Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Guilds at a Glance

As this ever-so-slightly reinvented Oscar race unfolds, it is always important to pay attention to the various guilds, whose yearly honors are potentially influential and significant as Oscar nomination previews....and let us not forget, these guilds are vitally important in their own right. There are the four key guilds: the Director's Guild of America (DGA), the Writer's Guild of America (WGA), the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG), and the Producer's Guild of America (PGA), the de facto equivalent to Oscar's Best Picture category, although the criteria are a little different.

Let us analyze, starting with the Director's Guild...

2010 DGA Nominees:
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

As a predictor of the eventual Oscar winner, the DGA is one of the most accurate of all the guilds. In terms of predicting the nominations, the DGA usually nails 4 out of 5. Here the only feasible contender to be left out in the cold is Daniels, whose work in Precious could most easily be overwhelmed by a deluge of other contenders, and whose work, in all honesty, is by far the weakest of this group. Potential slot-fillers in the Oscar nominees include Lone Scherfig for An Education, although she could get nudged out by those who feel her film is more about writing and acting than directing; The Coen brothers, who did their usual wonderful work on A Serious Man, but the film may itself get nudged from the BP race; and Clint Eastwood, who could get an obligatory "we respect you" nod for his underwhelming direction of Invictus. And hell, we might see a surprise like Neill Blomkamp for District 9, although it is unlikely. I would love to see an unlikely contender get a nomination, like Erick Zonca for Julia (which will never ever happen) or Oren Moverman for The Messenger (more likely, but still no), but this might be a case where the DGA nominees match Oscar 5-for-5.

And as far as the winner is concerned, it was a two-person race between Bigelow and Reitman, both of whom did virtuoso work this year, until a certain King of the World entered the race. Now...who knows. If Cameron takes out a big chunk, it could be Bigelow...or Reitman...or probably Cameron, let's be honest.

2010 WGA Nominees:
Original Screenplay:
(500) Days of Summer, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Avatar, James Cameron
The Hangover, Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
The Hurt Locker, Mark Boal
A Serious Man, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Adapted Screenplay:
Crazy Heart, Scott Cooper
Julie & Julia, Nora Ephron
Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire, Geoffrey Fletcher
Star Trek, Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Up in the Air, Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

The WGA nominees are always a little different, a little more fun, a little more risky with their choices than the Academy, who can sometimes be a little stodgy. Thus, we get nominations for Star Trek and, my personal favorite, The Hangover. If we are all honest with ourselves, neither one of these fun choices necessarily "deserves" to be nominated, although passionate parties could make convincing arguments for both (I would skew far closer to making the case for Hangover, which creates a brilliant comic framework and fills every corner with surprises). Of course, no "fun" nominees ever actually win, so let's move on.

A little simpler here. The Hurt Locker wins in the Original category. Up in the Air takes Adapted. They are the "screenplay movies" of this year, even if I would vehemently argue that they deserve to be considered much, much more.

2010 SAG Nominees:
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture:
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourney Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds
Mo'Nique, Precious

The Screen Actors Guild always manages to come up with a few creative alternatives to the traditional, expected nominees, although this year they have skewed much closer to the party line than in past years. The only real surprise is Diane Kruger, which is creative but not very influential over Oscar voters. She will likely be replaced by Julianne Moore on the Oscar shortlist. The other surprise is SAG's embrace of Nine, which might not have happened if the film had tanked prior to the nominations.

The SAG winners generally run pretty closely to the year's standard group of winners, but there are occasional surprises. In the Best Cast category, SAG's equivalent to the Best Picture prize, the absence of Avatar and Up in the Air bust that one wide open, and there will likely be a winner that otherwise wouldn't win any such awards. My bet at this point would be Inglourious Basterds, which has a large cast in a fun movie made by one of many actors' favorite directors.

