You might think that predicting the Oscars is no more scientific than reading tea leaves, but there's a method to the madness. Awards season lasts several months, with a number of smaller ceremonies leading up to the big night. Since several of those groups' members also belong to the Academy, winning big at an event like the Producers Guild Awards can all but guarantee a trophy on Oscar Sunday.
Whether you're hoping to win your office Oscar pool or simply look like an expert while watching the show with your family this weekend, here's how to predict the major races with a reasonable degree of certainty.
Of the 31 movies that have won the top prize at the Producers Guild of America Awards, 21 have gone on to win Best Picture. So while it isn't a sure thing — just ask the likes of "La La Land" and "The Big Short" — it's the surest way to level up from contender to frontrunner. This year, the celebrated film is "1917," a World War I drama made to look as though it was filmed in one long take by masterful cinematographer Roger Deakins. The film first received attention after cleaning up at the Golden Globes — which, despite their high profile, have virtually zero bearing on the Oscars — before picking up the PGA Award for Theatrical Motion Picture. As the big night approaches, history is now on this historical drama's side.
Are you sensing a theme here? Members of the major guilds tend to also be in the Academy, which makes prognosticating easier than some pundits let on. Taking home the Directors Guild of America Award is evident of a filmmaker's Oscar chances since the two prizes have only diverged seven times since the DGA Award was first given out in 1949. That makes Sam Mendes the official frontrunner, as the "1917" helmer (who also won the award 20 years ago for "American Beauty") proved to be the Directors Guild's favorite this year.
Best Actor, Actress, etc.
Another category, another guild. The Academy is comprised of 9,226 members divided among 17 branches with actors accounting for a plurality. This makes a win at the Screen Actors Guild Award especially important. It also suggests good things are ahead for Joaquin Phoenix ("Joker"), Renée Zellweger ("Judy"), Brad Pitt ("Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"), and Laura Dern ("Marriage Story"). All of them triumphed at the SAG Awards in addition to picking up a number of other prizes, making this year's race more straightforward than most.
There are other correlations to look out for as well. For instance, if a movie is nominated for Best Picture but not Best Director, Editing, or any of the acting awards, that doesn't bode well for its chances of winning the big one. (The directing link has been less important in recent years since both "Argo" and "Green Book" were named Best Picture without Ben Affleck or Peter Farrelly receiving nods, but it remains significant in general).
On the rare occasion that a foreign film is nominated for both Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign-Language Film) and Best Picture, its chances of taking home the former increase drastically — which is sure to please fans of Bong Joon-ho's "Parasite" (above) since it scored Best Director, Original Screenplay, Production Design, and Editing nods. It'll likely become the first South Korean movie to win an Academy Award, which is a long-overdue accolade for one of the most cinematically exciting countries in the world.
Things become trickier from there, though one guiding principle holds true more often than not: when it comes to the technical awards, replace the word "best" with "most" for a clue to the likeliest winner. With categories like Cinematography, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Visual Effects, the flashiest nominee is usually the one to beat. These branches are relatively small, which means that the lion's share of Academy voters aren't experts in every field.
In short, here are the best bets for the major categories:
Best Picture: "1917"
Best Director: Sam Mendes, "1917"
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, "Joker"
Best Actress: Renée Zellweger, "Judy"
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, "Marriage Story"
Best International Film: "Parasite"