This week, a smattering of guilds announced the nominations for their own awards. This follows last week’s guild nominations. The guild nominations help put focus on what films industry workers (which comprise the Academy) are admiring this awards season and can be valuable assistance in making your predictions in the Academy Awards Predictions Game, which ends in another week and a half.
Also note that Arthur and the Invisibles has been disqualified from Oscar’s Best Animated Feature award, thus putting the number of eligible features under a key threshold: now there will be only three Best Animated Feature nominees, not five. The Academy Awards Predictions Game will remain unchanged: you’ll have five chances to guess three nominees.
The two big guns are the DGA (Director’s Guild of America) nominations and the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) nominations. There is also often a strong correlation between the ACE (American Cinema Editors) nominations and Oscar’s Best Picture line-up, so pay attention to them as well. Additionally, the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers) announced their nominations this week, which is a wonderfully offbeat set of choices. Finally, it’s not a guild, but BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) announced their nominations this week as well.
On average, four and a half of the DGA nominees will be Oscar’s Best Picture nominees. The PGA, if you recall from last week, nominates three and a half of the eventual Oscar nominees. This year, the PGA and DGA picked the same five titles. Does that mean we round up on the PGA, down on the DGA, and get four out of the five for Oscar? Or does the rare synchronicity across industry sectors suggest a five-for-five match? It’s not just the PGA and DGA. The top four guilds, plus the ACE, seem unusually synchronized. One oddity is the WGA snubbing Dreamgirls, despite having ten slots, five for original screenplay and five for adapted. But it’s not uncommon for writing and directing awards to skip over musicals, as if they write and direct themselves.
Despite the strength of indicators from the guilds, caution is important. The Oscars do like to go their own way sometimes. As David Poland points out, this time last year, Crash, the ultimate Best Picture winner, was fighting for a nomination and hadn’t a hope of winning. Munich, an eventual nominee, wasn’t going to make it. And Brokeback Mountain was a lock for the win.
This time in 2003, few were predicting The Pianist would slip in as the presumed “fifth nominee,” yet while it lost Best Picture, it took home Best Director, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay. And nobody — I mean nobody — foresaw Fernando Meirelles landing a Best Director slot for City of God, released in the United States in January 2002, over a year earlier, and utterly failing a bid for Best Foreign Language Film at the previous year’s Oscars. I didn’t even have Meirelles as a choice in my predictions game that year.
I’m not expecting surprises in the Best Picture category this year, but it feels like the kind of year where something crazy will happen with Best Director. If you take the PGA/DGA list and presume those to be Oscar’s Best Picture nominees, well, three out of the five directors still feel vulnerable. The Queen, for example, may be seen primarily as an actor’s and writer’s picture, rather than a director’s picture. Dreamgirls suffers from the aforementioned misperception that musicals direct themselves. (Moulin Rouge, for example, landed a Best Picture slot but missed Best Director.) And Little Miss Sunshine, despite just “feeling” like a director-snub kind of movie, was directed by a husband-wife team, and for some reason Oscar gets all weird about directorial collaborations.
Meanwhile, there are a number of films out there that are huge “director’s movies” that are getting a lot of hype and appreciation but aren’t considered to be Best Picture candidates for one reason or another. Alfonso Cuaron, for Children of Men, and Guillermo del Toro, for Pan’s Labyrinth, are both getting career-high accolades. Then there are a pair of Best Picture dark horses — Letters From Iwo Jima and United 93 — that are powerful director showcases, suggesting they might land Best Director even if they miss Best Picture. The Academy may also remember how Todd Field’s In the Bedroom was a Best Picture nominee, but he himself didn’t make the cut for Best Director. Might the reverse happen this year with Little Children?
I don’t expect Best Picture and Best Director to only have two titles in common. But three open doors is more than the usual number of opportunities for a mismatch. Last year, for example, four titles were pretty solid in both categories, and as things turned out, all five titles lined up. But it’s more usual for one title in each list to be different, and sometimes there are two.
The other important consideration is this: popularity of the awards films ebbs and flows from week to week. For about one straight week a while back, Letters From Iwo Jima was a serious threat to win; now, suddenly it’s fighting to be nominated. But you know what? The Oscar ballots were mailed out right around the crest of Letters’ wave, and the majority of the ballots get sent back right away. The guilds, on the other hand, are announcing nominations decided quite a bit earlier. Does that suggest a Letters nomination, in spite of its brief tenure as the subject of awards hype? I don’t know, but the door is open.
The trickiest categories are Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. In the Academy Awards Predictions Game, we only ask you to predict the Best Actor winners. But the unpredictability of Best Supporting Actor is still a factor in those choices, because there are still some questions flying around about whether Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed is in lead or supporting, and his additional candidacy for Blood Diamond muddies the picture up even more.