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Oscar (heart) drama (and the ladies)

A new study points out some of the statistical tendencies that influence the odds of going home with an Academy Award.

January 21, 2008|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

When it comes to the Academy Awards, it pays to be a drama queen.

At least, that's the conclusion of a new study by researchers from UCLA and Harvard University, who found that the odds of being nominated for an Oscar increase for actresses who appear in dramatic films.

"Because there are fewer female than male performers in films, and both are eligible for the same number of awards, actresses stand a better chance of being nominated than actors," said Nicole Esparza of Harvard, the study's lead author. "It's a simple matter of arithmetic, but as far as I know, nobody has ever raised the point."

But the biggest factor in being nominated is appearing in a drama. The researchers found that actors -- male or female -- were nine times more likely to receive an Academy Award nomination in a drama than for a nondrama.

"In the entertainment industry, there's long been a sense that the nomination process prefers dramas, but I don't think anybody is aware of the magnitude of the effect," noted coauthor Gabriel Rossman of UCLA.

Albeit to a lesser degree, the study found that Oscar chances increase with having a major film distributor, prior Oscar nominations, high pecking order in past movie credits, fewer films competing for attention, and good collaborators on the film.

"A performer's odds of being nominated are largely set before the cameras even start rolling, back when the script was bought, the director was signed and the film was cast," Esparza said. "It's surprising how many variables other than a performer's talent play a role in determining who gets nominated."

The study -- scheduled to be released today at http://ccpr.ucla.edu/asp/ccpr_035_06.asp -- used records of every Oscar-eligible film as listed in the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) between the 1927 founding of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and 2005. The researchers looked at 171,539 performances by 39,518 actors in 19,351 Oscar-eligible films. There were a total of 1,394 nominations

How high an actor appears in the screen credits increases the likelihood of being nominated, the study found, and it helps if they are cast in a movie with previous Oscar winners.

For instance, the study noted, actor Robert Forster "has had a long but undistinguished career as a character actor, primarily appearing on television and in extremely low-budget horror and crime films. . . . Yet in 1998 he was nominated for the best supporting actor Oscar" for "Jackie Brown."

"The film was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, who had previously been nominated for directing and original screenplay (winning the latter) for 'Pulp Fiction' (1994)," the study stated. "Likewise, Forster's costars included prior nominees Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro. Such a prestigious cast and crew undoubtedly helped Forster, though it is difficult to say the extent to which they did so by eliciting a good performance versus bringing widespread attention to that performance."

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robert.welkos@latimes.com

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