'American Hustle'
'American Hustle'

As PriceWaterhouseCoopers starts to tabulate filed Oscar ballots and Nominations Day approaches January 16, the best way to get an accurate lay of the land--especially with one of the more wide-open fields in years--is to look at all the guild nominations.

The big guilds are more populist versions of the Academy branches they reflect--the Screen Actors, Directors, Producers and Writers Guilds all reveal strength and weakness among the larger Academy voting blocks. Who landed on all lists? Only David O. Russell's "American Hustle" nabbed the coveted Ensemble nomination at SAG as well as PGA, DGA and WGA nominations. "Captain Phillips" also nabbed nominations from all the Guilds. Had "12 Years a Slave" been eligible for a WGA nomination it likely would have swept the Guilds as well. Safe to say those are the top three Oscar contenders for Best Picture. 

Eligible but left off the WGA were "Gravity," "The Butler," "Saving Mr. Banks" and "Enough Said." "Gravity," which landed SAG, PGA, DGA and 11 BAFTA nominations, will be boosted by all the crafts and tech categories. (For the Coens' "Inside Llewyn Davis" not to be nominated for acting, directing or producing was one thing, but to be snubbed by the WGA was the coup de grace.) "August: Osage County" scored SAG ensemble and WGA nods, but did not make the DGA or the PGA's list of ten. Clearly actors like "The Butler," granting it an Ensemble nod, more than any other Guild. 


Showing weakness with actors are SAG also-rans "Her" (which did get PGA and WGA) and "The Wolf of Wall Street" (PGA and WGA), which was the last to screen. Both are Best Picture Oscar contenders. Omitted from the DGA's top five were Oscar Best Picture contenders "Saving Mr. Banks," "Dallas Buyer's Club," "Blue Jasmine," and "Nebraska." That puts them in the second tier of Best Picture contenders. (We don't know if there will be as few as seven or as many as 10.)

The Academy, which despite various new initiates, from the music branch's Prince and Beyonce to actor James Franco (who Instagrammed his Oscar ballot), is still dominated by white men, many of them bonafide "Steakeaters" who tend to favor the likes of "The Wolf of Wall Street" or "Captain Phillips" over relationship movies such as "Before Midnight," "Blue Jasmine,"  "Blue is the Warmest Color" or "Enough Said." (Still to vote for the final five is Mark Johnson's foreign branch committee, who will catch up on the shortlist of nine they missed at back-to-back screenings this weekend.)

But the Academy also splits into more mainstream branches (executives, producers, members-at-large, and publicists), who are more likely to go for "American Hustle," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Saving Mr. Banks" or "Gravity," and the crafts (art directors, costume designers, cinematographers, editors, visual effects, sound mixers etc.), likeliest to favor the artistic merits of "12 Years a Slave," "Nebraska" or "Her." 

Look at the recent Cinematographers' votes (so far the only Guild to ignore "American Hustle," along with "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Saving Mr. Banks," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Her " and "Blue Jasmine") or the Art Directors Guild, which just nominated Best Picture contenders “American Hustle,” “Gravity,” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” as well as tech competitor “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (full list of nominations are below) but breaks their 15 nominees into three categories (period, contemporary and fantasy), so any omissions are telling indeed. Basically, low-budget entries "Nebraska" and "Dallas Buyers Club" were left out. (Winners will be named on February 8.)

Check the Costume nominees (full list also below), which also breaks their categories down into period, contemporary and fantasy. They favored period Best Picture contenders "12 Years a Slave," "American Hustle," "Dallas Buyers Club" and "Saving Mr. Banks." On the contemporary side are "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," "Nebraska," "Philomena," "Her," and "Blue Jasmine," while the fantasy category had three nominees, including Trish Summerville's eye-popping designs for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." 

But they left off "Captain Phillips," "The Wolf of Wall Street," and "Gravity," where arguably costumes do not play a key role.  (Winners will be presented on February 22.)

OK. I'd better go update my Oscar predictions.