Predicting the Oscar winners this year is a little like predicting the winners of the early presidential caucuses and primaries -- that's how wide open the field is in some categories, particularly Best Director.

In the Oscar race, we had two important guild votes this week, from the actors and the editors, and the results made the Academy's contest a bit more clear. Will the DGA's vote this weekend help make sense of things? Maybe, depending on who wins.

The Screen Actors Guild awards last Saturday did help confirm some of the acting races. SAG winner Leonardo DiCaprio still has a lock on a Best Actor Oscar for "The Revenant," and Brie Larson is still far and away the Best Actress frontrunner for "Room." Alicia Vikander's SAG win for Supporting Actress for "The Danish Girl" puts her ahead of the pack; at this point, her only real competition is Golden Globe winner Kate Winslet ("Steve Jobs"), as the other nominees have shown little to no momentum.
And Best Supporting Actor? The SAGs gave the prize to Idris Elba ("Beasts of No Nation"), which is good news for Sylvester Stallone, even though the SAGs didn't even nominate him for "Creed." Why does Elba's SAG victory help Stallone? Because Elba's not nominated for an Oscar. And the SAG voters didn't pick Christian Bale ("The Big Short") or Mark Rylance ("Bridge of Spies"), Stallone's biggest competitors for Oscar. Despite their talents and the quality of their performances, the sentimental narrative of a Rocky Balboa comeback giving the 69-year-old his first Oscar will be too powerful for those whippersnappers to thwart.

But for Best Picture, the SAGs (with their Best Ensemble award) did pick "Spotlight." This win helped the journalism drama bubble back up as a frontrunner, despite having lost momentum in recent weeks to "The Revenant," "The Big Short," "The Martian," and "Mad Max: Fury Road." The American Cinema Editors' Eddie awards could have clarified the race -- after all, it's nearly impossible to win Best Picture without strong support from the editors. But last weekend's ACE Eddies resulted in a tie between "The Big Short" and "Mad Max."

So we have to look to this weekend's Directors Guild of America prizes. We'll know a lot more about what to expect from the Academy based on who wins the DGA. Here are the five ways it could play out:

1. Adam McKay
The "Big Short" director may impress his fellow guild members, not just with his accomplishment, but also with his growth as a filmmaker (this is a long way from Will Ferrell running around in his underwear). If he wins, his movie will have won the Producers Guild (a near-certain predictor of the Oscar winner for Best Picture), the Eddie, and the DGA prize, and it'll be a near-lock for Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards.

2. Tom McCarthy
"Spotlight" is a conventional, visually subtle movie, lacking the apparent directorial flash of its rivals. Nonetheless, McCarthy's peers may recognize his achievement here, both in directing his A-list actors to give award-worthy performances and in telling a weighty story drawn from recent history. A DGA win would be a huge boost for the movie, which has been nominated by just about every awards group but has picked up major prizes only from SAG, the Critics Choice Awards, and the National Society of Film Critics. It might also be enough to halt "Big Short" in its tracks.

3. Alejandro González Iñárritu
"The Revenant" still leads the Oscar pack with 12 nominations, not to mention its Best Drama victory at the Golden Globes. The Mexican director is clearly a favorite at both the DGA and the Academy, having won directing prizes from both last year for "Birdman."

But that could work against him; no one has won back-to-back directing Oscars since Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1950 and 1951. (John Ford, in 1941 and 1942, is the only other director to pull off the feat.) And no one has ever won the DGA prize two years running. So if the Directors Guild does honor Iñárritu -- and given the epic scope and technical difficulty of his snowbound period drama, it might -- that could indicate such broad industry support for his film that we could expect a "Revenant" sweep on Oscar night.

4. George Miller
"Max Max" marks the first DGA nomination in the 70-year-old's distinguished career. His film won the top prize at the National Board of Review and the Eddies, as well as a Best Stunt Ensemble award at the SAGs. "Max" has 10 Oscar nominations, more than any rival except "The Revenant." A DGA win would still move "Max" to the front of the pack.

5. Ridley Scott
He's the Idris Elba of the DGA race, since he's not nominated for an Oscar. (The fifth Academy nominee is "Room" director Lenny Abrahamson, who's this year's Benh Zeitlin; like the "Beasts of the Southern Wild" director, he should consider himself fortunate just to be nominated.) He does stand a good chance at winning a DGA prize for "The Martian" -- he's 78, he's legendary, and he's been nominated for three previous DGA awards but has never won (he's never won a directing Oscar, either).

"The Martian" has already won the top Golden Globe, and it's the biggest crowd-pleasing box office hit among the Best Picture nominees. But if Scott wins at the DGA, the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars will still go to the Stallones of those categories.

And those are...? Right now, "Big Short" remains on top, and "Martian" (with six Academy nominations, same as "Spotlight") remains a long shot. "Revenant" and "Mad Max" still have sheer numbers of nominations on their side, if not much momentum from recent victories.

So a lot is riding on the Directors Guild. After that ceremony, we're left with the subtler, good-behavior contests. Next week begins with the annual nominees luncheon in Hollywood and ends with the BAFTAs (the British Academy Awards) in London. The first isn't a competitive event, and the second has nearly zero influence over Academy voters. But both are important because they're the last big events where the nominees rub shoulders with each other (and the press) and show that they're gracious enough not to disgrace the Academy if they win.

That's another good lesson from Iowa. Rude and cranky may generate colorful stories out on the campaign trail, but it also can scare off the voters.
categories Movies, Oscars, Awards