This morning, in the walk-up to its broadcast of the 86th Annual Academy Awards, ABC brought out ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chiefNate Silver and its general editor Walter Hickey to share results of their controversial number crunching about Best Picture Oscar winners through the ages on the network’s Sunday Beltway show This Week. Here are their six big takeaways:
1. It’s All About Adaptation
Silver and Hickey calculated that nearly 40% of best picture nominees originate from books, while about 18% originate from plays.
2. Oscar Hearts NYC
The Big Apple is an Oscars favorite, with about 20% of nominees taking place there. Next in popularity are London and Paris, while Washington D.C. and Los Angeles just barely make the top five.
3. 1930s or Bust
The 1930s turned out to be the most common decade to have a film set. “Since 1939, about one in seven best picture nominees have involved World War II in some way, shape, or form,” Hickey told ABC News’s Lara Spencer, best known as Good Morning America‘s lifestyle anchor. Overall, time periods filled with dramatic events are more likely to be seen in best picture nominees. “Decades that were more tumultuous – the ’30s, the ’40s, the ’60s probably – create more ground for really fertile, rich topics than happy decades like the ’90s, or the ’50s,” Silver said.
4. Family Matters
Nearly 36% of nominees include plots featuring a familial relationship between a husband and a wife. Other commonly used stories include father-and-son and mother-and-son relationships. Silver and Hickey also found that relations between women — think mother-and-daughter sagas — don’t fare as well during Oscars season.
5. Is There a Doctor in the House?
Doctors are the most commonly portrayed profession in best picture nominees. Following those in medicine are those in the entertainment industry: singers and dancers.
6. A Slap in the Face
The most surprising commonality found in Oscars best picture nominees? “Face slap,” Silver said. “How often movies that have been nominated for best picture contain – literally – a slap in the face.” Hickey added, “Around 31% of best picture winners involve a scene where somebody is slapped in the face.” When asked specifically about 12 Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o and nominated for nine Oscars, Silver noted that the film has many of the key components that typically appeal to the Academy. “A husband-and-wife relationship is a core element to the plot,” he said. “There is loss. There is death. There is folks overcoming adversity. So it really does kind of have a very signature Oscar appeal package.”
Last summer ESPN — which, like ABC, is owned by Disney — hired away The New York Times’ political number cruncher Silver, who began his career compiling spreadsheets of baseball stats before he became the best known, and most accurate, 2012 national election prognosticator.
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