BEST PICTURE

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As we head into the weekend, we’re at our last stop before Oscar ballots are mailed out to voters. It’s been a season full of twists and turns. It has been unpredictable in many ways, with the final verdict still to be determined. We don’t know if the Oscars themselves will surprise us by making history, or if they will surprise us by NOT making history in an unpredictable season.

Why is it unpredictable? Usually, either the acting races OR the Best Picture race are unpredictable. This is a year where Best Picture and Best Director are both too close to call. Usually voters have to decide between two Best Picture frontrunners, like last year’s Boyhood and Birdman. Sometimes there are three movies in the Best Picture race, like in 2013 when 12 Years a Slave and Gravity tied at the Producers Guild, Gravity won the Directors Guild, and American Hustle won the SAG Ensemble award. In the end, 12 Years won Best Picture and Gravity won Director, American Hustle went home empty-handed.

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There are still four movies pushing to the center of this year’s Oscar race. They can be divided into two distinct pairs – the epics and the character dramas. Three of them are true stories. Only one of them is driven by a female lead, subverting the genre and franchise from which it sprung, and taking a big risk in doing so. Only one of them celebrates uncompromised heroes. Only one reaches for levels of absurdity and farce that spin our culture on its heels and shifts it in a different direction. Two epics that are high on cinematography and art direction. Two script- and actor-driven dramas that hunt down a mystery that ultimately uncovers corruption.
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Winner

We had several entries that got perfect scores in our SAG awards contests. They even got Idris Elba!

Toby Cooke
Gonzalo Pali
Cameron Oro
Stephen Wells
John Williams
Abdull
Randall Gerber
Dion Blackler
Bill Bayard
Mark Bontty
Steve R
Filipe Marcena
Jason Evangelista
Tim McDermott
Jim Brooks
Marcus Aguirra
Flavio Isihi Neto
John Benutty
Igor Medeiros
Polly Wa
Greg Young
Ryan Diaz

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Since 2009, the Producers Guild and the Oscars have both used the same preferential ballot process to choose their winners. No other awards group does it this way. The SAG Awards voters do not (not for Ensemble or any other category), the Directors Guild does not, the ACE Eddies do not, the BAFTA does not. Almost every other group tabulates their ballots with a simple plurality system: each voter selects one film, and whoever gets the most votes after one round of voting wins. It’s entirely possible that a film in a five nominee field can win with as little as 20% + 1 of the votes under a plurality system. But under the preferential system, a film needs to be highest ranked on a majority (50% + 1) of ballots to win.

Some films have no trouble winning, no matter how the ballots are counted: Argo and Birdman are two recent examples of this. But from 1945-2009, Oscar used a plurality ballot with five nominees. That means that it’s difficult to compare our current circumstances to any years before 2009, when larger divergences between the guilds and the Academy occurred more frequently than it does today. The shortened awards season (since 2003) along with an expanded Best Picture field and a preferential ballot (since 2009) has resulted in the PGA aligning itself with Oscar methods and hence becoming the precursor that has matched Best Picture 100% of the time. And it’s been the only one.

Since 2009 – SAG Awards Outstanding Ensemble missed matching Best Picture:
2009 – Inglorious Basterds
2010 – The King’s Speech
2011 – The Help
2012 – Argo
2013 – American Hustle
2014 – Birdman
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If Bernie Sanders needs to win Iowa to show he’s got the goods, Spotlight needed a big guild award for the same reason. Had it not won the SAG Award tonight, Spotlight probably would have been out of the Best Picture race. But a plurality tally of 160,000 film and television actors (as well as broadcast journalists, radio announcers and on-air television news talent) picked Spotlight to win.

At first, the night seemed like it might be headed in Straight Outta Compton’s or Beasts of No Nation’s direction, once Idris Elba won Supporting Actor, beating Christian Bale and Mark Rylance. For a while there, people were thinking the SAG voter’s display of diversity might end with Compton winning Outstanding Ensemble. But ultimately SAG maintained its tradition of awarding its Ensemble Award to one of Oscar’s Best Picture nominees. The other option was The Big Short, which many of us thought was poised to win. The reason being that the more dramatic and overall flashy performances usually win the day with SAG voters.

