Lessons learned from Oscars 2016 surprises and upsets

After watching last night's Oscar telecast there were some clear observations which would have helped identify some of the major Oscar surprises.

After watching last night's Oscar telecast there were some clear observations which I've known for a while but don't always follow. I'll pass them along along with lessons I learned.

1. The SAG Awards are the best predictor of Oscar success. Every single winner of the SAG Award also won the Oscar. This included 2 upsets when Mark Rylance beat Sylvester Stallone for best supporting actor and when Spotlight won best film. SAG members make up the largest portion of the Academy voters so it only makes sense their picks will hold more sway than other voters. It was my belief that Sylvester Stallone and The Revenant would win anyways since neither was nominated for the SAG and it would be rectified at the Oscars. But as some pundits pointed out, when an actor or film isn't nominated for a SAG there's a reason and the actors will stick to their guns and support their colleague's award picks. Aside from Braveheart no film that wasn't nominated for best cast won the Oscar and with the new voting format at the Oscars a non-nomination makes that film even less likely. Lesson learned.

2. There's no such thing as momentum. Heading into the Oscars everyone talked about the films that had the momentum because they were getting all the buzz. These included Sylvester Stallone, Kate Winslet and of course The Revenant for best picture. The actors were on all the talk shows, they were winning all the late industry accolades and they were getting the late awards like the BAFTA awards. But in the end the awards went to the early favorites and in particular to the SAG winners. The majority in the Academy send their picks before any of these late events occur so "momentum" means little.

"Miracle upsets can happen . . . "

3. The DGA award winner will take best director. Unless a director that wins a DGA award is not nominated for an Oscar, eg. Ben Affleck for Argo, the Academy always gives the award to the DGA winner.

4. Miracle upsets can happen. Until this year the biggest upset in any category was when Crash beat Brokeback Mountain for best picture in 2005 at about 15/1 odds. That was shattered when Ex Machina won best visual effects this year. This was supposed to be a tossup between Star Wars:The Force Awakens and Mad Max:Fury Road. And after winning all the early awards Mad Max looked like a lock. But when Ex Machina won the award at odds as high as 100/1 when it couldn't even win a BAFTA award in its own country's award show everyone was left scratching their heads. But to anyone who did see this impossible winner coming they got a nice addition to their bank accounts.

5. For short subjects go for the upsets. My big mistake for animated short, live action short and documentary short is that I did research and picked the films with the most accolades. In the end it went to The bear, A girl in the river and The stutterer all at odds of about 6-1 to 8-1. I've been told many times that most of the Academy don't vote for these categories because they either haven't watched the films or would rather that those in the short film industry make their own picks for their peers. And most of the time they try to award it to a film that hasn't been winning all the critics awards because they would rather spread the recognition. I should have listened. Lesson learned.

6. Sacha Baron Cohen or Louis C.K. would make great Oscar hosts. Both were hilarious on stage and would add a true sense of humor to the telecast. It won't happen because the Academy wouldn't be able to control them but they would be far better than Chris Rock, Seth Meyers, Neal Patrick Harris etc. They have the potential to actually make the Oscars bearable.

7. And the last lesson – hedge. Best picture was always between The Revenant and Spotlight. I had the Revenant with odds as high as 4 to 1. So when it dropped to 1 to 5 while Spotlight rose to 4 to 1 on Oscar day, the obvious thing to do would be to bet on Spotlight at 4/1 to guarantee a profit. It's difficult to actually bet on something you don't like but if your ultimate goal is to make money then it's the only option.

That concludes my lessons and observations. Let's see if I stick to them in 2017.

Read insights from Hartley Henderson every week here at OSGA and check out Hartley's RUMOR MILL!

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