Twenty years of Oscar nominees…

You start by trawling IMDB for the Oscar nominees for “Best Picture” over the last twenty years. Then you add together their user ratings and plot it on a graph. Hey presto – an instant pseudo-scientific discussion piece…

Every year I look forward to the Oscar nominations – I like the excitement of finding out who has been put up for the awards. I love the sensation of complete astonishment when great films are ignored and ludicrously over-acted twaddle wins. I love the Oscars because sometimes they’re so very right and I love them more because sometimes they can be so very very wrong.

This year has been the first year when I have looked at the nominations for “Best Picture” and struggled to find a film that I think deserves to be there. But how to account for such a phenomenon? My first assumption was that it must have simply been a terrible year for movies in general. With such a motley selection of candidates available, what hope was there that they’d be able to find – let alone vote for – a truly great film.

But how likely is that to be true? There are any number of alternative possibilities. Firstly that they chose the wrong films, secondly that they chose the right films and that my taste is simply getting worse. And behind this are the larger questions – are the films that get nominated for Oscars today worse than the ones that were nominated ten or twenty years ago? Is there a pattern to the quality of film-making that we can track through the Oscars?

Enter a totally redundant project – the compilation of some figures about how good or bad the Oscar nominees had been over the last twenty years. I would see, or be damned, if there was any discernable pattern. And in seeing this pattern – “A Beautiful Mind”-style luminous in the world – perhaps I would see if my suspicions about this year’s nominees were correct. Or perhaps, “A Beautiful Mind”-style, I would find that I had been living in a world of horrible unreality and an insane lack of judgment.

Over many minutes I decided on a campaign strategy. My comprehensive research (to take place over a boring afternoon before Countdown came on Channel Four) would involve:
1) Going to the IMDB.
2) Finding all the films nominated for “Best Film” over the last twenty years.
3) Adding together all the nominees ‘user-ratings’ for each year.
4) Plotting them on a graph.

Not brain-surgery, I think you’ll agree. And hopelessly unscientific – we have no control group, nothing to compare them to… But interesting nonetheless… What will this reveal about our relationship to Oscar movies or indeed our relationship to the cultural products of other times? I can tell you right now that it will reveal nothing. But it remains fun to speculate about what it might have revealed had it not been such an immediately and obviously flawed experiment. And now the graph….

On the left we have the combined score of all the films released in any given year (the years are plotted on the bottom axis). Since all IMDB user-ratings rate out of 10, the range of potential scores for any given year is 0-50 points.

But what are we to make of these results? It seems that quite contrary to my initial expectations, the films that have gained Oscar Nominations have in general increased in quality over the last twenty years. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that all you can deduce is that people have very short memories and rate contemporary movies more generously than older ones. But that still can’t account for the horrific drops in quality in the mid and late-eightees…