Perhaps the most important thing about Spotlight’s win was the way they made the most of it. The actors didn’t spend a lot of time at the mic thanking people personally, but went right to the heart of the film’s message about the widespread abuse of the Catholic Church and the countless victims left in its wake. They even said something like “the good guys win.” That puts it in direct contrast to The Big Short, where the bad guys definitely win, and pointedly so.

How those two themes will play out with Oscar voters is a different story. I do know that the majority of pundits I know and read are in Spotlight’s corner all the way and will be very happy with this win tonight — just as the Producers Guild win for The Big Short was a big bummer for them. I think I’m literally the only one out there who wholeheartedly loves The Big Short, though I do believe Spotlight is a great movie and a formidable winner for sure. I don’t think there is any film nominated for Best Picture that would be a drag to see win at this point.

But where does that leave us with this race? It’s sort of a crazy thing. SAG’s history is tricky now that they’ve merged with AFTRA because we’re not talking about just actors anymore. This might account for some of the unexpected nominations and the Idris Elba win. The 60,000 new AFTRA voters make a huge difference. There are a lot of broadcast journalists now voting for the SAG Awards since the two unions merged, so the guild is a different hybrid compared to what it used to be. It’s maybe a little more like the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
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Now that the PGA has announced The Big Short as its winner, the Best Picture race has spun in a wildly unpredictable direction. Although alternatively, we could say it spun perceptions of the race in a wildly different direction. Whatever was happening in the minds of industry voters was happening whether we detected it or not. What we discovered is that the critics groups and the Golden Globes had not been on the same track as the Producers Guild members. Now we have the Screen Actors Guild Awards coming up on Sunday, which can help assure us that Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson are definitely winning, and can tell us who might be ahead in the Supporting Actress race. No matter what happens this weekend, Supporting Actor will be a wide open race up to the Oscars and remains anyone’s guess.

The real heat seems to be on Best Picture and Director. Pundits at Gold Derby are still holding out for this to be an outlier year and are predicting Spotlight to win both the SAG Award Ensemble and the Oscar for Best Picture. They are betting on it being a year where the PGA is off, just as SAG was a poor predictor of this year’s Best Picture nominees when they announced their Best Ensemble nominations. Since this has been a year of surprises, if I was into risky bets I might do the same thing some colleagues are doing.

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From the press release: Blye Faust, producer of the Oscar-nominated film “Spotlight,” has joined the board of directors of The Center for Investigative Reporting.

CIR Executive Board Chairman Phil Bronstein announced Faust’s appointment as “Spotlight” had just won best picture at the 2016 Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and been nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren who, along with Bernie Sanders, has been fighting to ensure accountability on Wall Street for the crooks who committed fraud and were never prosecuted. Both Michael Lewis’ book and Adam McKay’s film are about proving the fraudulence of what went down. It was fraud, plain and simple. Here is what Elizabeth Warren said about The Big Short:

I loved The Big Short as much as I could possibly love a movie about greedy Wall Street bankers who cheated working families, broke our economy, and didn’t go to jail. It was great to have Oscar-nominated writer and director Adam McKay stop by my office today to talk about his powerful film. We both agree: The Big Short should add energy to the push for real accountability in our broken financial system.

Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to stand in the way of any kind of regulation or real reform. It doesn’t matter who gets in the White House, if Democrats and liberals don’t step up and vote to change Congress. They haven’t. They aren’t. The GOP is winning. To me, this election is more about putting a Democrat in the White House to block the Republicans from their imminent total takeover. I think Hillary Clinton is the most experienced and best equipped person for the job, mainly because she and she alone can win, but also because Elizabeth Warren has praised Clinton’s Wall Street plan. More importantly, Clinton can make more headway within our stubborn government. I don’t fault people for daydreaming for a better America with Bernie Sanders, but wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t have to take Hillary Clinton down to do it? The misogyny, it’s palpable.

