Let's Talk Oscars

Nate Silver Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About: Lincoln Will Beat Argo
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Feb. 22 2013 3:30 PM

Let's Talk Oscars

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For the first time since 2007, not one of the Best Picture nominees is a stinking embarrassment.

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln.
Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln

Photo by David James/SMPSP/DreamWorks II

What am I rooting for? I’m rooting for Seth MacFarlane to walk into the Dolby Theater on Sunday night complaining of a “terrific headache,” ask for an aspirin, and be given the night off by producer Craig Zadan. Filling in will be delightful Golden Globe hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who will then host the Oscars for 14 consecutive years. That’s right: I’m hoping that Seth MacFarlane gets Wally Pipped.

Dan Kois Dan Kois

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

Barring that, I’ll root for the same things I always root for: nonridiculous winners and ridiculous everything else. I want the gowns to be flamboyantly awful. (Where are the Chers of yesteryear?!) I want the pre-award banter to be positively Vilanchian in its stilted hamminess. And I want the musical numbers to be epic disasters, so I greeted the news of Russell Crowe’s participating with a smile. As a mere lad of 14, I watched that 1989 Snow White disaster, and it gave me a taste for celebrity mortification I’ll never lose until the day I die. (I’d be buried in the Snow White dress, but, um, someone already has.)

The movies? This is a somewhat astonishing year in that not a single one of the Best Picture nominees is a fucking embarrassment. That hasn’t happened since 2007! I can honestly say that if any one of those nine nominees won, it would not live forever as a testament to the Oscars’ foolishness. Even Les Mis! Of course not all nine have a shot at winning; in making your Best Picture pick, the first step is to eliminate the impossible, and then whatever movies remain, no matter how improbable, must be considered. (The Impossible was already eliminated by not being nominated at all.) Most years one immediately deletes any movie not also nominated for Best Director, since, famously, only one film has won Best Picture without being nominated for Director in 80 years.

Yet here we are in 2013, with basically every single prognosticator (including Nate Silver!) assuring us that Argo is a lock, despite Ben Affleck’s snub in the Director contest. Silver himself claims that Argo is more likely to win than absolute-total-bet-your-house-on-it lock Daniel Day-Lewis. But I don’t trust Silver’s calculations—or rather, I don’t trust his data. Sure, he’s using as evidence such important precursors as the editing guilds’ awards and the Critics’ Choice prize. But even the Directors’ Guild only has an 80 percent success rate over the past 25 years. You know what precursor has a better success rate than that? Getting nominated for Best Director. That has a 96 percent success rate over the past 25 years and a 98.75 percent success rate over the past 80. If Nate Silver added that data point to his metrics, I suspect Argo wouldn’t be such a prohibitive favorite.

And don’t give me a bunch of bunk about how Ben Affleck’s colleagues in the academy love and respect him so much that they are going to reward his movie with a Best Picture statue. Ben Affleck’s colleagues in the academy don’t even love and respect him enough to nominate him for Best Director! Look, I liked Argo, and unlike some people writing for Slate, I don’t think it would be a mockery if it won. But I think everyone racing to crown it the next Driving Miss Daisy is moving a bit fast. That’s why in the Slate culture department Oscar pool, I’m picking Lincoln.

Sometimes the right answer is the simplest one. Lincoln is an uplifting, uniting period epic about one of our greatest Americans. It features one of the great performances in recent memory as its lead. It is directed by one of our greatest directors, who has only won Best Picture once in his entire career—and that was 20 years ago. It got the most nominations of any movie. And also, forgive me, it is really good—and old Academy voters like it even more than any of us.

Perhaps I’ll be wrong. I usually am about the Oscars. But if Argo loses to Lincoln Sunday night, Nate Silver will be completely shocked—and I’ll be raking in the bills.

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