Metacritic analyzes two decades of Oscar nominees to determine how critical reception affects Best Picture wins.
One of the best parts of the annual Academy Awards for many movie fans is participating in betting pools with family members, friends, and colleagues. Some may rely on their own instincts having seen (or at least read about) the majority of the nominated titles and talent, while others may read up on the outcomes experts are expecting, and others may look to critical reviews of the movies to get a better sense of the landscape. None of these are foolproof methods, as the actual winning votes are cast by thousands of members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. But they can all help guide the way nonetheless, with one of the most interesting areas of study being how critical reviews relate to eventual Oscar wins.
"Critics matter because they're picking up on the same aesthetics that the Academy does," Gabriel Rossman, associate professor at UCLA and co-author of "Close, But No Cigar: The Bimodal Rewards to Prize-Seeking," tells Metacritic.
Both care about how well executed a film is, he continues, but because critics see the films early, they can "shape the discourse" around them, even for Academy voters.
"Critics value a good acting performance, and the Academy also values a good acting performance, so in that case critics could be a leading indicator [because] critics can highlight a good acting performance and even make a case for a good acting performance, and the members of the Academy might directly or indirectly pick up on that," he explains.
WIth a Metascore of 91, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's Drive My Car is the highest-rated Best Picture nominee of 2022. ABC News' Peter Travers called it a "flat-out masterpiece" in January, just days before Oscar voting opened, and with a total of four noms, it became one of the biggest surprises on Oscar nomination morning.
Following closely behind Drive My Car are Licorice Pizza and The Power of the Dog, with Metascores of 90 and 89, respectively. The middle of the 10-nominee pack includes West Side Story (85), King Richard (76), and Belfast and CODA (each with a score of 75). The lowest-rated nominees are Dune (74), Nightmare Alley (69), and Don't Look Up (49).
Being beloved by critics helps Drive My Car in some respects, but it does not make it a shoo-in for an eventual Oscar win.
Since 2000, 11 Best Picture Oscar winners were the highest-rated movies within their nominee group, according to their Metascores: American Beauty with a Metascore of 84 in 2000, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King with a score of 94 in 2004, Million Dollar Baby (86) in 2005, Slumdog Millionaire (84) in 2009, The Hurt Locker (95) in 2010, The Artist (89) in 2012, 12 Years a Slave (96) in 2014, Spotlight (93) in 2016, Moonlight (99) in 2017, Parasite (96) in 2020, and Nomadland (93) just last year.
This is only a 50% accuracy rate of relating the highest-rated Best Picture nominee to the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner. In the years where the Best Picture winner was not also the highest-rated movie in contention, that movie often fell somewhere in the middle of the pack. (See The King's Speech, which has a Metascore of 88, winning in 2011 and The Departed with a Metascore of 85 winning in 2007.) Where things get even more interesting are in such years as 2015 when nominated drama Boyhood, which has an actual perfect (and rare) Metascore of 100, lost the Best Picture Oscar to Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which has a Metascore of 87; 2006 when the winner (Crash) had the lowest Metascore (66) of all five nominees; and 2002-2005, when each year's highest-rated nominee was The Lord of the Rings installment, but only the third movie in that trilogy ended up taking home the trophy.
The disconnect could be because "critics might be younger than Academy voters because Academy membership can be lifetime, and they might value different things," Rossman says. But there are additional factors that come into play when Academy members are casting their votes that affect the outcome, as well.
Genres, big-name talent, the number of total Oscar noms (as well as previous awards attention), and story themes/topics can affect a film's Oscar chances. Looking at the latter, Rossman notes that "political scandal, investigative reporting, disabilities, war crimes, and the entertainment industry itself" have all been historically of interest to voters. In the last few years, he adds, diversity has become an important factor. The Academy set new inclusion requirements for the best picture category at the end of 2020, which kick into effect this year.
Additionally, there is all of the heavy campaigning that goes into For Your Consideration (FYC) season that can help boost the profile of a title and those involved. The amount of advertising and marketing dollars a studio puts behind a movie and the visibility of the actors, writers, directors, and craftspeople during the voting window work in tandem to increase voters' awareness. Full critical reviews may get buried in the backs' of minds at this point, reduced to snappy pull quotes highlighting the best a title has to offer on a poster, commercial, or seconds-long sponsored pre-roll on online videos. Meanwhile, other award wins leading up to Hollywood's biggest night push those titles to front-runner status.
Case in point: CODA, which just won a PGA Award and a WGA Award (for Best Adapted Screenplay) and previously picked up a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay; the Movie of the Year award from AFI; and two Screen Actors Guild Awards: for its ensemble and its supporting actor, Troy Kotsur, who also won a Critics Choice Award and a Gotham Award.
Drive My Car does still check a couple of important boxes for Academy voters, though: In addition to its critical acclaim, it also has the potential to make history, as a win would mark it the second non-English language film to take the top prize. It is also nominated for Best International Feature Film, and when Parasite was up for both, it ended up winning both. In the spirit of not calling the race before the accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers do, it is worth noting that some of the other Best Picture nominees have more overall noms: The Power of the Dog is the most-nominated with 12, while Dune has 10, both Belfast and West Side Story have seven each, and King Richard has six, which kept them very visible on the ballot.
However, the majority of top experts are predicting CODA, which made history as the first film led by a Deaf cast to land in this prestigious category, will go all the way on Oscar night. See if they're right when the 2022 Oscars air live on March 27 beginning at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on ABC.