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Guilds Trifecta Could Put the Final Stamp on the Oscars Race

The Guilds have spoken! While a few national critics groups continue to announce their annual awards, the first phase of the season is behind us and we are in the home stretch leading to the Oscar nominations next week on Jan. 16. Just as the Screen Actors Guild is to putting an inescapable stamp on the acting categories, three more major guilds help put the rest of the major races in perspective. Or, at least, tell us what we already knew.

Best Picture

The first out of the box were the Producers Guild and if we go back to our report on Dec. 24 you will see a lot of familiar titles. "12 Years a Slave", "American Hustle", Gravity" and "Her" were the safe bets among the PGA nominees as well as all five of the wild card picks ("Captain Phillips", "Dallas Buyers Club", "Nebraska", "Saving Mr. Banks" and "The Wolf of Wall Street") made their list. The surprise of the bunch was Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" make the cut over the Coen Brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" which we had as a safe bet. People are now beginning to question its chances.

One constant that has come out of the PGA moving to 10 nominees to match the potential Oscar picks is that they have never gone a perfect 10-for-10. The closest they came was nine in 2010 and they have not done worse than seven in these four years. As the Best Picture race is now down to, at most, a dozen films the seven most likely candidates are very easy to pick out of the pack. Even with six of the nine films since 2009 to receive just a PGA nod and nothing from the writers or directors, the remaining contenders including "Blue Jasmine", "Dallas Buyers Club", "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Saving Mr. Banks" must then look ahead to their fellow Guilds to bump up their chances.

Original Screenplay

The Writers Guild were next up and here is where it gets tricky. Due to WGA rules, dues and non-membership a number of screenplays every year are ruled ineligible. In recent years these have even included "The King's Speech" and "Django Unchained"; each which went on to win Oscars. This year, two of the films on our safe bets list for Adapted Screenplay ("12 Years a Slave" and "Philomena") were on their ineligible list. This frustrating practice drives a wedge into playing the numbers game of matching WGA picks to the eventual Oscar nominees. Since 2003, just 68% of the WGA nominees for adaptations have been up for Oscar and only 54% of their Original choices.

Nominated in that latter category this year are Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell's "American Hustle", Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine", Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack's "Dallas Buyers Club", Spike Jonze's "Her" and Bob Nelson's "Nebraska"; all of them Producers Guild nominees. Jonze, Nelson and Singer/Russell are now virtual locks for Oscar nominations. Combining their WGA nods with similar nods from the Globes, Chicago and the Broadcast Film Critics Association are a perfect 11-for-11 the past decade. If we look just at WGA-nominated screenplays that also received a PGA nod since 2003, the percentages on "Blue Jasmine" and "Dallas Buyers Club" jump up to 84.6% each. Forty-four of 52 scripts on that list ended up getting nominated and 17 of 19 in the Original category. On the flipside, the WGA and Oscar have not had a perfect 5-for-5 match since 1997.

Adapted Screenplay

Oscar has matched WGA across the board as recently as 2006, though with "12 Years a Slave" disqualified, it is a very safe bet they will not be perfect this year. So what is going to drop off? The WGA nominees are Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County", "Before Midnight" (from Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Billy Ray's "Captain Phillips", Peter Berg's "Lone Survivor" and Terence Winter's "The Wolf of Wall Street." If one of these things is most definitely not like the other it is Berg's screenplay; an adaptation of Marcus Luttrell's account of a failed Afghanistan mission from 2005. Until that shocking, out-of-left-field (and pretty ridiculous) nomination, the film (opening wide in theaters on Friday) had received only four nods to date including one from SAG for the ensemble stuntwork, Mark Wahlberg for "Actor in an Action Movie" (from the BFCA) and two for Best Action Movie. Nothing for its writing. Considering Destin Cretton's "Short Term 12" was also not on the ballot, the only other (qualifying) film to be nominated for Adapted Screenplay by anyone to date was "The Spectacular Now".

Getting back to our initial safe bets disqualified by the WGA, "12 Years a Slave" and "Philomena", here is just how safe they still look. No script since 2002 has been nominated by the Golden Globes, the BFCA and the Chicago Film Critics and not received an Oscar nomination. A perfect 32 for 32, WGA nod or not. Regarding our other safe bet, "Before Midnight": Amongst its many accolades was the Los Angeles critics choice for Best Screenplay. When coupled with a WGA nod, that choice has not failed to get nominated since 2002's "About Schmidt". "Captain Phillips" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" were also PGA nominees putting them in that 84th percentile. That could leave "August: Osage County" on the sideline along with "Lone Survivor".

Best Director (and Picture again)

This brings us full circle with today's announcement from the Directors Guild. Your nominees are Alfonso Cuarón ("Gravity"), Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips"), Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave"), David O. Russell ("American Hustle") and Martin Scorsese ("The Wolf of Wall Street"). The past decade gives these nominees a 78% chance for an Oscar nod. That number would be higher without last year's shocking anomaly that saw Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow sitting on the bench for the big show. Prior to that, 2006 was the last time more than one DGA nominee failed to get an Oscar nomination. Since the 2009 rule change to Best Picture, a DGA nominee has also been a lock to see their film nominated for the big prize regardless of their own invitation. That gives us a nice five-pack of safe bets for Best Picture.

Spike Jonze may have been passed over by the DGA, but his "Her" still boasts the very reliable Globes/LA/Chicago/BFCA combo of nominations that should make it your sixth Best Picture nominee. Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" has a trio of nods from the Globes, BFCA and Producers Guild that makes it an 81.8% likely nominee. The nominations that "Dallas Buyers Club" and "Saving Mr. Banks" have collected place it in a group that includes "127 Hours", "True Grit" and "The Town". The first two were nominated, the latter was not. That leaves us with the absence of the Coens' "Inside Llewyn Davis" from any of the Guilds which has made a lot of fans unhappy and prognosticators wondering if it's gone from being a safe bet to a shutout. Remember this though. Since the expansion of Best Picture, a film has been nominated every year without a nod from the Producers, Writers or Directors Guild. Five in total including "Amour", "The Blind Side", "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", "The Tree of Life" and "Winter's Bone." That trend is likely to continue on January 16. Stay tuned for our full predictions.

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