"As a general rule, once the nominees are established, the highest… (Pete Ryan / For The Times )
Where can hard-core fans of the Oscars and the merely contender curious go for solid insider insights? There are multiple prognosticators opining on their websites, and there are even a few print publications like this one that can dish the odds. But the truly savvy insider will go online to check the scores at Rotten Tomatoes to parse a film's chances for gold.
FOR THE RECORD:
Rotten Tomatoes: An article in Wednesday's Envelope section about the Rotten Tomatoes website as Oscar predictor gave the name of the site's editor in chief as Mark Atchity. He is Matt Atchity. —
Forget such words as "superb" or "knockout" or the other general superlatives that dot Oscar campaigns. Film review aggregators -- including Metacritic and newcomer Movie Review Intelligence -- poll the critics, summarize their opinions and assign a simple numeric score to each film. Each aggregator has slightly different methodology, but all aim to be the Zagat Guide of film criticism, offering up a handy, no-frills sketch of current consensus opinion.
And as it turns out, films with aggregated review scores above 90% more often than not land an Oscar nomination.
Last year's best picture winner, "Slumdog Millionaire," garnered a 93% freshness score on Rotten Tomatoes, while the 2007 winner, " No Country for Old Men," earned 94% and the 2006 winner, "The Departed," pulled in 92%.
But don't go calling your bookie just yet. Mark Atchity, editor in chief of Rotten Tomatoes, notes that snagging the tip-top score of the year on the so-called Tomato-meter doesn't always translate directly into Oscar gold. "We did research last year to see if we could come up with a prediction. As a general rule, once the nominees are established, the highest rated movie rarely wins and the lowest reviewed movie rarely wins." Note to filmmakers: Aim high, but not too high.
The notable exception over the last two decades? "Crash," Atchity says. The 2004 best picture winner was the lowest rated of that year's nominees with a mere passing grade of 75% fresh.
Rotten Tomatoes is by far the most popular aggregator, with 1.8 million monthly visitors, according to comScore, a service that tracks Internet traffic, and the most populist, with 300 to 400 regular reviewers. It divines its scores based on the ratio of favorable to unfavorable reviews. A movie with 10 positive reviews and 10 negative reviews is thus 50% fresh. To get a "certified fresh" imprimatur from the website, a film must be critiqued by at least 40 reviewers, including five reviewers from top publications, such as the New York or Los Angeles Times, and 75% or more of the reviews have to be positive.
Unlike the other sites, Rotten Tomatoes doesn't differentiate between a review that's ecstatic in its praise and one that is merely positive. It also includes a slew of obscure reviewers from small outlets among the experts, such critics as Tim Brayton from the blog Antagony & Ecstasy and Mark Ramsey from the website MovieJuice. But then the 5,800 members of the academy tend to be a lot less wonky than some of the critics.
The four top-rated films of the year so far on Rotten Tomatoes are the micro-indies "Afghan Star," a documentary about the dangers of appearing on a talent search show in Afghanistan; "Still Walking," a family drama from Japan; "The Maid," a drama from Chile; and "You, the Living," a Swedish film about human foibles, all with 100% ratings. But, Atchity cautions, these films were reviewed by fewer than 50 critics, while mainstream movies routinely garner at least 100 reviews, and the Oscars can be heavily influenced by the cultural zeitgeist -- not to mention studio marketing campaigns.