Awards Season: Where Does Best Picture Stand Now?

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12 Years a slave

Next up, we had the first of the big Guild awards, the Screen Actors Guild, where we would finally get a concrete answer as to who our lead contenders for the four acting awards were. These went entirely as expected, including McConaughey’s win for Best Actor, which seemed inevitable after his hot streak with the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice. We also saw Lupita Nyong’o take Best Supporting Actress, confirming her as the favorite to take the Oscar on the big night.

At the end of the night came their biggest award: Best Ensemble. The main predictions were split between 12 Years and American Hustle. The former had a phenomenal ensemble and was clearly the favorite film of the year, while the latter was a much easier film to swallow that had just received nominations in all four acting categories from the Academy.

The latter film won, leading the less-informed to immediately think it was now the favorite for Best Picture, but as someone who’s been following the awards circuit for a while, I can tell you that Best Ensemble has very little bearing on the Best Picture Oscar. In fact, the winner of the Best Ensemble award has only gone on to win Best Picture half the time, so there’s very little correlation to be found. However, what this does tell us is that support for 12 Years was once again sinking even further.

The very next evening was the night that everyone had been waiting for: the Producers Guild of America awards. The winner of their top prize is always consider a favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar given that the two awards match about 70% of the time, so it was expected that we would have our final answer as to which film would be the favorite heading into Oscar night. However, what we got instead was an unprecedented occurrence.

That night saw Gravity and 12 Years a Slave tying for the PGA’s top honor, meaning that we still didn’t have our answer as to which film the industry liked more, leaving us to fall back on other clues to help determine it. What we did learn that night was that Gravity had a lot more favor within the industry than originally thought. Sure, we knew that everyone was dazzled by its technical aspects, but until that night, we didn’t really know what they thought of it in terms of the Best Film of the Year. That night, we got our answer: Gravity is more than just a technical force to be reckoned with. It has a real chance of going all the way, but again, we have to look at the other clues to help us determine if its chances are as good as all that.

This brings us up to just a few days ago. On the 25th, the Directors Guild of America announced their awards. Most people know that the winner of their top honor immediately becomes the favorite to take the Best Director Oscar given that the awards match about 89% of the time (there have only been seven instances where they haven’t). As was fully expected, Alfonso Cuaron took top honors for his amazing work on Gravity, meaning that the film had now won both the PGA and DGA.

If you know anything about the history of these awards, you’ll know that it’s pretty rare for a film to win both of them and lose the Best Picture Oscar. Granted, it’s happened before, but the last couple of times it occurred (Crash and Shakespeare in Love beating Brokeback Mountain and Saving Private Ryan, respectively) were a big shock. In those instances, the Best Picture Oscar ended up going to the SAG Ensemble winner, but given the unprecedented tie at this year’s PGA awards, we know that American Hustle was in third place at best (possibly fourth behind Her), so that seems like a highly unlikely situation this year.

I told you earlier that Best Director might not have seemed like much before now, but with the support that Cuaron has received from the DGA and the somewhat unexpected win from the PGA, it now seems like Gravity may indeed be the favorite for the Best Picture Oscar. The history of these two groups together support the theory, as do the two by themselves. Looking at the history of the DGA award, it tends to go to the film that eventually wins Best Picture (even when Little Miss Sunshine won the PGA, Martin Scorsese took the DGA for The Departed, with the film eventually winning Best Picture at the Oscars).

Looking back at the Oscar nominations, we can also take a preliminary look at which film is likely to win which award. While I’m not going to get into specifics quite yet (let’s save that for next month), I will say that it looks as though Gravity is going to win at least seven Oscars (eight if it does take Best Picture), while 12 Years a Slave is looking at taking a maximum of three (if it takes Best Picture). As I’ve asked before, how do you honor a film with so many Oscars (including Best Director and Best Film Editing) and NOT give it Best Picture? That would be the equivalent of saying it’s the best made film, but it’s not THE best film. It would be a somewhat awkward ceremony indeed to see one film take so much, only to lose the big one in the end.

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