Oscars: 10 Lessons Learned from the Guilds’ Noms

They have delivered a message with their nominations: James Cameron will like it, but Clint Eastwood won't

The guilds have spoken.

(Well, most of them, anyway.)

But what have they told us? What have the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild, the American Society of Cinematographers and the Art Directors Guild said with their nominations?

They’ve said many things. Some are contradictory. Some have a bearing on the Oscar race. Some don’t. Which are which may only be apparent in retrospect.

But here are 10 lessons we might take from the past week’s worth of guild nominations:

1. “Avatar” has broad support. Of course James Cameron’s record-setting blockbuster was going to be nominated by the PGA (they love movies that make money) and the DGA (they love strong directors). But it also picked up nods from the ADG, the ASC … and, crucially, the WGA, whose 10,000 members honored the film for what was widely considered its weak link, its screenplay.

I’m not yet persuaded that this broad-based appreciation is going to translate into an Oscar nomination for writing, or an Oscar win for Best Picture; I think it’ll have too many detractors within the elements of the Academy that aren’t represented in those guilds.

But its support is unquestionably widespread … except, to judge by the SAG nominations, among actors, who also make up by far the largest Academy branch.

2. Size matters … Sorry, “Bright Star” and “The Messenger” and “The Last Station” and the other small movies that were thought to be on the bubble, ready to slide into the best-picture race. Except in the acting categories, most of them didn’t emerge from the guilds with the kind of momentum they needed – whereas more commercial successful films like “Star Trek,” “Distict 9” and “The Hangover” all scored significant nominations.

3. … Except when it doesn’t. “(500) Days of Summer” and “Crazy Heart,” a pair of Fox Searchlight films, scored WGA nominations and kept their Academy hopes alive in the key writing categories. The former film seems a likely Oscar nominee, the latter an increasingly potent competitor – particularly as voters pick up those screeners to view Jeff Bridges’ performance.

4. “Star Trek” just might boldly go where no “Star Trek” movie has gone before. A Best Picture nomination? Two weeks ago, I’d have thought that it’d be a contender in the sound and effects categories, but not much else. Now I’d say a best-pic nod isn’t logical – but it’s certainly possible.

5. Three’s a crowd … of five. Last year, as Sasha Stone at Awards Daily pointed out, five films picked up nominations from all three of the top guilds – four of which wound up as Oscar Best Picture nominees, and one of which ("The Dark Knight") was edged out by "The Reader," to the dismay of many. This year, four turned the same trick: “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Precious” and “Up in the Air.” She thinks that “Inglourious Basterds” would have been the fifth if it had been eligible for a WGA Award, a conclusion that probably makes sense.

So are those the films that would have been nominated if the Oscar Best Picture slate had remained at five? And are they the ones that truly have a chance to win, regardless of what other films join them on the list of 10?

At the moment, I wouldn’t argue against either proposition.

6. Ten divided by five equals not much help. If the guilds helped identify the top five, they didn’t do much to identify the rest of the 10 eventual Best Picture nominees. Sure, the Oscars could go the PGA route for the rest of the slate, and chose “District 9,” “An Education,” “Invictus,” “Star Trek” and “Up.”

But they could just as easily dump two or three of those and go in a different direction.

7. Don’t trust the Writers Guild. Yes, “Avatar” and “Star Trek” and “The Hangover” got nominations. Remember, though, that “Inglourious Basterds” and “Up” and “An Education” weren’t eligible, and neither were dozens of other films.

Does anybody think that the slate would have looked the same if the WGA wern’t Hollywood’s strictest guild, and its voters were choosing from the same list of contenders that Oscar voters will see?

Even more so than most years, the Writers Guild lineup simply shows what WGA-sanctioned scripts are considered the year’s best, and does little to accurately predict the Oscars.

8. Three of the big four are now pretty much officially dead. You remember the big four, right? The four movies that didn’t screen until late in the year, but which were considered to be the likely core of the Oscar best-picture slate?

Well, Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones” has shown up almost nowhere among the guilds. Rob Marshall’s “Nine” got a SAG ensemble award and an ASC nod, but how can it get any traction if the Art Directors guild doesn’t even recognize it? And Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” may still slide into the best-pic race the way it did at the PGAs, but its failure to win WGA or DGA nods mean it can hardly be considered a serious contender.

You’ve probably heard that the last of the four, “Avatar,” is in slightly better shape.

9. Among female writer-directors of a certain age who cast Meryl Streep in their latest films, Nora Ephron has more heat than Nancy Meyers. Ephron’s “Julie & Julia” is a contender for the writers and actors awards. Meyers’ “It’s Complicated” is not.

10. On the day a French New Wave director renowned for literate cinema dies, irony lives. I’ll hand this one over to Guy Lodge of In Contention, who tweeted the following shortly after the WGA awards announcement: “There's a weird irony to ‘Avatar’ and ‘The Hangover’ being recognized for their writing on the same day Eric Rohmer dies. Not sure what.”

Oh, and we might as well add an 11th lesson, which will no doubt be taught by the Academy when its nominations are announced on Feb. 2: It’s foolish to draw too many conclusions from the guilds.

CORRECTION: Item # 5 originally misattributed a 2008 best-picture nomination to "The Dark Knight."