The Awards Season is a marathon, not a sprint. While there is a clear finish line (the Oscars), the starting line is a bit more nebulous. In short: the starting line is at a different point for every movie that enters the race. Some ride tons of year-in-advance buzz that carry throughout the season (last year’s “A Star is Born” was the year-in-advance frontrunner). Others make their debut at Sundance and hope to be the independent film that lasts (see: “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”). For many, they choose one of the fall festivals to premiere at, try and pick up as many precursors as possible and walk the tightrope until the Dolby.
So when does Precursor Season begin? Let’s walk through the different phases of awards season.
Pay attention to the fall film festivals. Not only do Best Picture nominees and winners often premiere at these festivals, but their audience awards do matter. Many early buzzed-about titles live and die based on snap reactions from film festivals in the fall. Festivals like Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), New York Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, and Telluride Film Festival launch many of the main contenders. Even the late-breaking films usually try and make it to LA’s AFI Fest in November just to get in under the wire. It’s important to make the rounds at as many festivals as possible to get the chatter going.
Audience awards might not always predict Best Picture winners, but the winners usually go on to Best Picture nominations. Both TIFF and Middleburg Film Festival have seen their Audience Award winners also win Best Picture one-third of the time since 2010. Even more astounding, both festivals have only had one year since 2010 where the Audience Award winner did not go on to at least a Best Picture nomination. The Venice Film Festival has a much less stellar track record. The only Oscar overlap they’ve seen was when “The Shape of Water” won the Golden Lion in 2017 and “The Favourite” was awarded the Grand Jury Prize last year. When predicting Best Picture, make sure to factor in the festival Audience Award winners from Toronto and Middleburg.
- Venice Film Festival – 8/28 – 9/7
- Telluride Film Festival – 8/30 – 9/2
- Toronto International Film Festival – 9/5 – 9/15
- New York Film Festival – 9/27 – 10/13
- Middleburg Film Festival – 10/17 – 10/20
- AFI Film Festival – 11/14 – 11/21
The first precursors out of the gate are always indie groups. The Gotham Awards notoriously announce their nominations first. That is, nominations will come on October 18th, with the awards ceremony to follow on November 26th. The Gothams are so early that they rarely make or break a film’s Oscar chances. This New York-based group focuses specifically on independent films, so none of the large studio films are eligible. For being such a small group, the Gotham Awards usually see one or two of their nominees show up in the Best Picture race. In fact, their Best Picture winner also won the big prize at the Oscars for three consecutive years (2014 – 2016). In short, it helps to have a strong kick off at the Gothams, but it doesn’t hurt to be snubbed by them.
The same adage could be applied for the Independent Spirit Awards. Film Independent’s awards ceremony is among the first to announce nominees and the last to announce winners. This year, nominations will be announced on November 21st, 2019, with the awards ceremony on February 8th, 2020. These awards have had a stronger relationship to Oscar, mainly because they consider an independent movie to be any film that cost less than $22.5 million. Five of the last nine top Indie Spirit Award winners went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. On average, two of the five Best Picture nominees at the Indie Spirits also compete at the Oscars. Thus, it’s not essential for an indie contender to receive a nomination here, but it’s extremely helpful.
- Gotham Awards – Nominations: 10/18; Winners: 11/26
- Independent Spirit Awards – Nominations: 11/21; Winners: 2/8
CRITICS GROUP CONSENSUS
The number of film critics groups grows and grows every year. At this point, there are over thirty critics organizations that hold awards from November to January. It’s quite a lot to keep track of amidst all the other awards craziness. So what should an Oscar prognosticator pay attention to. It behooves an Oscar obsessive to ignore most of the noise. Critics are taste-makers, but they are not Academy voters. What’s great about these awards, theoretically, is they give people a view as to what the regional taste is all across the country. The more critic groups go out on a limb with their awards choices, rather than try and predict Oscars, the better the season is. Critics should use their awards to let voters know which of the screeners they should make sure to watch over the holiday period.
Still, there are some higher-profile critics awards that are worth paying attention to when placing Oscar bets. The coastal elite critic’s group (New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association) don’t do incredibly well with predicting Best Picture winners. New York only aligned with Oscar for “The Artist” in 2011, while LA got “Spotlight” and “Moonlight” right back to back. Still, every single LA winner since 2010 has gone on to a Best Picture nomination. The only New York winner to miss out on a Best Picture nomination, since 2010, was “Carol” in 2015. These awards don’t signal the end of the race, they are just heavy indicators that certain films will be entering the Best Picture ring to compete.
The AFI Top Ten list is a very strange beast. They’ve honored really odd movies like “Sully,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “J. Edgar,” among others. Still, since 2010, every single Best Picture winner has appeared on their list. During this same time period, the list has included 78% of Best Picture nominees. It’s somewhat easy to see what the one or two oddball picks are each year. Yet, it’s smart to take their list with some degree of validity.
The National Board of Review and National Society of Film Critics are other good groups to take a look at when making predictions. A little more than half of the films in the National Board of Review top ten will go on to a Best Picture nomination, based on its nominees since 2010. Still, the winners of both of these awards have only matched Oscar once and twice, respectively, in the last nine years. Don’t bet the farm based on their choices.
