Harvard's Oscar Guru

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Ben T. Zauzmer '15, an Applied Math concentrator in Mather House, gained Internet fame last year for his strikingly accurate predictions of who would win the 2012 Oscars. This year, he's at it again.

Using results from similar awards shows, critics' picks, and other available data, Zauzmer runs statistical analyses to determine the probability that nominated movies, directors, or actresses will win in their given categories this Sunday. Flyby sat down with Zauzmer to talk movies and math.

Flyby: How long have you been interested in the Oscars?

BZ: My interest in the Oscars goes back many years, although last year was the first time I tried to predict the Oscars with math. Last year went well. [I got] all 8 of the major categories [and] 15 out of 20 overall.

Flyby: What are your predictions for this year?

BZ: For Best Picture right now it's "Argo" at 60%. I don't use personal predictions, just math. For Best Director it's Ang Lee for "Life of Pi," and then the acting awards are: Daniel Day Lewis for "Lincoln," and Jennifer Lawrence from "Silver Linings Playbook." For Best Supporting Actor, it's Harvard's own Tommy Lee Jones '69. That's going to be a little closer, with Christoph Waltz from "Django Unchained" being a close second. And then Anne Hathaway is the runaway favorite, mathematically, for Best Supporting Actress [in "Les Misérables"].

Flyby: How do you get the data for these predictions?

BZ: A lot of time spent on the Internet, on MetaCritic, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, Wikipedia, the websites of different guild awards, the Oscars' website, etc., gathering it all, throwing it in Excel, then using Excel and Mathematica and Stata to actually come up with the formulas. Much of it this year was done over winter break. I had a wonderful break gathering data about movies and watching movies.

Flyby: How has it been having your predictions garner a lot of press?

BZ: It's been a lot of fun, people from all over the world have been interested. I think a lot of people are on there because they're filling out their own Oscar polls this weekend, they want to give it their best shot. I know last year at Harvard, some kid entered his freshman dorm's Oscar pool. He won after using my picks, and he gave me a bar of chocolate that he had won. So that's always fun.

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