Here’s a way to do well when predicting who will win Academy Awards this year. The craft guilds in Hollywood all give awards and the winners of these honors most frequently (but not always) go on to win the more prestigious Academy Awards.
To understand who wins, it is first necessary to understand who votes. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is one of the nation’s most prestigious clubs. Used to be a nomination was the fastest track to membership, and that’s probably still true though a nominee can no longer expect an automatic invitation to join as in previous decades. Without a nomination, a potential member must have several credits in major motion pictures before he or she will even be considered, and a potential member must have support from respected elders within his or her individual craft. This is why Oscar voters tend to be older. Quite simply, it takes a lengthy body of work achieved over many years for most to be considered for membership although in recent years, as the membership has aged, there’s been a deliberate attempt to induct members in their 30’s & 40s.
The Academy is divided into various “branches” that vote determine the nominees within their area of specialty. There is even a 'Publicists' branch that assists in actually running the frenetic backstage during the show. Agents are ineligible for membership—and so are journalists. The only reporter I know who votes is “Variety” columnist Peter Bart, a longtime member from his days as a studio executive. Oprah Winfrey votes thanks to her work as an actress in “The Color Purple.” But, those are rare exceptions in a group that numbers more than 6,000. Only 130 or so new members are asked to join every year, and the single, biggest group are actors: ‘the names you must know’ -- as the old ad slogan goes.
This is why it was so significant for “The King’s Speech” to win at Sunday night’s “Screen Actors Guild” award show. I expected the foreign journalists to choose the film as Best Drama but they did not. Keep in mind: not a single GG voter casts a ballot in the Oscar race. After the Golden Globes, this film “The King's Speech” (which I called the best movie of last year) was thought to be running well behind “The Social Network,” but a win from the Producers Guild (plenty of Oscar voters in that group) put the film back in the Oscar game; and then last weekend came a double win at The Directors Guild and at SAG. Now, there’s talk of a “coronation” of the movie at The Academy Awards.
With Editors and Cinematographers still to award prizes, there will be more hints before you finalize your Oscar pool picks. Just remember to watch those guilds, and you should do better. As to how to pick the winners in the foreign film and documentary categories…you’re on your own. It’s been my experience that the best films in each category don’t even get nominated in a process that is as Byzantine as it is obscure.