What This Year’s Oscars Taught Us

Hi, there. So, I’m the guy who used data to declare that this year’s race for Best Picture was the closest in the modern Oscar era. I then said it would come down to Lady Bird or Call Me By Your Name and, if not them, then a few others. But probably not The Shape of Water. Pretty sure not The Shape of Water. No way it would be The Shape of Water.

Okay, okay, so I was wrong. Or rather, my data was wrong. Now that the Oscars dust has settled, it’s apparent that a mistake has been made. I, however, will not admit defeat and instead am going to go out on a tiny limb here and say it’s the Oscars who were wrong, for two primary reasons. One, I like the idea that it isn’t *my* mistake, but the Academy’s, and two, all the data says that The Shape of Water isn’t anyone’s best picture, and isn’t that what the award is supposed to go to?

Of course, determining something as particular as “Best Picture” is bound to have some controversy. Most people’s “Best Picture” this year was Wonder Woman. Or Logan. Or, in my case, War for the Planet of the Apes. Given that various groups all pick their own “Best Picture,” this discussion will only center around those movies nominated by the Academy. If you don’t like the list of nominees, I’d imagine you aren’t much of an Oscars fan anyway. I *do* like the Oscars and I’m perfectly content with the idea that the best film wasn’t necessarily the most watched. This year, though, there was a big miss.

The Critics Didn’t Think Much Of It

I won’t say the critics disliked The Shape of Water. Rather, they just liked other movies much more. The Shape of Water scored a whopping 92 on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty amazing considering that only a handful of the very popular Marvel movies have ever reached that lofty spot. But *four other* nominees scored higher, including Lady Bird and Get Out at 99% each. On Metacritic, the story is similar. The eventual best picture winner achieved a very respectable score of 86. This was only good for 5th on the list of Best Picture nominees, though. Lady Bird, again, and Dunkirk both scored better, at an astounding 94. Obviously, the critics weren’t voting for Shape of Water as their best picture.

The Audiences Said “Meh” Too

Who cares about critics, right? Most people who went and saw SoW liked it! While that’s certainly true, we find a situation again where, comparing data points, audiences definitely preferred other movies on this list. On IMDB, where movie-loving users drive the score, four films (again!) beat out SoW. The little-seen Phantom Thread did the best here, with an IMDB score of 8.4 versus SoW‘s 79. Back over at Rotten Tomatoes, the volatile Audience Score thought even less of the Best Picture winner, placing it 7th out of the nine nominees with a pedestrian score of 76.

Not A Firestarter At The Box Office Either

Most people are pretty aware that box office dollars don’t equate with Best Picture wins, but it should be noted that the correlation isn’t that far off. Several box office successes* have won Best Picture. Many more films make a lot of money and get nominated. Dunkirk made over $500 million at the box office. Get Out made it out of theaters with more than $170 million. Best Picture nominees tend to do better internationally than here in America, but SoW lost out to five other nominees in this category, scoring only $127 million worldwide.

*SoW was made for somewhere around $20 million, so it’s a financial success any way you cut it but not so successful as its peers.

The Problem?

So how did The Shape of Water, a movie preferred much less than other movies, end up taking home the big prize? Many people are pointing to the way the Academy awards the statue for Best Picture (and Best Picture only). Instead of using a straight-up voting system where the film with the most votes win, voters rank each film in the category and a runoff total is used. For those not up on their voting strategies, a runoff system means that no winner is declared until one movie receives a majority of the first-place votes. When all the votes come in, the movie with the least number of first-place votes is eliminated. Any ballot that had that film as its first-place choice transfers its first-place vote to its number two film. This continues until one film is the majority winner.

Runoff voting has found success in a lot of formats, particularly in various political races around the world. That’s because runoff voting tends to eliminate controversy and “safe” choices take home the prize. Call Me By Your Name, for instance, was beloved by critics, but can we be sure that the film’s homosexual love story didn’t turn off many voters? Lady Bird was likewise loved, but doesn’t exactly have the same impact on a sixty-something male Academy voter as it does on younger audiences (most of whom don’t get a vote anyway).

In the end, we end up getting a winner like The Shape of Water, an interesting, even memorable, movie, but one that hardly anyone seems to think is “the best.” To me, any movie called “the best” ought to – at least – have a dedicated, and decently large, group of people staking its claim to that title. SoW doesn’t seem to have that. Next year? I’d like to see voting by caucus! (I kid, I kid.)

What do you think of this year’s winner? Am I off-base here? Can you make an argument for (or against) The Shape of Water? Hit us up in the comments down below!

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Brian Jasper

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