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After The Big Short won the Producers Guild, it was anointed as the Best Picture frontrunner. The thing about the Oscar race is that you mostly want to skate under the radar as much as possible to avoid the Alien attacking you. This is how I look at it. You want to be Ripley walking into a room full of eggs and have the Alien Queen not turn around and notice you’re there. Once she does, you’re toast unless you have a hell of a piece to threaten those eggs with. You see, each one of the Oscar contenders is an egg. If any other film had won the Producers Guild, they too would likely have been attacked.

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A funny thing happened to the Academy Awards last year: a film that had seemed most unlikely to take the top prize swept through the industry. It did not win across the pond in the UK, but Birdman did win the PGA in a shocker, then the DGA, SAG Awards Ensemble, and ultimately the Oscar. Heading into the PGA, no one could have predicted Birdman would win. It just seemed… too dark, too angry, too… modern. Birdman was about the plight of the modern male artist grappling with futility in a world changing all around him, an industry evolving in a distasteful direction. It was similar to Billy Wilder’s Lost Weekend only without the alcohol part. In many ways, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s follow-up, The Revenant, is not all that removed from Birdman. It just takes place in a different era and the horrors are ratcheted up a few notches. Still, it’s a man in peril struggling for survival amid inhospitable surroundings and paying a steep price to get revenge. Doesn’t Riggan also aim for survival and revenge in Birdman?

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Although most pundits (except me, Mike Burry, M.D.) were predicting either Spotlight, Mad Max or The Revenant to win, The Big Short came up the big surprise at the Producers Guild Awards tonight, along with the expected wins for Amy and Inside Out.  What was it that gave some of us hope and cautious confidence? The Big Short is the only film that has SAG Awards Ensemble/ACE Eddie/DGA/PGA and BAFTA nominations. It is well liked across the board, which on paper gives it the advantage. But we didn’t know until tonight if this would be the year these reliable stats would fail. So far anyway, it looks like our Oscar model is a solid success.  Next up, the SAG Awards on January 30th, and after that the ACE, WGA and DGA.

The Big Short is such a good movie that it may take several viewings to realize just how good it is. Every character is carefully considered and written with a rich blend of flaws and honorable traits. Most films made these days don’t take time to construct layered characters the way Adam McKay has done, working with screenwriter Charles Randolph from Michael Lewis’s book.  Characters so specific that you barely notice it the first time through.  There’s more than that, of course, driving it through to a win.

This is an election year and Wall Street is front and center. Market manipulations should matter to you whether you’re a Bernie supporter, a Hillary supporter, or a supporter of any GOP candidate. People of all political persuasions remain rightfully angry that no one was prosecuted and most of us resent the fact that Wall Street execs, bankers and brokers gambled with our money, lost big time, and still walked away rich with the American taxpayers bailing them out. We should all be angry about that, no matter which party we want to run the country. The Big Short exposes the rigged con-game better than any other movie ever made about Wall Street and, thanks to Michael Lewis’s scathing approach, it satirizes the people involved while painting a crystal clear picture of the crazy, conflicted world where we find ourselves ensnared.

The Wolf of Wall Street, in contrast, was about a more ruthless kind of financial thievery — crooks who walk away rich with no conscience and no regrets. The Big Short isn’t about those people. It’s about a few smart investors who saw the banks were committing fraud and bet against the game on the eve of the housing market crisis.  When it became clear that the banks themselves were betting against millions of homeowners, a handful of money managers tried to sound the alarm about the extent of the damage about to rain down.  But the rotten foundation inevitably gave way and the Jenga towers began to collapse all around them. The catastrophe left many cocky deal-makers hollowed out and forever changed. There is no forgiveness granted here, nor any real redemption, but there are three-dimensional humans worth caring about. The story works for audiences because people all across the country are angry, but it also works on its own as a brilliantly written, carefully acted and energetically directed   American film of the first order.

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Finally, this crazy wide open Best Picture race will have its major shaping (most likely) by the Producers Guild announcement tonight. I thought this would be a good time to revisit the stats once again before tonight’s ceremony, to evaluate which ones are going to fail and which ones will hold. While it’s true that “stats don’t matter,” as Kris Tapley and David Poland always say, stats are the only part of the Oscar race that is interesting to me after covering it for so many years.

