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Looking Back At Our Oscar Predictions: Lo, There Shall Come A Reckoning

PricewaterhouseOOPSer: Jimmy Kimmel and Warren Beatty at the 89th Academy Awards, enveloped in confusion.
Image Group LA
ABC via Getty Images
PricewaterhouseOOPSer: Jimmy Kimmel and Warren Beatty at the 89th Academy Awards, enveloped in confusion.

So. How'd you do?

Did you follow my advice in making your Oscar pool picks?

... You did? All of them? Hunh.

Well then. That means you got 13 out of the evening's 24 categories correct.

That's ... 54%.

So. Yes. Well. Cough.

You probably didn't win, then. But what is "winning," anyway? This is art, we're talking about! The sundry achievements of those engaged in the magic of cinema, with its dreams made of flickering light and shadow, are not some base, competitive sport, surely! Why, the very idea!

Whither aesthetics? Whither the life of the soul? Whither the no yeah okay I get it, you lost, and that sucks.

Fifty-four percent! After all my rigorous work, all that big hard science, all those pipettes and Tesla coils and slide rules and whatnot: I was slightly better than a coin toss.

But only slightly.

It is thus incumbent upon me to make a full accounting: to collectively examine the picks that I got, in the coarse, unimaginitive language of mundane causality, "wrong." I will do so in the order the awards were handed out. But before I dive in, some words of cool, objective, overarching analysis (read: whiny defensiveness).

What Went Wrong?

As noted in my predictions post, I attempted to account for the fact that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences had recently taken steps to deepen and diversify their voting pool. Almost 10% of those who voted for this year's awards were first-time voters, and this influx of new members featured more people of color, more women, and more international voters, all of whom were, on average, younger than the Academy's general membership.

In my mind, this strongly suggested that this year's Oscar buzz — the conventional wisdom that accrues over the course of awards season — was based on an outdated understanding of the voting base, and could and should be interrogated more robustly than ever.

And yet, again and again, in these 11 cases, the conventional wisdom proved wiser than I was.

Wrong Picks, Reviewed

Makeup and Hairstyling

I Picked: Star Trek Beyond

What Won: Suicide Squad

The first cut of the evening was the deepest. I confess I let my heart lead me, here. Or, more specifically, my simmering resentment of the long minutes I'd spent sitting through a film that played like Sid-from- Toy-Story's dream journal. But as a pure technical achievement, Suicide Squad featured more elaborately realized constructions than Star Trek Beyond, its closest competitor. Even so. It's going take some getting used to, spiritually.

Costume Design

I Picked: La La Land

What Won: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

This should have tipped me off that the evening was not going to go well, either for the La La Land sweep that some were projecting or for, you know, me. I had noted that the Academy loves period costumes — all those gussets and buttons and whalebone whatevers. I should have guessed that this tendency would carry the day, especially when you add to the sartorial mix a bit of Potterverse wizarding flair.

Sound Mixing

I Picked: La La Land

What Won: Hacksaw Ridge

I figured this was the award with which La La Land would establish its beachhead on the way to a decisive series of victories, but I overlooked the possibility that the old-school Oscar voters would 1. revert to type, by recognizing a war movie in this category, and 2. honor sound mixer Kevin O'Connell with his first win, after nominating him 21 times.

Sound Editing

We Picked: Hacksaw Ridge

What Won: Arrival

Right church, wrong pew. I knew Hacksaw Ridge would win some sound award, I just picked the wrong one. It would be tidy — too tidy — to ascribe Arrival's win, here, to a collective intention on the part of the Academy to recognize that film's many achievements — and the fact that it was going to lose all of its many other nominations (best picture, director, cinematography, editing, sound mixing, adapted screenplay and production design).

Short Film, Live Action

I Picked: Ennemis Interieurs

What Won: Sing

Okay, I knew I got this one wrong. I could smell it. Not right away, but as the evening progressed, and so many of the categories were won by nominees that had been widely predicted to win them, I took another look at my pick — the tense, uncompromising French film about national identity and terrorism — and realized I'd screwed up. It was my favorite of the five, and I thought it felt engaged and topical in a way voters would reward. But then, as the nominees were announced, I saw all those shots from Sing, of little girls singing, and I thought: Oh,right . Kids singing. People like kids singing. I've made a huge mistake.I even said it, aloud, to my Pop Culture Happy Hour colleagues: "It's gonna be [expletive] Sing!" I said. And so, just three seconds later, it [expletive] was.

Film Editing

I Picked: La La Land

What Won: Hacksaw Ridge

I figured La La Land's award-fu was strong enough to carry this category as well, but, as often happens, the film featuring gripping battle scenes — which rely so greatly upon deft editing to ensure viewers can feel, much less follow, the action — took the prize.

Documentary, Short Subject

I Picked: Joe's Violin

What Won: The White Helmets

I was just too cynical here, and made precisely the opposite mistake I'd made with live action short, above. I figured The White Helmets, which tells the story of the volunteer rescue workers who've saved tens of thousands of lives in the Syrian civil war, was so stark that voters would gravitate towards the homier uplift of Joe's Violin. (Also? Not for nothing? If you were setting out to parody the world of documentary filmmaking, and you were casting about for a title that said "heartwarming inspiration," you'd likely settle on something that sounded a lot like " Joe's Violin.") But in the end, the work of the White Helmets is inspiring, and uplifting, and it comes with a sense of desperate urgency that lent this film the momentum it needed to nab it the Academy Award.

Original Song

I Picked:"How Far I'll Go," Moana

What Won:"City of Stars," La La Land

I knew this one was a longshot, but I couldn't help myself. I wanted to see Lin-Manuel Miranda EGOT so badly that I took my eyes off the ball-ad. I sincerely believed enough Oscar voters would want to be part of that history as well. What I neglected to realize, of course, is: 1. Miranda is young, so he'll get many other shots, none of which he is likely to throw away, and 2. Academy members vote for life, so when he does get those other shots, they'll still be around, too. There's no rush. (Which is something you can certainly say for "City of Stars," a tune so slow and lugubrious it makes Pachelbel's Canon in D sound like a tarantella.)


I Picked: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

What Won: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

I knew there'd be a best picture/director split, I just got it exactly wrong. (I think we can safely say, now that four of the last five Oscars have featured a best picture/director split, that such once-rare incidences have become the new normal.)

Actor in a Leading Role

I Picked: Denzel Washington, Fences

What Won: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Even apart from the sexual harassment allegations dogging the actor, I figured Affleck's performance in this particular film might strike some Oscar voters as too inward to stand up against the boisterous life-force Washington summoned in Fences. Nope.

Best Picture

I Picked: La La Land

What Won: Moonlight ... (You know ... eventually)

For four glorious minutes near the end of Sunday night's Oscars broadcast, my predictions stood at 58% accurate. But then that very, very worried-looking stagehand ran onstage, carrying an envelope. And then: bedlam. Marvelous, terrifying, I-can't-believe-this-little-tiny-film-about-a-poor-black-gay-kid-will-be-forever-enshrined-in-cinematic-history, bedlam.

Those other 10 categories, I resent getting wrong. I will always resent getting wrong. Ten tiny daggers to the gut. But not this one.

Not this one.

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Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.
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