In the other categories, I'm betting on George Clooney for Lead Actor and Sandra Bullock in Lead Actress. It's a three-way race in Best Actor, with Clooney, Bridges, and Firth. Firth, who otherwise won't get any awards other than the nominations themselves, could be a big sleeper here, being honored among his peers. And Bridges is the overall Oscar front-runner, in my opinion. But Clooney is a hugely popular guy who gives the best performance of his career in that masterpiece. And as for Bullock, it comes down to more love from the acting community for her strongest work ever. Streep still seems the surest bet for Oscar, but she won at the SAGs last year, and the guild might take the opportunity to honor a well-loved actress in Bullock (an interesting proposition if Bullock does continue to rack up the honors...she could sneak into Oscar front-runner status, a notion I had completely discredited heretofore).

As for supporting, Mo'Nique wins again, the surest lock of all nominees in all categories at every awards show. She can't lose and she won't lose. On the male side, Waltz is the season's front-runner, but the SAGs could be the chance for someone like Woody Harrelson or Stanley Tucci, who are both wonderful veterans getting rare awards love. It's a toss-up.

2010 Producer's Guild of America Nominees:

Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures:
Producers: James Cameron, Jon Landau
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson
Producers: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey
Producer(s): Awaiting final credit determination.
Producer: Lawrence Bender
Producers: Clint Eastwood, Rob Lorenz, Lori McCreary , Mace Neufeld
Producers: Lee Daniels, Gary Magness, Sarah Siegel-Magness
Producers: J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof
Producer: Jonas Rivera
Producer(s): Awaiting final credit determination.

PGA Producer of the Year Award in Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures:
Producer(s): Awaiting final credit determination.
Claire Jennings, Bill Mechanic, Mary Sandell, Henry Selick
Producer(s): Awaiting final credit determination.
Producer: Peter Del Vecho
Producer: Jonas Rivera

PGA Producer of the Year Award in Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures:
Producer: Lise Lense-Moller
Producers: Paula DuPre Pesmen, Fisher Stevens
Producers: Greg Barker, John Battsek, Julie Goldman
Producer(s): Awaiting final credit determination.

Let's get the two smaller categories (in size, not importance) out of the way right now. Up wins in the animated category, and the power of The Cove combined with the breadth of love for the film among many in the industry should result in its winning the documentary award. Now...

The PGA followed the Academy and went with 10 nominees this year, and their choices are all pretty familiar. Avatar, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Invictus, Precious, Up, and Up in the Air are all sure bets for a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. It's those pesky last two slots that are the trouble. In the usual five-nominee years, the PGA tends to match Oscar in four out of the five. This year, matching eight out of ten makes perfect sense. And remember, the PGA focuses solely on the producing aspect rather than the film as a whole. Best Picture is a different award than Producer of the Year, even though the producers are the recipients of the Best Picture trophies. With that in mind, District 9 and Star Trek fit better here than they would in the Oscar Ten, though both have an outside shot at filling the bottom two slots of said Ten...but both are unlikely. For the Oscar list, expect to see a small movie that actually deserves recognition, like The Messenger, or a prestige period piece with big names, like The Last Station. I still have to think the Coens' A Serious Man merits consideration as well...and of course there's Nine, but a nomination for that infamous bomb would symbolize the biggest criticism of the expanded race: it opens the door for utter crap (the same would hold true for Star Trek).

If I'm picking a winner in this PGA race, it's Avatar. Plain and simple. Even if it wasn't the upstart insurgent that was destined to win Best Picture at the Oscars -- but it is -- the size and scope of its production challenge is unmatched among the other nominees. For the producers alone, Avatar runs away with it. Anything else would be a fairly big surprise that might have some influence on the Oscar race. A win for a truly great film like Up in the Air or The Hurt Locker would result in that rare beast: an award that could actually influence Oscar voters.

The Schedule:
SAG holds its annual ceremony this Saturday, January 23rd...
PGA follows the very next day, January 24th...
DGA comes the following week, January 30th, and more often than not accurately predicts the eventual Oscar winner...
WGA rounds out the guild awards with its February 20th ceremony

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