How unpredictable is this year's Oscar race? We are two weeks out and Best Picture still remains a three-way race.

Last weekend's Directors Guild Awards -- which analysts thought might bring some clarity to the race -- resulted in an unprecedented repeat victory for "The Revenant" director Alejandro González Iñárritu, meaning Oscarologists are just as confused as ever. Especially since Best Picture still remains a three-way race.

Iñárritu is the first person ever to win two DGA prizes in a row; he won last year for "Birdman" as well. If he goes on to win the Best Director Oscar -- and the DGA win makes him the front-runner in that category -- he'll be only the third person ever to win two directing Oscars in a row, and the first to do it in 65 years.
But does that mean "Revenant" is going to win Best Picture? Not necessarily, though the signs are encouraging. It has 12 nominations, more than any other contender. Besides the DGA, it won the Golden Globe for Best Drama. Star Leonardo DiCaprio seems certain to win Best Actor. And it doesn't hurt that the movie is a big box office hit.

On the other hand, it failed to win a number of other Important precursor awards. It wasn't even nominated for Best Ensemble (the equivalent of Best Picture) at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The Best Director Oscar and the Best Picture Oscar haven't always matched up in recent years. No director's movies have ever won Best Picture two years running. And the film's top rivals, "The Big Short" and "Spotlight," remain strong.

"Spotlight" did win the SAGs' top prize, meaning it's the favorite of the actors, the largest branch of Academy voters. It also won Best Picture at the Critics Choice Awards, along with Best Ensemble and Best Original Screenplay. In fact it was the early favorite of many critics' groups -- which put the film on the Academy's short list, if not all the way in the winner's circle. Its early momentum was thought to have stalled when "Revenant" came along, but its SAG victory two weeks ago put it back in the running.
"Big Short" was the only other Best Picture contender even nominated for SAG's Best Ensemble award. It won the American Cinema Editor's ACE Eddie award for Best Editing (tied with "Mad Max: Fury Road,") often a strong Best Picture precursor. Most important, "Big Short" won the Producers Guild of America Award.

The PGA prize has been the most accurate predictor of the Best Picture Oscar over the last decade. 19 of the last 26 films to win the PGA's highest honor also went on to win the Academy's.

This year's top contenders are movies that are easier to admire than to love. You can respect Iñárritu for making a difficult movie under adverse conditions and still think "The Revenant" is punishing to sit through. You can consider "Spotlight" worthy for getting impeccable performances out of a great ensemble in order to tell an important story and still think the movie is conventional and un-cinematic. And you can marvel at "The Big Short" for finding an entertaining way to explain a complex catastrophe and still find the movie too light-hearted and comical to take seriously as a Best Picture contender.
Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency EnterprisesThat said, "Big Short" and "Spotlight" are more consensus-appeal movies than "Revenant." At Rotten Tomatoes, "Revenant" has a lot more negative reviews (50) than the other two films (29 for "Big Short," nine for "Spotlight"). And despite "Revenant's" multiple Academy Award nominations, its failure to win any of the guild awards except the DGA suggests that its support among the Hollywood craftspeople who make up the bulk of the Academy is broad but not very deep.

How deep? Maybe the BAFTAs this weekend will offer a clue, but there's only so much overlap in membership between the American and British Academies. Still, there's one BAFTA quirk that has held value as a predictor over the years: no film without a BAFTA screenwriting nomination wins a Best Picture Oscar.

That stat would seem to spell doom for "Revenant," whose screenplay wasn't nominated by either country's Academy. Then again, Iñárritu doesn't have the problem in England that he does here: that voters might think it's too soon for him or his film to win again, since "Boyhood" and Richard Linklater beat him for the BAFTA last year.

If "Revenant" does sweep at the BAFTAs -- it's up for eight prizes in London -- we'll know that the movie's momentum has gone global. Same if "Spotlight" wins a Best Film BAFTA, especially since it's only up for three awards there, and Best Director isn't one of them. But if "Big Short," which is up for five BAFTAs, takes the crown, it'll confirm the promise suggested by all the precursor awards the movie has been nominated for or won.

At this point, it's plausible that we'll see an Oscar split: "Big Short" for Best Picture, "Revenant" for Best Director. But so far, all we can say for sure is that Oscar voting begins on February 12 and ends on the 23rd. If individual Academy voters are as torn between the three front-runners as the guilds have been, they don't have much more time to make up their minds.
categories Movies, Oscars, Awards