As the Academy Awards approach, the various guild awards and critics groups' honors often provide insight into prevailing Oscar sentiments. In this year's race for Oscar gold, however, momentum has repeatedly swung back and forth among what might be called the season's Big Three: "12 Years a Slave," "Gravity" and "American Hustle."
The three-way race started to heat up with the Golden Globes last week as the three major prizes were spread among those three films. David O. Russell's 1970s con story "American Hustle" won for best comedy or musical, Steve McQueen's historical drama "12 Years a Slave" won for best drama, and "Gravity" helmer Alfonso Cuaron won best director.
The Globes have a spotty record as Oscar predictors, however, because the members of Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which hands out the Globes, don't overlap with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Over the weekend, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Producers Guild of America Awards had a chance to clarify the race but instead gave reason for all three contenders to be hopeful — and to remain wary of the competition.
At the SAG Awards on Saturday, the evening's top prize, the award for best cast, went to "American Hustle." In doing so, "Hustle" beat out "12 Years Slave," while "Gravity" did not receive a nomination, likely because it's not an ensemble picture.
The cast award is considered a bellwether of the Oscar race for best picture because many SAG members overlap with the academy's actors branch, the largest voting bloc in the organization. Still, that record is far from perfect: Over the past 10 years, the SAG cast award has correctly predicted the Oscar for best picture six times, including "Argo," "The King's Speech," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "No Country for Old Men." Recent discrepancies include "The Help" and "Inglourious Basterds" winning the SAG Award while the Oscars those years went to "The Artist" and "The Hurt Locker."
A day after the SAG Awards, the PGA threw a curveball when it announced that its top honor, the Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of a Theatrical Motion Picture, would be shared by two films: "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave." The tie marked a first in the category in PGA history.
Because the PGA uses the same preferential voting system as the academy, its top prize is considered a reliable predictor of the Oscar for best picture. The PGA award has correctly predicted the past six Oscar winners for best picture, including all five since the academy expanded the ballot to accommodate more than five films in 2009. The tie doesn't bode well for "Hustle," because it means the film came in, at best, in third place in PGA voting.
There is one more guild awards ceremony this week, and it happens to be the one with the most accurate record as a best-picture prognosticator. The film directed by the winner of the Directors Guild of America's top prize has gone on to claim best picture at the Oscars all but 13 times in the last 65 years. Russell, Cuaron and McQueen are all nominated for the DGA Award.
The DGA Awards will be held Jan. 25, and the Academy Awards will be held March 2.
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