Monday, February 23, 2015

Why Grand Budapest Hotel Should Have Won Best Picture Oscar

I was one of the 43 million people that watched the Oscars on Sunday night. I was trying to figure out what ultimately drives selection of the Best Picture. It was Birdman, but it should have been The Grand Budapest Hotel by my calculations.

Not widely known, the nomination and voting process for Best Picture is complicated. It turns out that 6,124 Academy members vote on a ranking of films they think are best pictures vs. submitting one and taking a popular vote - both for nominations and best film selection; it's called the "instant runoff" system. This leads to some films getting nominated that have a small cult following, and it's possible that the best film could end up as one that does not receive the most first-place votes directly from voters.

I've simplified this by doing a quick analysis of what critics, fans, and moviegoers (ie. box office receipts) thought about the best picture nominees (spreadsheet of numbers here - %'s courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and revenue numbers courtesy of Box Office Mojo, both great sites); the discrepancies might surprise you.

Critics' Best Movies
Boyhood (98%)
Selma (98%)
Whiplash (93%)
Birdman (93%)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (92%)

The other three movies (The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and American Sniper) did not register above 90% to the critics. Boyhood and Selma were extremely close at the top. I put Boyhood above since it garnered 20% more critics reviews than Selma, showing more critical activity on engaging with and reviewing the film.

Fans' Best Movies
Whiplash (96%)
The Imitation Game (93%)
Selma (87%)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (86%)
American Sniper (86%)

Rabid fans make all the difference. Whiplash was the least-seen movie of any of the nominees by a long shot (according to box office, only $12.2M total), but it had the highest fan ratings. The Imitation Game was more widely seen (over 10x the box office, $160.8M) and was described as an "Oscar bait" movie. It also featured a character that appealed to a clear minority audience, frankly just as the rest of the Fans' Best Movies. To wit:
The Imitation Game = LBGT community
Selma = African-American community
The Grand Budapest Hotel = Wes Anderson devotees
American Sniper = American conservative community

Moviegoers' Best Movies
American Sniper ($428.1M)
The Grand Budapest Hotel ($174.6M)
The Imitation Game ($160.8M)
The Theory of Everything ($104.1M)
Birdman ($76.5M)

The tables turn when you factor box office. American Sniper was the clear #1, producing more receipts than the next 2 movies combined. An interesting tidbit is that American Sniper generated the least proportional revenue outside of the US amongst this list - only 25% of its box office came from overseas. Compare that with Theory of Everything (67% from overseas) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (66% from overseas) - it's clear that foreign audiences are big consumers of Best Film nominees, perhaps more than Americans.

So taking the Best Picture nominees and holding them up to the data provided by critics, fans, and moviegoers, there is only one film that makes the top-5 in all lists - The Grand Budapest Hotel. And it's really worth watching, so check it out.

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