It's one week until the Oscar nominations are announced, and pundits often think they know how the Academy members will vote. But then we learn what Hollywood really thinks from the industry insiders who actually make the movies: The members of the guilds.

After all, the unions and trade groups who hand out guild awards are often the same people who'll be voting for the Oscars. We already learned a lot from the Screen Actors Guild, who announced their nominations last month -- and who'll hand out their prizes at the end of January.

But this week, we heard from several other guilds -- including the Producers Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, and the American Society of Cinematographers -- and our simple narrative about "Spotlight" being the runaway front-runner in an otherwise wide-open race has gone out the window.
Earlier this week, the National Society of Film Critics, a group that prides itself on voting according to its members' own quirky taste and not the conventional wisdom, named "Spotlight" the group's Best Picture. If even the NSFC picked "Spotlight," as so many other groups already have, then surely the consensus is right this time, and the ensemble drama about the investigative reporters who exposed the Catholic Church's pedophilia cover-up is truly the top candidate for a Best Picture Oscar.

But we have to remember, the predictive value of an NSFC award is virtually zero most years, and this year shouldn't be any different. And if we needed any reminders of whose choices matter and whose don't, we got several of them this week from the guilds -- starting with the American Cinema Editors.

The editors of the ACE threw the oddsmakers for a loop by leavIng "Spotlight" off their list of nominees. Their drama category includes such expected titles as "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Martian," and "The Revenant." The ACE animation nominees are less controversial: Pixar's "Inside Out" and "The Good Dinosaur," along with Charlie Kaufman's stop-motion "Anomalisa." Granted, the ACE picks won't necessarily foretell the Academy nominees for Best Picture or even Best Editing, but no movie has won a Best Picture Oscar in 20 years without first being nominated for an Eddie. Tough break, "Spotlight" fans.
The producers, whose guild prize is usually a very good predictor of who'll get a Best Picture Oscar nomination, did include "Spotlight," as well as Oscar front-runners "The Martian," "The Revenant," and "Mad Max: Fury Road." They also echoed the rising support for such films as "The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," and "Brooklyn." But they snubbed "Star Wars," as well as supposed front-runners "Carol," "Room," "Joy," and "The Hateful Eight."

The writers liked "Spotlight," "Carol," and "Martian," as well as rising contenders "The Big Short" and "Compton." Of course, the WGA nominations come with a caveat: Only union members are eligible for nominations, which means they ignore most foreign scripts and some by non-member domestic writers. So that leaves out some likely Oscar screenplay contenders, including Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight," Hungarian drama "Son of Saul" (currently the front-runner for the foreign-language Oscar), "Inside Out" (the probable Best Animated Feature Oscar winner), "Anomalisa," "Brooklyn," "Room," "The Danish Girl," and "Ex Machina." Still, the WGA awards do have some predictive value. They may not get all the Oscar nominees right, but 22 of the 32 winners of the guild's Original and Adapted Screenplay honors over the past 16 years have gone on to win on Oscar night.

What do all these guild awards tell us? First of all, the race is still up for grabs, and "Spotlight" is far (ish) from a sure thing. Second, there's more support for "The Big Short," "Bridge," "Ex Machina," "Sicario," and "Compton" than one might have guessed a month ago. (And maybe less for "Carol," "Brooklyn," "Hateful Eight," and "Room.") Third, crowdpleasers that critics love -- including "Martian," "Mad Max," and "Star Wars" -- all still have a good shot. And fourth, because of the complexities of the Academy's weighted ballot system, the lack of strong support for almost all of these movies could mean as few as five Best Picture nominees this year, instead of the usual eight or nine. Which five have the most enthusiastic support, and which are merely well-liked but not loved, is still too hard to tell.
The suspense of this early, chaotic phase of the race is about to end. On Sunday, the Golden Globes will be handed out, but they won't matter much because voting for Oscar nominations ends two days earlier, on January 8. We also haven't heard yet from the Directors Guild of America; their nominations come out Tuesday, January 12, and will offer a strong indication of Oscar voters' picks for Best Director and Best Picture nominations.

Finally, the Oscar nominations themselves will be announced on Thursday, January 14. At that point, none of the winners journalists have picked will matter anymore, and we'll focus entirely on what and whom the industry insiders choose.
categories Movies, Oscars, Awards