In every year since the Oscars and the Producers Guild changed to the preferential ballot with more than five nominees, there have been two, sometimes three  leading Best Picture contenders. This year, there are four, which makes this year unusual. Let’s run through the stats from the most important to the least important.

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It’s all going down in the next few weeks – Producers Guild this weekend, SAG awards the following weekend, DGA awards the weekend after that. The train rolls along. We are headed into an industry season that is completely wide open in a way we haven’t seen before (or if we’ve seen it before, we haven’t yet connected the dots). The Producers Guild does tend to surprise and upend what Oscar pundits think the race will be about. Right now, we just don’t know a dang thang! Well, that’s not completely true. Here are the things we know almost for sure:

The Absolutelies 
Leonardo DiCaprio
is winning Best Actor
Brie Larson is winning Best Actress
Inside Out is winning Animated Feature
Original Screenplay
will go to Spotlight
Visual EffectsMad Max: Fury Road all the way

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The nominees have been announced. Eight films featured in the Best Picture category: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, and Spotlight.

Watch the trailers for the films below:

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The Producers Guild handed out its first award in 1990, the year Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture. That remains the only year in their entire history that their winner did not have an ACE Eddie nomination (although in their first year of existence the PGAs were held three days after the Oscars). This is funny because it is such a reliable stat and yet so many are predicting Spotlight to win both the PGA and the Best Picture Oscar, while they are thinking the DGA might go to someone else. I am just an Oscar blogger. Standing here in front of you. Asking you to trust me. Actually, don’t trust me.
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The current Oscar race seems very much like two races in one. Usually, there are two films that dominate and go head-to-head. This year, it feels like there are two pairs of two: two tech-heavy epics with visionary directors attached and intense themes about humanity, versus two smaller character dramas by relatively unknown directors about journalists hunting down corruption in the Catholic Church or Wall Street traders uncovering fraud in the financial system on the eve of the banking collapse of 2008. These four films seem poised to dominate the race and only one of them can win.

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Now that all of the films have been released and are making money, it’s time to once again tally up the scores. How much have they made? How much did they cost? How many negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes? Let’s take a quick look.

1. Rotten Tomatoes
The best way to measure critic reviews is not to look at the positive number at Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes. The reason is that the demographics and names on those sites keep changing. There isn’t any kind of consistency. We look at two things. Usually the negative number on Rotten Tomatoes is a pretty good indicator of how many people hated the movie. The more people who hated the movie, the higher the negative number, the less the chances for winning Best Picture on a preferential ballot.

Let’s look at the scores of the films since the Academy switched up to a preferential ballot.

2009 – The Hurt Locker 245/6
2010 – The King’s Speech 247/14
2011 – The Artist 267/7
2012 – Argo 287/13
2013 – 12 Years a Slave 280/11
2014 – Birdman 241/21
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This year, I think I can say, with a fair amount of certainty, that no one will know what direction this ship is headed until the Producers Guild Awards names their winner, which they will do with ten nominees on a preferential ballot with around 7000 voters, 57% male and 43% female. This weekend, the Broadcast Film Critics Association will hand out the Critics Choice Awards. In contrast to the Producers Guild, the Critics Choice Awards are chosen by around 300 voters. That’s a really big difference and you simply can’t compare them.

It’s always funny to me when people say “If so and so wins at the Critics Choice, look out.” You know, it just isn’t factually correct. It really has no bearing at all compared to a consensus vote of thousands of industry voters. All the BFCA can do is show you what those 300 voters think Oscar might choose. They’re right sometimes, they’re wrong sometimes. Just like we in the punditry world are sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

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You will begin to hear the outrage at yet another year of 20 white actors nominated at the Oscars. This isn’t that surprising for women because there weren’t a lot of films that featured women of color in significant roles. Even if there were, the film critics groups are as culpable as the Academy for making their awards about humping the leg of white power as much as the Academy does. But even the critics, even the Hollywood Foreign Press, even the BAFTA nominated Idris Elba. The Screen Actors Guild nominated both Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton for its Outstanding Ensemble award. The Producers Guild nominated Straight Outta Compton, as did the Writers Guild and the American Film Institute. It’s when you get to the power center of Hollywood — the people who are supposed to matter most — that you see those doors, year after year, slammed shut.

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