On the Worst Best Picture Nominee Ever and Other Oscar Lessons from Rotten Tomatoes.

A brief moment of full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, so I must be at least somewhat restrained from passing judgment about the film and its merits, or lack thereof.  However, from the first moment I saw the trailer, I was convinced that Extremely Loud could not be any more than a cloying, exploitative, overwrought exercise in sentimentality, cynical tear-jerkery and Giulianism.  And when the reviews came out, it appeared that my intuition was correct.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Extremely Loud scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, perhaps the most prestigious award in all American culture.

(As a brief aside, is that accurate?  When I think of the most prestigious awards, the first ones to pop into my head are Best Picture, the Medal of Honor, the Medal of Freedom, the Heisman Trophy, and the Nobel Peace Prize.  It’s obviously harder to win any of the other awards than Best Picture – with the possible exception of the Medal of Freedom – but do any of them have the sort of cultural relevance Best Picture has?  If this were still the 1940s, I’d say the Medal of Honor would have more relevance – honorees became national heroes back then – but is that still true?  I had to use Wikipedia to find out that there have been 10 Medal of Honor honorees in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – can you name any of them?  If this were still the early 1990s, I would say the Nobel Peace Prize might be on top, but hasn’t it lost a little luster thanks to controversial recipients like Yassir Arafat or President Obama?  Also, can you name any recent winners besides President Obama?  This is an interesting question to me.)

Extremely Loud‘s nomination inspired me to go delve back into the past decade of Best Picture nominees and see how they were received by critics, as measured by Rotten Tomatoes.  At first I was only interested in confirming that Extremely Loud is in fact the worst-reviewed nominee, but soon I became interested in other questions.  Here’s what I learned:

1. Extremely Loud is in fact the worst-reviewed nominee of the past decade.  And at only 48% favorable reviews, Extremely Loud‘s “lead” is fairly sizeable. The closest competitors in this category are 2008’s The Reader (62%), 2009’s The Blind Side (66%, another movie whose trailer effectively zapped any interest I might have had in seeing it), and 2006’s Babel (69%).  For some perspective on this, the mean score of all Best Picture nominees was 87.6% and the median score was 91%, while the standard deviation was 9.5%.  So, Extremely Loud‘s score was slightly more than 4 standard deviations beyond the mean of Best Picture nominees.  Incredible stuff.

2. Crash was the worst-reviewed nominee to actually win Best Picture.  I was pretty dismayed to see Crash get such a mediocre score (76%) as it’s one of my favorite movies.  Only one other winner scored in the 70s, 2001’s A Beautiful Mind (78%).

3. 2008 had the worst-reviewed set of nominees.  2008 suffered from having two real clunkers in its five-nominee field, with The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (72%) pulling the year’s total average down to 82.8%.  Outside of those two movies, however, 2008 was rather strong, with winner Slumdog Millionaire (94%) and fellow nominees Frost/Nixon (94%, one of my favorites) and Milk (92%) all turning in above-median scores.  If the Academy had chosen to nominate The Dark Knight (94%) instead of The Reader, as many at the time hoped, 2008 would have been the third best-reviewed year of the decade.

4. 2011 had the second-worst reviewed set of nominees.  If you looked at this year’s list of nominees and thought, “Wow, seems like a pretty weak year for movies,” you were right: 2011 fared only slightly better than 2008 with an average score of just  83.8%.  2011 was a victim of the Academy’s still-recent decision to expand the potential number of nominees to 10; had only the top 5 best-reviewed nominees received nominations, 2011’s average would have been 93.6%, good for tops in the decade.  Instead, the year was weighed down by films like War Horse (78%), The Help (76%), and of course Extremely Loud.

5. 2010 had the strongest set of nominees.  With an overall average of 93%, 2010’s lineup blew away the other years, besting the next-highest rated year (2007) by 2.4%, almost a full standard deviation.  This is all the more impressive when you consider that a full ten films were nominated in 2010, greatly increasing the odds of weak link to drag down the whole average.   Instead, the lowest-rated nominee from 2010 was Inception at 86%.

6. The best-reviewed nominee almost never wins Best Picture.  In fact, only once this decade did the best-reviewed nominee ultimately take down the big prize: 2007, when No Country for Old Men (95%) bested Juno (94%).  In one other year, 2008, the winner (Slumdog) was tied with another film (Milk) for best-reviewed nominee.  Aside from those two years, however, the winner and the highest Rotten Tomatoes score have not aligned.  In fact, with Crash‘s win, there were just as many outright wins by the worst-reviewed nominee of a given year as by the best.

Here’s a link to a Google spreadsheet with all the Best Picture nominees going back to 2001 and their Rotten Tomatoes scores; this is the data I used for the above post.

As for this year, two of my three favorite movies of the year (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2  and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) were not nominated for Best Picture, leaving me to give all my rooting interest over to Moneyball.

Author: inuyesta

Law student with Josh Lyman dreams in a Toby Ziegler reality.

3 thoughts on “On the Worst Best Picture Nominee Ever and Other Oscar Lessons from Rotten Tomatoes.”

  1. Pingback: 2012 Oscars
  2. Nice piece, loved the statistical analysis.

    As an aside, I’m not sure I’d equate fame and prestige. An Oscar winner might be more famous than a Medal of Honor recipient, but I still think it’s less prestigious.

  3. But how can something be prestigious without having fame? Ivy League schools are the most prestigious universities both because they’re the best AND (more germanely, I think) because **Everyone Knows** they’re the best. A school like Carnegie Mellon or Grinell or something might be just as good as Ivy League schools, but I would argue it is not prestigious because no one had heard of it.

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