Oscar Numbers: Shocking Wins of the 2000s
This article was originally published on April 23, 2021.
There’s no better feeling. My jaw drops slightly - not like a cartoon character, but just enough to make my mouth dry. I lift slightly off my seat, maybe further if it’s something I wanted. The words change, but there’s always an exclamation escaping unbidden from my throat. This is the Oscar night surprise. The Crash win (“NO”) or the Bong Joon-ho victory (“LET’S GO!”).
So what have been the biggest surprises? Which winners have come out of seemingly nowhere? There are a lot of ways - objective and otherwise - to evaluate who is expected to win versus who actually takes home the trophy. I picked one, and only one, and ran an analysis of the last 20 years in Oscar winners.
I took the top 6 categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress) and looked at the very things we all pay attention to for months: precursor awards.
I granted points to each Oscar winner using the following allocation:
NY and LA Film Critics: 2 points (1 point for runner-up in LA)
National Board of Review and National Society of Film Critics: 3 points
Critics Choice Award: 4 points
Golden Globe Award: 5 points
BAFTA Award: 7 points
Relevant Guild (SAG, DGA, PGA): 9 points
This isn’t a complete analysis of shock factor. It is a rough approximation of the predictive factor of each award. It only awards points for a win, so it doesn’t account for nominations. For Best Picture, it doesn’t include success in “Best Ensemble” at the SAG awards. But this approach allows us a glimpse into the most shocking (and the least) victories, and lets us compare across categories and years. It also allows us to view this year’s nominees in light of past precedent.
For each category, I’ll look at: (1) the most shocking winner(s); (2) the least shocking winner; (3) the number of “surprising” winners, calculated by 10 or fewer total points; (4) the number of “certain” winners, calculated by 25 or more total points; and (5) where this year’s nominees stack up.
Without further ado, let’s go.
Best Supporting Actress
Most Shocking Winner: Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock, 2000. 2 points (NYFCC)
Least Shocking Winner: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood, 2014. 32 points (only missed NBR).
Surprising Winners: 2. Harden and Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, 2007, 9 points).
Certain Winners: 9. In ascending order: Renee Zellweger, Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, Allison Janney, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Hudson, Laura Dern, Mo’Nique, and Arquette.
This Year: Yuh-jung Youn comes in at a solid 21 points - upper middle of the pack, just a few points away from “certain.” Others with points are Maria Bakalova (9) and Amanda Seyfried (1).
The average Best Supporting Actress winner earned 20.4 points before Oscar night.
Best Supporting Actor
Most Shocking Winner: George Clooney, Syriana, 2005. 5 points (Golden Globe)
Least Shocking Winner: Tie. JK Simmons, Whiplash, 2014. Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds, 2009. 32 points (both missed NBR).
Surprising Winners: 3. Clooney, Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine, 2006, 7), and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, 2004, 10).
Certain Winners: 9. In ascending order: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Sam Rockwell, Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Brad Pitt, Waltz, and Simmons.
This Year: Daniel Kaluuya sits comfortably at 25 points, right at the edge of certainty. Paul Raci has 7 points - low but not impossible.
The average Best Supporting Actor winner earned 20.4 points before Oscar night.
Most Shocking Winner: Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball, 2001. 12 points.
Least Shocking Winner: Hellen Mirren, The Queen, 2006. 35 points (no misses).
Surprising Winners: 0.
Certain Winners: 9. In ascending order: Natalie Portman, Frances McDormand, Renee Zellweger, Julianne Moore, Brie Larson, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Cate Blanchett.
This Year: In the most exciting category, every single nominee has fewer points than every single winner of the last 20 years. By this method, we will have the most “surprising” winner in two decades (though this ignores the fact that without a frontrunner, no winner would be a real shock). Viola Davis and Frances McDormand are tied with 10 points, and Carey Mulligan comes in right behind with 9. Andra Day has 5.
The average Best Actress winner earned 22 points before Oscar night.
Most Shocking Winner: Denzel Washington, Training Day, 2001. 2 points (LA)
Least Shocking Winner: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland, 2006. 35 (no misses).
Surprising Winners: 3. Washington, Adrien Brody (The Pianist, 2002, 3), and Russell Crowe (Gladiator, 2000, 4).
Certain Winners: 10. In ascending order: Leonardo DiCaprio, Casey Affleck, Gary Oldman, Joaquin Phoenix, Colin Firth, Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Jamie Foxx, Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Whitaker.
This Year: Chadwick Boseman isn’t as strong as some may think, but he’s certainly the front-runner with 20 points, a bit outside certainty range. A Hopkins win would certainly be surprising, as he only has 7 points thus far. Riz Ahmed does have 4 points.
The average Best Actor winner earned 21.6 points before Oscar night.
Most Shocking Winner: Ang Lee, Life of Pi, 2012. 0 points.
Least Shocking Winner: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain, 2005. 32 points (missed NBR).
Surprising Winners: 5. Lee, Bong Joon-ho (Parasite, 2019, 6), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, 2010, 9), Alejandro Inarritu (Birdman, 2015, 9), Roman Polanski (The Pianist, 2002, 10)
Certain Winners: 7. In ascending order: Damien Chazelle, Danny Boyle, Kathryn Bigelow, Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron (Roma), Lee.
This Year: Chloe Zhao has 32 points, tied for the most ever among previous winners with Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain. She’s as close to a sure thing as you can get.
The average Best Director winner earned 19 points before Oscar night.
Most Shocking Winner: Crash, 2005. 0 points.
Least Shocking Winner: Slumdog Millionaire, 2008. 28 points.
Surprising Winners: 9! Crash, Million Dollar Baby (2004, 4), The Departed (2006, 4), Parasite (2019, 8), A Beautiful Mind (2001, 9), Birdman (2014, 9), Spotlight (2015, 9), Green Book (2018, 9), Moonlight (2016, 10).
Certain Winners: 7. In ascending order: Gladiator, Argo, 12 Years a Slave, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Hurt Locker, The Artist, Slumdog Millionaire
This Year: Nomadland has more points (29) than any Best Picture winner of the last 20 years under this method.
The average Best Picture winner earned 15.5 points before Oscar night.