The DGA Awards are tonight. The DGA breakfast is happening now. It is perhaps the most wide open race we’ve ever seen, unless it turns out not to be and then we’ll all pick up our balls and go home, writing it off as another predictable season. This is your reminder of how unpredictable it is at this moment.

Although, as Erik Anderson pointed out on Twitter yesterday, it is a little strange that all of the pundits at Gold Derby are convinced the winner will be anyone but Adam McKay, he is still the most likely to win tonight if you go go by stats. If you go by anything other than stats, you are going to find things split up.

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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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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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I first started covering the Oscar race back in 1999, when very few people were. Tom O’Neil and a few others had predictions sites. The LA Times, Premiere Magazine, and Entertainment Weekly would cover the Oscars in “Oscar season.” But I was really the first (whether people give me credit for it or not, and usually they don’t) to build a site, for better or worse, that covered the Oscars year-round.
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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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SAG Award

Tonight, the SAG award might help us figure a few things out. Any No Guts, No Glory at the last minute? Mine would be Rooney Mara winning for Carol, even though technically that isn’t as outside a shot as it could be. Helen Mirren or Sarah Silverman winning would be a major NG,NG.

Here we go.


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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It’s all come down to this, my friends. I have nothing left to teach you, grasshoppers. I’ve given you every tiny clue I know, from the solid stats, to the emotional meltdowns, to the ego boosts, to the sting of shame when you’re wrong. You’ve gone through it all with me, year after year, tragedy and triumph. 17 goddamned years of this. Here we go.

You will have two options. The first prize is 8 DVDs of your choice. They can be the Oscar movies or not. I would want Carol, myself, and it’s not in the Best Picture lineup, for instance. The second prize is a $50 gift certificate. And for our second contest, the major categories only, the top prize is 5 dvds of your choice. We might sweeten the pot as we get closer to the big night.
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It’s interesting to be on the selling side of the awards race because you can tell which studio is really in it to win and which ones are either confident, nervous, or resigned. In some ways, it seems that many in Hollywood feel this race is all but locked up and thus, expect no surprises. And indeed, it could be. Will the SAG Awards tell us anything different from what we thought we knew before? Are any of the acting races still open? Are there any performances ripe for an upset? Can we expect some surprises?
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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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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 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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It probably strikes the typical oscar voter as surprising, frustrating and ironic. They want to believe they belong to an institution that purports to celebrate heroes — an institution that, more often than not, honors movies about good guys over movies about bad guys, and thus represents a righteous, high-minded ideology. Many of them lived through the 1960s. They probably fought in the Civil Rights Movement. They drive a Prius — or, if they’re next level, a Tesla. They do what they can for all the right causes. They fight against injustice whenever they see it. Most are liberals. Staunch Democrats. Many are happy get behind Hillary, and even those who see themselves as Bernie supporters will still vote for Hillary if they have to. They feel in their hearts that they have good intentions. Although the size of their fortunes has ballooned with savvy investment advice, they do not see themselves as part of the Wall Street schemes that support their lifestyles. They choose to see themselves as outside that system — fighting against it — even while living lavishly because of it. Above all, they most certainly do not see themselves in terms of the word being bandied about this week, as racists.

Inside this comfortable self-image, very few are paying attention — really paying attention — to what’s happening in Hollywood and what’s happening to the Oscars as a result. How many Academy members stop to consider what their choices say about what’s happening in our culture’s broader discussion about race and representation in art?

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– Sometimes…it’s better for a man just to walk away.
– But if you can’t walk away?
– I guess that’s when it’s tough.

Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

The big lie in America is that everybody has a shot at the American Dream — big money. In truth, we don’t. Some of us get lucky is all. A few are lucky to be born into it. Some are lucky to get a good education or to be well-placed in the social hierarchy. Others feel lucky if they can walk into a bank and some eager banker gives them a loan to buy a house — not just any house, their dream house — and puts in their desperate, empty hands the promise of the American Dream fulfilled.

For decades, millions of Americans believed in that dream, too. We believed that luck was ready to shine on us. Because, after all, we have a right to reach for the brass ring like everyone else, don’t we? Even if our electricity is about to be shut off, we can’t afford groceries for dinner, we’re still $200 behind in bank fees from overdrafts — look, someone just sent us an offer for a credit card with a $300 limit!

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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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Spike Lee was presented with an honorary Oscar late last year, recognizing his work as a director for films such as Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, and Do The Right Thing. Today, we all remember when Do the Right Thing was unfairly shut out of the Best Picture race, the infamous year of Driving Miss Daisy. (You didn’t really, Hollywood, did you? YES YOU DID!) How Kim Basinger took to the stage in protest on Oscar Night, and how critic Roger Ebert was among the loudest critics of the Oscars that year. We remember. It seems like a lifetime ago. We were screaming about it again in 2001 when Sissy Spacek and Russell Crowe were about to win Oscars in 2001, and then Halle Berry became the first (and only) black actress to win an Oscar for a leading role. In 88 years. Of Oscar history. One black actress. Can you really sit there with a straight face and tell me that no other performance has ever been worthy? No performance by a black actress has been better than Sandra Bullock in the Blind Side in 88 years of Oscar history?

Lee has penned a letter about the Oscars being white… again.

#OscarsSoWhite… Again.

I would like to thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for awarding me an honorary Oscar this past November. I am most appreciative. However, my wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee and I will not be attending the Oscar ceremony this coming February. We cannot support it and mean no disrespect to my friends, host Chris Rock and producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs and the Academy. But how is it possible, for the 2nd consecutive year, all 20 contenders under the actor category are white? And let’s not even get into the other branches. 40 white actors in 2 years and no flava at all. We can’t act? WTF?

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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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