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Oscar by the odds

Nobody can predict with absolute certainty how the majority of the 5,800 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are going to vote in any given category. The best anybody can do is to go with a gut feeling and study the historical odds.

Sure, we all knew "Titanic" would win, didn’t we? But what about that year when it was "Saving Private Ryan" vs. "Shakespeare in Love" – or "Chicago" vs. "The Pianist"? Could have gone either way.

If you’re like me, your memory tends to fool you into remembering that the more important, prestigious, or less dated movie really did win in retrospect – that films like "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Pianist" and "L.A. Confidential" and "GoodFellas" and "Reds" and "Raging Bull" actually won the Oscar for Best Picture – when, in fact, the winners in their respective years were "Shakespeare in Love," "Chicago," "Titanic," "Dances with Wolves," "Chariots of Fire," and "Ordinary People."

Most of the time, when that final envelope is opened, it all seems to have been inevitable. This year, however, may be as good a year as any to go with your gut. Of the key statistics below (with the influential Writers Guild winners to be announced Feb. 19, and the Oscar ballots due Feb. 22), some favor "The Aviator" (numbers 2, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15), and others favor "Million Dollar Baby" (numbers 1, 10, 11, 12, 13) – but, to me, this feels like one of those years that will cut against the grain. I wouldn’t be surprised to see long-overdue Martin Scorsese win Best Director, "Sideways" win Adapted Screenplay, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" take Original Screenplay, and "Million Dollar Baby" still win Best Picture, just because it's such an emotional experience – even though the historical odds favor "The Aviator" at this point.

The following stats are divided into two sections – the first to consider in the run-up to Oscar night (Sunday, Feb. 27) when figuring out how to place your bets, and the second to keep in mind as the evening unfolds and the envelopes are opened.

So, you do the math. See what kind of sense you can make out of these established statistical patterns....

Odds to consider before Oscar night:

NEW UPDATE: The Writers Guild of America (WGA) awards over the weekend went to neither of the films considered leading contenders for the Best Picture Oscar. The WGA skipped over "The Aviator" and "Million Dollar Baby" for its original and adapted screenplay awards, and gave them to "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Sideways," respectively. Three new stats to consider:

a) Odds are 50/50 in the last ten years that a film winning a Best Picture Oscar did not win a WGA award for its screenplay.

b) Odds are 4 in 5 in the last 10 years that a film winning a Best Picture Oscar won at least two of the three guild awards (WGA, SAG, PGA) for which it was eligible. This year, "Million Dollar Baby," "The Aviator," and "Sideways" each have one win -- plus Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay.

c) In the two years (over the last ten) when the Best Picture Oscar winner has won only one of the guild awards, both times the winner has been the Producers Guild choice: "Shakespeare in Love" and "Gladiator."

1. Odds, in the last 20 years, that the Directors Guild of America (DGA) winner directed the Best Picture Oscar winner: 3 in 4 (This year’s winner: Clint Eastwood for "Million Dollar Baby")

2. Odds, since the Producers Guild of America (PGA) began its awards in 1991, that its choice for Best Picture has corresponded with the Academy’s: 5 in 7 (This year’s winner: "The Aviator")

3. Probability that the winner of the Screen Actors Guild award (SAG), presented since 1995, in the acting categories (actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress) will go on to win the Oscar in his or her category: 65 percent (This year’s SAG winners: Jamie Foxx for "Ray," Hilary Swank for "Million Dollar Baby," Morgan Freeman for “Million Dollar Baby,” Cate Blanchet for “The Aviator”)

4. Odds that one of the actors winning a SAG award for Ensemble Cast will win an acting Oscar, even if he or she does not win in any of SAG’s individual categories: 2 in 9 (Judi Densch for “Shakespeare in Love” and Benicio del Toro for “Traffic”)

5. Number of times in 77 Academy Awards contests that the Best Picture winner has not also received a nomination for Best Director: 3

