coded way of saying “Oscar voters are free to make their own choices, as long as they agree with me.”

2. There will be endless “snubs” stories after the ceremony; people apparently think that if an individual or film does not win, nobody voted for them. After nominations were announced, website Insider wrote that women were “locked out” of the director category. A Vanity Fair story was headlined “Female Directors Snubbed Again.” One prominent awards pundit fretted that Academy voters resent Bradley Cooper and therefore snubbed him as a director. These writers seem to overlook the fact that this year’s five nominated directors (who happen to be men) actually deserved their nominations. Somebody had to come in sixth or seventh. (Personally, I would have voted for Debra Granik for “Leave No Trace,” but I’m happy to salute the actual nominees and I suspect she is too.)

3. Every year, pundits predict that any new voting pattern marks a new era for Oscars. This year, there are a lot of foreign-language nominees in various categories and more films with blacks, Latinos and LGBT characters. After nominations were announced, an L.A. Times writer described this as “game-changing”; others seem to think the strong presence of box-office hits “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star Is Born” means Oscar voters have finally learned to look beyond the arthouse/specialty world. The writers believe it will always be thus. That may be true, but let’s talk in 10 years.

4. Analysts want to take a scientific approach to Oscars, which aren’t scientific. Many folks try to apply the Law of Cause & Effects, believing every AMPAS decision has one direct cause. Some presume that the 20% jump in voters since 2015 (now numbering 7,902) must be the reason for the increased presence of black-Latino-LGBT characters in best-picture contenders. Maybe that’s true; but it’s also possible that there are multiple explanations, including changes in the industry, in society and in the zeitgeist. The studios — and crucially, the money people — are less cautious than they were a few years ago, realizing that U.S. and overseas audiences are open to black action heroes and gay protagonists, for example. Maybe that 20% has changed everything, or maybe Oscar voters just had more diverse offerings this year.

5. As you read all the articles surrounding Feb. 24, you might have the same reaction I did when reading the New Yorker’s analysis in January. The writer declared three of the eight best-picture nominees are “vain celebrations of the classic Hollywood method itself,” while another film represented “an utterly ignominious nomination.” It raises the annual question: If you dislike Hollywood and the Oscars so much, why are you writing about them?

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