- New York Film Critics Circle – TBD Late November/Early December
- Los Angeles Film Critics Association – TBD Late November/Early December
- AFI Top Ten List – TBD Late November/Early December
- National Board of Review – TBD Late November/Early December
- National Society of Film Critics – TBD Late November/Early December
Awards season shifts into full gear once nominations are announced for the televised precursors. The main three to tune into prior to the Oscars are as follows: Golden Globe Awards, Critics Choice Awards, and BAFTA Awards. The Screen Actors Guild are also televised and we will cover them in the next section on guild awards.
The Golden Globe Awards are the next highest rated film award show, after the Oscars. This has more to do with their separation of Drama and Comedy/Musical and the steady pour of booze to Hollywood’s A-list throughout the night. Even with two Best Picture prizes given out each year, the Golden Globes only match the Oscars roughly 56% of the time this decade. Even when one looks at nominations, roughly two-thirds of Oscar’s Best Picture nominees appeared at the Golden Globes prior. The lack of strong correlation likely comes from the makeup of the voting body itself. The Golden Globes are voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of fewer than 100 journalists.
In recent years, the Critics Choice Awards have had the strongest correlation with the Oscars. Two-thirds of the Oscar Best Picture winners since 2010 also won the same category at the Critics Choice Awards beforehand. Additionally, roughly 91% of Oscar Best Picture nominees were also nominated at the Critics Choice Awards. Some have criticized the show for following group-think and existing mostly as an Oscar prediction machine. It would be wonderful for the Critics Choice Awards to go off the beaten path more. Yet, as any good Oscar predictor knows, sometimes playing it safe leads to the best prediction score.
Of the three televised precursors, only the BAFTA Awards share voting overlap with the Oscars. Members of BAFTA can also be invited to join the Academy, which is why the shows are looking more and more alike. Of the three televised precursors, BAFTA has the least impressive track record of predicting Best Picture winners since 2010 (four out of the last nine winners). However, BAFTA does much better at nominations. They still only do five Best Picture nominees. Still, almost all of their Best Picture nominees repeat with Oscar nominations. BAFTA only misses when they choose an Oscar near miss (“Carol,” “Drive”) or British specific passion projects (“I, Daniel Blake,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”).
- Golden Globe Awards – Nominations: 12/9; Winners: 1/5
- Critics Choice Awards – Nominations: TBD; Winners: 1/12
- BAFTA Awards – Nominations: TBD; Winners: 2/2
The best predictors for the Oscars are the guild awards. This extends past the Best Picture race and applies to the ballot as a whole. The guilds have such a high prediction rate because they have the greatest overlap with voting members of the Academy. Each guild, such as the Directors or Screen Actors Guild, polls their entire membership for their awards. This comprises a broad swath of working professionals across each field. Meanwhile, to join the Academy, a person must be sponsored by two existing members and have “demonstrated exceptional achievement in the field of theatrical motion pictures” to be invited in.
The Producers’ Guild Awards, Directors’ Guild Awards, Screen Actors’ Guild Awards and Writer’s Guild Awards are all the most major precursors to consider. Specifically, the Producers’ Guild Awards gives prognosticators the strongest clues to Best Picture. This group has predicted seven of the last nine Best Picture winners. Roughly 88% of Best Picture nominees receive a Producers’ Guild nomination prior to Oscars.
Even more impressive, the Directors’ Guild Awards has predicted eight of the nine Directing wins this decade. It routinely matches four out of the five Oscar nominees for Best Director, save for 2011 and 2018.
If someone is looking to predict an upset, the Screen Actors Guild Awards is a great place to look. Their SAG Ensemble Award has only overlapped with Best Picture four of the last nine years. Yet, they’ve been instrumental in predicting surprise wins for “Birdman” and “Spotlight.” On a broader level, every SAG Ensemble winner has at least been nominated for Best Picture.
The important thing to remember is that no movie wins Best Picture with support from just one guild. A Best Picture winner will likely have support across many guilds, not just the top four. “The Shape of Water” is a great example of a film that was honored by nearly every guild thanks to its overall technical prowess. Even “Green Book” saw lots of guild nominations, even down to the American Cinema Editors (ACE) Awards.
- ASC (American Society of Cinematographers) – Nominations/Winners: TBD
- ACE (American Cinema Editors) – Nominations: 12/11; Winners: 1/17
- ADG (Art Directors Guild) – Nominations: 12/9; Winners: 2/1
- CAS (Cinema Audio Society) – Nominations/Winners: TBD
- CDG (Costume Designers Guild) – Nominations/Winners: TBD
- DGA (Director’s Guild Awards) – Nominations: TBD; Winners: 1/25
- HMHG (Hollywood Makeup and Hairstyling Guild) – – Nominations: 11/11; Winners: 1/11
- MPSE (Motion Picture Sound Editors) – Nominations/Winners: TBD
- PGA (Producer’s Guild Awards) – Nominations: 1/7; Winners: 1/18
- SAG (Screen Actors’ Guild) – Nominations: 12/12; Winners: 1/26
- VES (Visual Effects Society) – Nominations/Winners: TBD
- WGA (Writers’ Guild of America) – Nominations/Winners: TBD