Contender Countdown: Who wins the critics’ battle on the road to Oscar?

12.30.14 3 years ago 9 Comments

For this edition of the Contender Countdown we're going to approach the race for a Best Picture nomination a little differently. Now that every major contender has opened in at least limited release outside of “A Most Violent Year,” we can finally review how the nation's critics have judge them on a broader, consensus basis. As Nate Silver may have realized when he tried to predict Oscar, you can't count on statistics with so many factors in play, but if presented comparably it might make you rethink the possibilities. To make this investigation work we'll use both the Rotten Tomatoes percentage score and the Metacritic grade to illuminate some very interesting data-driven discoveries.

First, some facts to consider…

– Since the Academy expanded the field almost six years ago each Best Picture winner has scored at least a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 86 grade on Metacritic. Here's the rundown:

“12 Years A Slave”
RT – 97
Meta – 97

“Argo”
RT – 96
Meta – 86

“The Artist”
RT – 98
Meta – 89

“The King's Speech”
RT – 94
Meta – 88

“The Hurt Locker”
RT – 97
Meta – 94

– If you compare the winners from 2000 on, “Crash” has the worst score with a 75% on RT and a 69 on Meta although “A Beautiful Mind” isn't that far behind with a 75% on RT and a 72 on Meta.

– The nominee with the lowest score over the past six years is, without question, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” with a 46 from both indexes (ouch). That's really an aberration, however. The next worst rated film is “The Blind Side” which earned a 66% on RT and a 53 on Meta. “Les Misérables” and “The Help” follow with results in the 70's for each index followed by “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “War Horse.”

– Looking back at titles when the Academy was still picking just five nominees, “Chocolat's” 63% and a 64 grade and “The Reader's” 61% and 58 grade are the two other least critically acclaimed nominees this century.

Got all that? Good. Let's look at the 2015 contenders so far. I've asterisked any potential nominee that has not expanded nationwide as their review scores may increase or decrease when that occurs. By order of their current grades…

“Boyhood”
RT – 99%
Meta – 100

“Selma”*
RT – 100%
Meta – 91

“Whiplash”
RT – 96%
Meta – 87

“A Most Violent Year”*
RT – 95%
Meta – 86

“Birdman”
RT – 93%
Meta – 89

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
RT – 92%
Meta – 88

“Foxcatcher
RT – 86%
Meta – 82

“Gone Girl”
RT – 88%
Meta – 79

“The Imitation Game”
RT – 89%
Meta – 72

“Nightcrawler”
RT – 85%
Meta – 76

“The Theory of Everything”
RT – 81%
Meta – 72

“Interstellar”
RT – 73%
Meta – 74

“American Sniper”*
RT – 74%
Meta – 73
Note: Comparatively, “Lone Survivor” was 75% and 60.

“Into the Woods”
RT – 71%
Meta – 71
Note: No joke, “Les Misérables” reviews were actually worse.

“Unbroken”
RT – 51%
Meta – 59

What have we learned? Well, unless “Unbroken” is the second coming of “Extremely Loud” or “The Blind Side” it “should” be an uphill battle for it to make the field despite the strong box office so far. In fact, it would go completely against recent trends if Angelina Jolie's epic made the cut. There hasn't been a nominee that badly reviewed since the Academy put forth its vote qualifiers for the Best Picture field four years ago.

Comparing the current field's results to the last five winners would tell us this year's Best Picture winner would have to be “Boyhood,” “Selma” or, possibly, “Birdman” (we're assuming the national reviews will bring “A Most Violent Year” down a tad). That means if “The Imitation Game” won it would be the fourth worst reviewed winner this century after “Crash,” “Gladiator” and “A Beautiful Mind.” Yes, Academy members do love it, but do they love it that much? Hey, just the facts, ma'am.

Of course, this is just what the critics think. Clearly the Academy and the guilds have minds of their own. Still, if you were to play the trends…

What do you think of the current field? Can “The Imitation Game” buck history and go all the way?

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