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Oscar Prediction: Winslet Wins It

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Kate Winslet will very likely win her first Academy Award this year, but the Best Actor category is up for grabs, according to a just-posted statistical analysis by Iain Pardoe of the University of Oregon.

Pardoe, an associate professor of Decision Sciences in the university’s Charles H. Lundquist College of Business, gives Slumdog Millionaire an almost 6-in-10 chance of winning the Best Picture Oscar. The film’s director, Danny Boyle, has an 8-in-10 chance of winning the Best Director award.

“In a nutshell, the predictions are based on a statistical analysis of past Oscar history,” Pardoe explained. “In particular, I identify the influence of factors associated with past winners … and then calculate a score for each current nominee based on these factors.”

Pardoe’s analysis of Oscar winners dating back to 1936 found that if a movie is nominated for Best Picture or Best Director, its chances in other categories go up. A Golden Globe Award increases the odds of an Oscar win in the same category, as does an award from the Directors Guild of America.

Previous Oscar nominations are also a positive factor. “Nominees for Director and Best Actor seem to have an increased chance of winning the more times they have been nominated in previous years,” he noted.

“However,” he adds, “nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress seem to have a decreased chance of winning the more times they have won in previous years.” Academy voters, it seems, prefer to share the wealth.

Pardoe weighs all those variables along with one additional factor: which film he considers the year’s “front-running movie.” He calculates that by factoring in the number of nominations each film received in high-profile categories. The buzz surrounding the front-running film, he reasons, increases the chances of individual nominees from that movie.

His track record is quite good. In recent years, Pardoe’s predictions have been correct 70 percent of the time for Best Picture, 77 percent for Best Actor and Actress, and 93 percent for Best Director.

With all that said, the envelope, please:

For Best Picture, Pardoe calculates Slumdog Millionaire has a 59.3 percent probability of winning, followed by The Curious Case of Benjamin Button at 33.4 percent. (The others’ chances are under 5 percent.) “While both score high for receiving a high number of nominations, Slumdog Millioniare has the edge due to its Golden Globe and Producer’s Guild Awards,” he says.

Best Actress isn’t really a contest, by his calculations, with Kate Winslet having a 91.6 percent probability of winning for her intense performance as a former Nazi guard in The Reader. Best Director is also close to a lock, with Danny Boyle given an 80.9 percent probability of winning for Slumdog Millionaire.

Best Actor, however, is a much closer contest. Pardoe gives Sean Penn the best shot, with a 41.8 percent probability of winning for Milk. (He notes that the fact Penn won the Best Actor Oscar for Mystic River in 2003 works against him this year.)

He calculates Brad Pitt has a 23.2 percent probability of winning for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, while Mickey Rourke is close behind with a 21.7 percent probability of winning for The Wrestler. Frank Langella has an 11 percent probability of winning for Frost/Nixon, while Richard Jenkins – who is no doubt happy just to be nominated — has a miniscule 2.3 percent chance of winning for the critically acclaimed but not widely viewed drama The Visitor.

Of course, there are intangibles Pardoe can’t factor into his calculations, such as the sentimentality factor for the once-popular but long-forgotten Rourke. Hollywood loves a comeback story, which he embodies.

Last year, Pardoe and co-researcher Dean K. Simonton got three out of the four top categories right, correctly predicting wins for Daniel Day-Lewis, directors Joel and Ethan Cohen and the film No Country for Old Men. Sadly, his strong belief Julie Christie would win the Best Actress award for Away From Her (he calculated her chances at 71.8 percent) did not come to pass, as Marion Cotillard (10.7 percent probability) won for La Vie en Rose.

So don’t give up yet, Angelina Jolie. Anything is possible.