Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Guild Nominations in Perspective

I'm not going to go into SAG--the Screen Actors Guild--just yet. It offers several categories and will be given its own space. For now, I am concentrating on the three other Guilds that can directly--or by accumulation--effect the Oscar race: the Producers Guild (PGA), the Writers' Guild (WGA), and the Directors' Guild (DGA).

First, the PGA. Here are this year's nominees--the Guild equivalent of Best Picture:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

Historically, the PGA has a frequent tendency to match 4 out of 5 of the eventual Oscar nominees. Last year, they nominated The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Oscar went with Atonement. In 2007, they nominated Dreamgirls while the Academy nominated Letters from Iwo Jima. The year before that, PGA went with Walk the Line while Munich got the Oscar nod. You get the idea...

The problem with history repeating itself this year is, simply, who could possibly be replaced--and by what? I guess the most likely candidate for dismissal would be the least traditional nominee--The Dark Knight. But what film would ever replace the second-highest-grossing film in history, driven by the year's most celebrated performance? Wall-E was the most acclaimed film of the year overall...but that would be like replacing one untraditional nominee with a very untraditional nominee. Doubt would be a worthy candidate, but it never caught on in a real way with any group other than SAG. So what's left...Revolutionary Road? People are currently taken with hating every piece of that film other than Kate Winslet. The Reader is the only other possibility in terms of visibility and half-assed critical consensus...but again that has more to do with Kate the Great.

For the first time in nearly a decade, I think the PGA might match Oscar to the letter.

Onto the WGA, where the Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay categories mirror the Oscars with relative accuracy...but once again, are rarely exact. There always seems to be at least--and sometimes more than one--"Just for Fun" nominee, like Judd Apatow for Knocked Up last year (gag) or Apatow and Steve Carell for 40-Year-Old Virgin in 2005.

This year, here are the Original Screenplay nominees:

Burn After Reading, Joel and Ethan Coen
Milk, Dustin Lance Black
Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen
The Visitor, Tom McCarthy
The Wrestler, Robert Siegel

And Adapted Screenplay nominees....

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Eric Roth
The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan
Doubt, John Patrick Shanley
Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan
Slumdog Millionaire, Simon Beaufoy

This year's "Just for Fun" nominees appear to be the Coens for Burn in Original, and the Nolans for DK in Adapted. However, the could-be nomination fest for Dark Knight could sweep the Nolans into the Oscar race. The Coens--however deserving their brilliant, unjustifiably-derided script may be--are likely left out, which is to be expected. Expect them to be replaced by the writers of Wall-E.

Now, onto the DGA Nominees...

Danny Boyle, Slumdog
David Fincher, Ben Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk

Alright, let's look at the history. Last year, DGA had four of the five eventual Oscar nominees. The lone exception: Sean Penn for Into the Wild; the Academy went with Jason Reitman for Juno. In 2006, the DGA was off by a bunch, nominating Bill Condon for Dreamgirls and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris for Little Miss Sunshine, who were all looked over in favor of Paul Greengrass (United 93) and Clint Eastwood (Letters from Iwo Jima). Looking back even further, in '04 and '05 DGA matched Oscar five-for-five, and in '03 they were four-out-of-five. In essence, it's always a toss-up for the DGA...they are certain to get 3 for sure, and they sometimes match Oscar to the letter.

So what about this year? It seems as if the DGA will have one of those "Five-for-Five" years, with the Oscar nominees all virtually locked in.

The important thing to remember about these analyses is simply this: it's all really a game. The PGA, WGA, DGA, and every other Guild nominates not in an effort to predict the Oscar nominees, but to honor the craft. That's the way it should be. So the guessing game is just that--a game. Just like all the rest of this Oscar prognostication stuff.

But it's fun.

And once tomorrow morning rolls around, we'll crunch the numbers once again.

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