Do you hear that? It's not the sound of people shoveling out their cars on the East Coast or Chicagoans trudging through this week's snowpocalypse. What you hear is everyone bailing on the chances of 'The Social Network' being the big winner at the Oscars and resigning themselves to the perceived inevitability that 'The King's Speech' is now the front-runner. That was something I believed walking out of its premiere screening at Toronto fest last September. Before the onslaught of critic's awards that had 'Social' outpacing every other film by at least 2 to 1 (and for most of the season 3 to 1), yours truly was being shouted down on 'Speech.'
Even I, however, was quick to change my tune as 'Social' seemed poised to roll its way to Oscar glory. But now the story has changed again. Thanks to the Guilds, we now must look to the numbers to see if the accidental billionaires still have a chance.
Just one day before the Director's Guild announced their selection, I was on the radio announcing the following statistic: since 1980 there have been 18 films that won the Oscar for Best Director and one of the two Screenplay Awards. 16 of those went on to win Best Picture. ('Brokeback Mountain' & 'Traffic' did not.) Not bad odds for a film we have all along believed was a lock for Fincher and Sorkin to take home their respective Oscars. But that darn DGA went and screwed it all up by awarding Tom Hooper their prize, which has failed to translate to Oscar only eight times in 62 years. That was the last straw for all the Oscar watchers. 'The King's Speech' had already won the Producers Guild Award, which may not boast the exemplary prognostication of the DGA, but still has seen its victor go on to win Best Picture 13 of its 20 years, including the last three.
Then came the Screen Actors Guild Awards where 'The King's Speech'
won the Best Ensemble award, despite being mainly a two-man show -- easily the narrowest ensemble cast in a field that included 'Black Swan', 'The Fighter', 'The Kids Are All Right', and 'The Social Network.' Nevertheless, just about every Oscar blogger threw their arms in the air once again, suggesting that whatever wins the SAG Ensemble prize is then immediately the favorite to follow-up with Best Picture.
But hold on for a second: In 15 years, the SAG Ensemble winner has only won top Oscar gold seven times, so let us dispel that myth right now.
Combinations are the thing, though. SAG by itself may only be a 46 percent indicator for success. Combine that win with awards from the PGA & DGA though and the number jumps to 83%. 1995's 'Apollo 13' failed to win Best Picture. But 'American Beauty', 'Chicago', 'LOTR: The Return of the King', 'No Country for Old Men,' and 'Slumdog Millionaire' did. SAG or no SAG, PGA/DGA victors are 12-of-15, with only 'Saving Private Ryan' joining 'Apollo 13' and 'Brokeback Mountain.'
This year's final Oscar nomination rankings led to this column banking 40 of the 45 nods from the top eight categories (with three of the no. 6 picks sneaking in). Only the Javier Bardem surprise and the idiotic snubbing of Christopher Nolan were unexpected. Can we expect any surprises on Oscar night? The rankings have certainly been narrowed.
Best Picture & Director
The above numbers tell the tale for 'The King's Speech'. The last time the DGA's choice did not follow up with Oscar was Rob Marshall ('Chicago') in 2002. He ended up losing to Roman Polanski ('The Pianist.') Could Tom Hooper end up losing to another director some feel is overdue as well? Since 1995, the first year of the co-existence between them, this is the first time that L.A., N.Y., Chicago as well as the BFCA and the Golden Globes all agreed on the Best Director of the year: David Fincher ('The Social Network').
Best Actor, Actress & Supporting Actor
For the first time in their histories, the Screen Actors Guild, Chicago Film Critics Association, Golden Globes and Broadcast Film Critics Association all agreed on these three categories in the same year. Colin Firth ('The King's Speech'), Natalie Portman ('Black Swan') and Christian Bale ('The Fighter') were awarded from each group joining nine others in these categories equally united. Tim Robbins ('Mystic River'), Charlize Theron ('Monster'), Philip Seymour Hoffman ('Capote'), Helen Mirren ('The Queen'), Forest Whitaker ('The Last King of Scotland'), Javier Bardem ('No Country For Old Men'), Daniel Day-Lewis ('There Will Be Blood'), Heath Ledger ('The Dark Knight), Christoph Waltz ('Inglourious Basterds'). On Feb. 27, it looks like we will have a dozen Oscar winners under that particular banner.
Best Supporting Actress
Melissa Leo ('The Fighter') won three of those above awards, being passed over only by Chicago in favor of Hailee Steinfeld ('True Grit'). Chicago also disagreed with the other groups about Angelina Jolie ('Girl, Interrupted'), Renee Zellweger ('Cold Mountain') and Jennifer Hudson ('Dreamgirls'). Seemed to turn out OK.
The Writers Guild is going to announce its winners on Feb. 5. 'The Social Network' and 'Inception' are the two most honored screenplays of 2010 and are likely to be their winners. Aaron Sorkin still sits far ahead in the Oscar race, but creeping upon 'Inception's chances is 'The King's Speech' script, which was disqualified from WGA consideration and therefore not nominated. David Seidler's screenplay may have the slight edge, but could Christopher Nolan's directorial snub work in his favor here? Perhaps he could be the next writer/director to be honored here first before taking the next leap forward. Just as the Coens were with 'Fargo' and fellow travelers like Neil Jordan ('The Crying Game'), Quentin Tarantino ('Pulp Fiction'), Cameron Crowe ('Almost Famous'), Pedro Almodovar ('Talk To Her') and Sofia Coppola ('Lost In Translation') still waiting to get a trophy for their directing skills to sit alongside their writing honor.