This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

February 21, 2009

Nate Does Oscar

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — pprscribe @ 10:00 am

Brilliant statistician Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com has lent his considerable numbers crunching talent to the prediction of this year’s Academy Awards. He has Slumdog Millionaire at 99.7% to win for the Best Director category, and 99.0% to win for the Best Picture category.

If there is an upset here, Silver thinks it will be Milk, but perhaps only winning one of these two big categories.

For Best Supporting Actress, Silver has Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) at a  51% chance of taking the shiny golden man home.

(He has more comments about his predictions on his website here; He also recently appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann.)

This is how he figures it all out, as explained in New York Magazine:

Formally speaking, this required the use of statistical software and a process called logistic regression. Informally, it involved building a huge database of the past 30 years of Oscar history. Categories included genre, MPAA classification, the release date, opening-weekend box office (adjusted for inflation), and whether the film won any other awards. We also looked at whether being nominated in one category predicts success in another. For example, is someone more likely to win Best Actress if her film has also been nominated for Best Picture? (Yes!) But the greatest predictor (80 percent of what you need to know) is other awards earned that year, particularly from peers (the Directors Guild Awards, for instance, reliably foretells Best Picture). Genre matters a lot (the Academy has an aversion to comedy); MPAA and release date don’t at all. A film’s average user rating on IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) is sometimes a predictor of success; box grosses rarely are.

That Nate Silver has gotten into the entertainment prediction business is wonderful news for someone like me who rarely ever sees more than three or four of the nominated films prior to the Oscars megaprogram. And who is not that much into fashion, or much interested in knowing who’s zoomin who. Now if I watch I will have something to do–seeing if logistic regression analysis and Oscar history are worthy predictors of who gets to thank the Academy, their agents and mothers at the podium and who must content themselves with claiming “It was an honor just to be nominated.”

Perhaps I’ll even watch the award ceremony with a big bowl of popcorn and a beer or two–the latter in support of my country’s economy: more of Silver’s numbers crunching suggests that beer may no longer be “recession proof.”

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