6. Number of times the above has happened since 1932: Once (Bruce Beresford, for “Driving Miss Daisy”)

7. Odds that the Los Angeles Film Critics Association winner for Best Picture (first presented in 1975) will go on to win the Best Picture Oscar: 1 in 4 (This year’s winner: “Sideways”)

8. Odds over the last 20 years that the movie winning the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) award for Best Original Screenplay or Best Adapted screenplay has gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar: 1 in 2 (WGA winners to be announced Feb. 19)

9. Odds over the last 20 years that the film with the most Oscar nominations has won Best Picture: 9 out of 10 (This year’s most-nominated film: “The Aviator”)

10. Odds over the last 20 years that the Best Picture winner will have at least two acting nominations: 17 out of 20 (“The Aviator,” “Million Dollar Baby,” and “Sideways” all have two or more acting nominations; “The Aviator” and “Million Dollar Baby” are tied for most acting nominations with three apiece)

11. Odds, in the last 20 years, that the Best Picture winner will have a Best Actor nomination: 13 out of 20 (of the Best Picture nominees this year, only “Sideways” is lacking a Best Actor nomination)

12. Odds, in the last 20 years, that the Best Picture winner will have a Best Actress nomination: 7 out of 20 (only “Million Dollar Baby” has a Best Actress nomination this year)

13. Odds, in the last 20 years, that the Best Picture winner will have a Best Supporting Actor nomination: 11 out of 20 (“The Aviator,” “Million Dollar Baby,” and “Sideways” have Best Supporting Actor nominations)

14. Odds, in the last 20 years, that the Best Picture winner will have a Best Supporting Actress nomination: 8 out of 20 (“The Aviator” and “Sideways” have Best Supporting Actress nominations)

15. Odds, in the last 20 years, that the Best Picture winner will have a the most acting nominations (including ties with other nominated pictures): 2 in 5

16. Odds, in the last 20 years, that the Best Picture winner will have at least a Best Actor or Supporting Actor nomination: 17 in 20

17. Odds, in the last 20 years, that the Best Picture winner will at least a Best Acress or Supporting Actress nomination: 1 in 2

18. Odds, in the last 20 years, that the Best Picture winner will have no acting nominations whatsoever: 3 in 20 (all epics: "The Last Emperor," "Braveheart," "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.")

19. Percentage of times in the last 20 years that the Best Picture winner has been a period piece: 85 percent (exceptions: “Rain Man,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “American Beauty” – this assumes “Lord of the Rings,” a fantasy, also qualifies as a film set in the distant past)

20. Percentage of times in the last 20 years that the Best Picture winner has been a historical biography: 20 percent (if you count Roxie Hart as a historical figure for “Chicago”)

21. Percentage of times in the last 20 years that the Best Picture winner has been a contemporary drama: 15 percent (“Rain Man,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “American Beauty”)

22. Percentage of times in the last 20 years that the Best Picture winner has been a musical: 5 percent (“Chicago” – unless you consider “Amadeus” primarily a musical)

23. Percentage of times in the last 20 years that the Best Picture winner has been a non-musical comedy: 0 percent (“Amadeus,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Forrest Gump,” “American Beauty,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “Chicago” all had strong comedic elements, but none were seen primarily as comedies)

24. Odds, in the last 20 years, that the Best Picture winner has starred Kevin Bacon: 0 in 20 (though if “Mystic River” had won – or “Apollo 13” or “A Few Good Men” or “JFK,” all Best Picture nominees – that would have changed things considerably)

Odds to track on Oscar night:

25. Odds in all of Academy history that the Best Picture winner will also receive the Best Director award: 55 in 77 (approximately 71 percent probability)

26. Odds, in the last 20 years, that one of the screenplay winners will be for the Best Picture: 13 in 20

27. Odds that it will be for the adapted screenplay: 1 in 2

28. Odds, in the last 20 years, that winner of the Best Actor Oscar will be from the film that wins Best Picture: 3 in 10

29. Odds, in the last 20 years, that winner of the Best Actress Oscar will be from the film that wins Best Picture: 3 in 20

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