Read the rest of Slate's coverage of the 82nd Academy Awards here.
One thing is for sure: The Academy likes its movies long. The running time of the average best-picture winner is two hours and 20 minutes long. From 1979 ( Kramer vs. Kramer) until 2009 ( Slumdog Millionaire), only Driving Miss Daisy and Crashwere under two hours. Before 1979, the average running time was slightly shorter—a mere two hours and 10 minutes.
Does it matter what studio releases your film when it comes to the Oscars? Absolutely. Columbia Studios is the champ with 74 wins and 110 nominations, taking home the gold with classy pictures like From Here to Eternity, Gandhi, The Last Emperor, and Lawrence of Arabia. (Their last win was in 1987, however.) The runner-up is 20th-Century Fox with 58 wins and 98 nominations for scrappier fare like All About Eve, Braveheart, and The French Connection.
But what anyone who's still paying attention at this point wants to know is: Who's going to win this year? To eliminate more than half of 2010's 10 nominees you need to remember just one rule: Every previous best-picture winner won five Oscars on average and was nominated for eight. That takes out A Serious Man(two nominations), An Education(three nominations), District 9 (four nominations), and The Blind Side(two nominations). Upcan easily be jettisoned: It's based on original material, it's a comedy (only nine comedies have ever won), it's rated PG, and it's 96 minutes long (only Marty and Annie Hall have been shorter).
The remaining movies are Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire, Up in the Air, and Inglourious Basterds. Precious and Up in the Air are both R-rated dramas based on books, which looks promising, but with only six nominations each and both being dramas set in the present with running times of an hour and 50 minutes, they can be counted out. Avatar has the right running time (162 minutes) and the right number of nominations (nine) but it's rated PG-13 and it's science fiction (no science fiction movie has ever won best picture and only one fantasy film, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, has ever won). That leaves us with The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds, both very long, R-rated war movies with nine and eight nominations, respectively. Based on the numbers, the advantage goes to Inglourious because it's a period piece and it's from a studio with an Oscar history, rather than TheHurt Locker, which is set in the present and is distributed by first-timer Summit Entertainment.
But does the best-picture Oscar even matter? As Mo'nique said, "I couldn't eat that Oscar. Everybody needs money, baby." Don't worry, Mo'nique, science has spoken, and if your agent got you points, an Oscar will earn you mad stacks of cash. In their 1988 paper, "What's an Oscar Worth?" John C. Dodds and Morris B. Holbrook determined that an Oscar nomination for best-picture would yield $988,247 in additional revenue. Go on to win best picture and you can add $3,380,154 to your gross.
In a bizarre statistical anomaly, however, while a best-actress nomination will add $872,632 to your bottom line, a best-actor nomination will add only $809,630. However, a best-actor Oscar win is worth $1,037,634, while a best-actress win causes the movie to lose money. It's a "statistically insignificant" amount of money, but it's still a loss, so maybe Mo'nique knows what she's talking about after all?
Slate V: How To Judge the Best Art Direction Oscar