The race for the biggest prize in Hollywood got a lot tighter on Saturday night. On Sunday night, it got thrown right back into chaos.
"12 Years a Slave" was considered the frontrunner to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards on March 2. Then "American Hustle" took the ensemble prize from the Screen Actors Guild on Saturday night, and the race drew to a virtual dead heat.
But on Sunday, the Producers Guild of America handed out its prizes – and for the first time in its history had a tie. Both "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" took top honors from the PGA, beating "American Hustle" and sending the Best Picture chase back to potentially a three-horse race.
The PGA best picture winner has gone on to win the Oscar for six straight years, and a whopping 71 percent of the time overall, making it one of the most accurate indicators come Oscar night. But this year, that particular cheat sheet will be muddled.
While there always is potential for some surprises, predicting the Oscar winners is far from going off of hunches. The film industry, thanks to a plethora of precursor awards shows and honors from various guilds throughout the business, leaves us a wonderful trail of bread crumbs for clues on who we'll see giving speeches on Oscar night.
Let's start with the Oscars' Best Picture. We knew a week ago when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its Oscar nominees that we were essentially in a three-film race between "12 Years a Slave," "American Hustle" and "Gravity." Those three were thought to be the frontrunners going in, and they dominated the total nominations haul. "Hustle" and "Gravity" got 10 nods each, while "Slave" is up for nine awards.
While that is a nice hint about which films voters will gravitate toward when filling out their final ballots, there's a little more to it than that. The Screen Actors Guild gave its award this year to "American Hustle." And if you go inside the numbers to see that nearly one-fifth of Academy members are comprised of actors – the same actors who vote for the SAG Awards – you find a giant voting bloc that prefers "Hustle." The SAG ensemble winner – essentially those awards' Best Picture – has gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars only 50 percent of the time, though, making it still a coin flip.
A coin flip, that is, until the PGA handed out its awards. Even though it settled for a tie with the PGA, "12 Years a Slave" has to be considered the frontrunner at the Oscars once again.
Saturday's SAG Awards may have wrapped up the four acting awards, as well. Again, because the actors' guild makes up the biggest portion of Academy members, crossover wins are quite common.
The SAG Best Actor winner goes on to win the Oscar nearly 80 percent of the time. And that means Matthew McConaughey's SAG win for his turn as real-life AIDS patient Ron Woodruff in "Dallas Buyers Club" puts him in a highly favorable spot against Chiwetel Ejiofor's portrayal of Solomon Northup in "12 Years a Slave."
Nine straight years, the SAG winner has crossed over to win the Oscar. And for the first six years of those awards' existence, the same happened. There was an odd stretch of four straight years in the middle where the winners didn't match up. But it remains one of the surest indicators for filling out Oscar ballots.
In addition, remember that voters are influenced by the performance they're voting on, sure. But when they look around and see McConaughey with a scene-stealing performance in another nominated film, "The Wolf of Wall Street," and on their TVs in the critically acclaimed new HBO series "True Detective," and they remember that he's no longer just Dave Wooderson from "Dazed and Confused," they tend to lean the way of rewarding a career resurgence, of sorts, if they were on the fence.
The Best Actress award may have been locked up by Cate Blanchett on Saturday, as well. In Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," she returned for her first lead role in six years and has absolutely dominated the awards circuit so far. She's got the SAG and Golden Globe, and she has won from every major critics association. Factor in that the SAG winner goes on to win at the Academy nearly 70 percent of the time, and the amazing Meryl Streep ("August: Osage County"), the most nominated actor in Oscars history, may be on the outside looking in. She has just three Academy Awards from her 17 previous nominations.
The two SAG winners that aren't as easy to predict going into the Oscars are the supporting performances. The Supporting Actress crosses over 67 percent of the time, while Supporting Actor doubles up 58 percent of the time.
But this year, Supporting Actor may be one of the biggest locks on the ballot for Jared Leto in "Dallas Buyers Club." As transgender AIDS patient Rayon, Leto delivered a career-defining performance. Helping his cause, it would be a really tight race between the other four for who should be No. 2. But make no mistake, no one's thinking about No. 2 because Leto has No. 1 locked in.
The one race that may still be tough to call is Supporting Actress. Jennifer Lawrence picked up her third Oscar nod in four years, becoming the youngest to get three nominations in the process. She won at the Globes and is Hollywood's darling right now. But Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave") took the SAG award and has been the winner with the majority of critic competitions. She's currently the frontrunner over Lawrence ("American Hustle"), but this may be a situation where anything can happen between those two in the next month or so – don't discount the power of campaigning.