Two awards shows.
More than 100,000 voters.
By Sunday night, the Oscar picture could be a lot clearer, or it could be a complete free-for-all.
Saturday's Directors Guild of America Awards and Sunday's Screen Actors Guild Awards have the potential to both clarify the awards picture and muddy it. "The Social Network" could be back on top by Monday morning -- or, just as easily, "The King's Speech" could have seized a commanding lead. Or "The Fighter" could make this a three-way dogfight.
When it comes to judging momentum and handicapping the race, this might well be the last crucial weekend before the Academy Awards.
That's because the major awards that will follow, the Writers Guild of America Awards on February 5 and the BAFTA Awards on February 13, are both limited in their ability to serve as accurate precursors: the WGA because some key Oscar contenders aren't even eligible, BAFTA because home-court advantage seems sure to give "The King's Speech" a win.
This weekend, though, could go in any of several directions.
There's a reason why the Weinstein Company has been screening "The King's Speech" incessantly, and why the film's ad campaign has shifted from a focus on Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter to one that encompasses the entire cast, including Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi and Jennifer Ehle -- they want the SAG Best Ensemble award, which frequently seems to be given to the biggest ensemble. (Witness last year's win for "Inglourious Basterds.")
Not to be outdone, Paramount has pushed hard for "The Fighter" in advance of Friday's SAG deadline, including a Thursday screening at Harmony Gold that included not just director David O. Russell and stars Melissa Leo, Amy Adams and Jack McGee, but five of the actresses who played the sisters in the film. (They barely all fit on the stage, above right.)
The SAG Ensemble award, which became a key Oscar precursor in 2006 when it was the only guild award won by "Crash" before that film scored a surprise Oscar win, is the weekend's key battleground, because it could go to "The Social Network," "The King's Speech" or "The Fighter" (with an upset by "The Kids Are All Right" not completely out of the question).
First up, though, is the Directors Guild. The untelevised ceremony takes place Saturday night at Hollywood & Highland; for weeks if not months the conventional wisdom has been that David Fincher will win the top feature film award for "The Social Network."
Fincher is a far more known quantity among directors than "The King's Speech" helmer Tom Hooper, who has one prior nomination (for the HBO miniseries "John Adams") to Fincher's three (two of which, though, were for television commercials).
Sasha Stone, though, recently made a strong case that a Hooper upset was likely at the DGA – and if indeed "The King's Speech" has become the Oscar frontrunner, a victory with the directors is a strong possibility.
On the actors side, many of the film races at SAG seem all but wrapped up: Colin Firth and Christian Bale should take home Best Actor and Supporting Actor trophies; Natalie Portman is the Best Actress favorite though an Annette Bening surge could materialize; and Melissa Leo is the Supporting Actress consensus, though Hailee Steinfeld just might assert herself.
In the Ensemble category, though, it's a tossup. "The Social Network" has a nominated lead performance by Jesse Eisenberg and a plethora of Supporting Actor candidates (Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer) -- but none of those guys were actually nominated, and the film's lack of substantial female roles won't help.
"The King's Speech" is certainly an actors' showcase, with nominees in three of the four individual acting categories; its problem, in a category where SAG voters often look for large casts, is focusing attention away from Firth, Rush and Carter and on the rest of the ensemble.
And "The Fighter" also has three nominees, all in the supporting categories, along with a fourth actor (Mark Wahlberg) who also produced the film, something that might endear it to SAG. The film has not been one of the race's two frontrunners, but it's well-positioned to make a move here.
The possibilities, if not endless, are intriguing:
"The Social Network" wins DGA and SAG. This would put Facebook movie back on top; after it subsequently wins the WGA, it should roll to an Oscar victory.
"The King's Speech" wins DGA and SAG. Game, set and match. The WGA won't matter.
"The Social Network" wins DGA and "The King's Speech" wins SAG. The race gets a little more confusing. "The King's Speech" retains the top hand, barely, but "The Social Network" is still in it.
"The Social Network" wins DGA and "The Fighter" wins SAG. "The King's Speech" takes a hit and will need to shift into overdrive to secure those Oscar voters. "The Fighter" moves up to secure its spot as a serious Oscar contender. "The Social Network" hangs in there. We have ourselves a real race.
"The King's Speech" wins DGA and "The Social Network" wins SAG. More confusion, though it's not good news for "The Fighter."
"The King's Speech" wins DGA and "The Fighter" wins SAG. "The King's Speech" is in good shape, "The Fighter" has high hopes, and "The Social Network" has a lot of work to do.
"The Fighter" wins DGA and SAG. Oh, my. Do we have ourselves a new frontrunner?
Christopher Nolan ("Inception") wins DGA and "The Kids Are All Right" wins SAG. What the heck?