Monday, February 23, 2009

How often does the best picture win?

So the Academy Awards, Oscar, is done. Slumdog Millionaire won. But was that the best movie of the year? How often does the year's best picture actually win the Oscar? Put differently, how does posteriority treat an Oscar winner? And what's the metric of 'best' anyway?

These questions come up every year. You see, Oscar, like the Nobel for subjects other than natural sciences, or the Man Booker or Pultizer, involves a lot of politicking and lobbying and broader socio-cultural trends. With the 'emergence of India' being a favourite talking point of the global cognoscenti, it may not be all that surprising that Slumdog won, just as it may not have been surprising to see Arvind Adiga's White Tiger win last year's Booker. More about the book some other time, but was Slumdog the best movie of 2008? Let's be more specific, was it the best movie available to the general filmgoing public in the Anglophone world in 2008?

We can use the IMDB's ratings (details at the bottom of this page) to answer this question. Registered voters in IMDB are movie buffs whose ratings probably reflects artistic appreciation better than box office takings would, while the large number and anonymous nature of the membership would mean these ratings are free of the politiciking that afflicts Oscars. According to the IMDB regulars, 2008's best movie was The Dark Knight (6th in top 250, with 8.9 score from over 347,000 users). Slumdog Millionaire is 34th in top 250 (8.6 score from 67,700 users). Personally, I think the Batman sequel is one of the best movies of all time, and not just for the politics, but this didn't even get nominated for Oscar.

So, how often does the IMDB best picture win? Not that often it turns out. 80 Oscars have been handed out so far, and only 17 of them are considered best pictures of the year according to the IMDB. That is, the Academy has got it right only 21.25% times! Quite miserable, really.

However, they are getting better. In 3 of the past 5 years the best picture won the Oscar. Only time when the Academy performed better was between 1970 and 1978, when they got it right 6 out of 9 years. The whole list is attached as an image. A few trivia.

  • The IMDB number 1, The Shawshank Redemption, lost to Forrest Gump (44) in 1994. Two of IMDB top 10 --- Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo and The Dark Knight --- didn't even get nominated.

  • On the flipside, three Oscar-winning blockbusters --- Gone with the wind, Ben-Hur and Titanic --- weren't the best movie of the year. In fact, Titanic, the biggest grossing movie of all time, isn't even in IMDB top 250!

  • If it wins, Slumdog Millionaire will be the 2nd South Asia related movie to take an Oscar, the first being Gandhi (165) of 1982. The best movie of that year was Blade Runner (109). There is no other South Asia related movie in the IMDB top 250.