Last weekend brought Hollywood a pair of awards shows with the potential to shake up the awards race, to make the big picture clearer and swing momentum dramatically. And when the dust cleared after the DGA and the SAG Awards, that's just what they did.
This weekend brings two more awards shows that between them have the potential to tell us …
Nothing at all.
That's not to say that the folks who take home awards from the Writers Guild of America Awards and the Annie Awards, both on Saturday night, won't be thrilled.
But they won't leave those shows knowing that they've gained the upper hand in the Oscar race, the way the folks behind "The King's Speech" did last weekend. They won't be able to tell themselves that the Academy will follow suit, that momentum is theirs, that their victories have long-term significance.
That's because both the WGA and the Annies have factors that limit their effectiveness as Oscar precursors, and ensure that the results won't mean much beyond Saturday night.
The Writers Guild limits eligibility to guild-signatory projects, which disqualified contenders like "The King's Speech" and "Winter's Bone." And the Annies are dominated by DreamWorks to the point where Disney and Pixar withdrew from the organization and won't be attending the show.
(The Art Directors Guild Awards also take place on Saturday night, for the most part without mitigating factors like these.)
At the WGA Awards, which will take place in the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel at Hollywood & Highland and at a simultaneous ceremony in New York, the field is always limited by the WGA's decision to make their honor a guild award, rather than a movie-business award.
Unlike, say, the Directors Guild, which allows non-DGA members and projects to be nominated, the Writers Guild keeps its field restricted to films produced under guild contracts or by affiliated international guilds. The decision, which is obviously a defensible one for any union to make, makes the WGA Awards stand out from all the other guild awards simply because they're drawing from a far narrower field of contenders.
At the Oscars, for instance, 241 screenplays qualified for the writing awards. At the Writers Guild Awards, only 76 were eligible.
In the Adapted Screenplay category, three of the five Oscar nominees ("127 Hours," "The Social Network" and "True Grit") also received WGA nods; the other two, "Toy Story 3" and "Winter's Bone," were not eligible.
In this field, "The Social Network" (photo above) should roll to an easy victory. If "True Grit" or "127 Hours" were somehow to win then the Facebook movie would be shaken to its core – but neither they nor "I Love You Phillip Morris" and "The Town" seem at all likely to stand in the way of a Sorkin victory.
On the Original Screenplay side, two more WGA-ineligible films received Oscar noms, "Another Year" and "The King's Speech." Removing the latter film from the WGA equation opens the field up for a likely win by "The Kids Are All Right," though "Inception" or "The Fighter" or "Black Swan" could conceivably gain a little momentum going into the homestretch.
If the Writers Guild Awards aren't effective Oscar precursors, it's because of a union decision – but with the Annie Awards, it comes down to a messy battle between the International Animated Film Association (which goes by ASIFA, for Association Internationale du Film d'Animation) and Disney/Pixar.
In August, Disney-Pixar president Ed Catmull confirmed that the companies had withdrawn from ASIFA over "the way the Annies are judged." One of the basic issues: membership in the organization is open to anyone who pays an annual fee, and in recent years the group has grown to include an extremely large contingent from DreamWorks Animation, which automatically buys memberships for its employees.
According to some familiar with the membership roster, DreamWorks may employ more than one-third and possibly as much as 40 percent of ASIFA membership. (ASIFA-Hollywood president Antran Manoogian would not confirm those figures.)
The shocker that may have broken the mouse's back: two years ago, DreamWorks' "Kung Fu Panda" won 10 Annie Awards while Pixar's "WALL-E" – the consensus choice as one of the finest movies of the year – was completely shut out.
The Disney/Pixar decision to withdraw came after ASIFA had made several changes in the voting process to accommodate Disney's concerns. According to Manoogian, voting is now limited to professionals who are approved by a special committee.
But Disney and Pixar, Manoogian told TheWrap, "felt that the moves we were making weren't enough for them to continue to support the event."
The companies declined to submit any films to ASIFA for consideration this year, though the nominating committees were able to add any films they deemed worthy.
"Toy Story 3," the best-reviewed animated feature of the year and the top-grossing animated film of all time, received nominations for Best Animated Feature, Best Director and Best Screenplay, but nothing in any individual achievement categories.
DreamWorks' "How to Train Your Dragon" (photo above), meanwhile, received 15 separate nominations. Overall, DreamWorks received 39 nominations to Pixar's four, and to three for Disney's non-Pixar work, including "Tangled."
Those stats should mean that it'll come as no surprise if "Dragon" walks off with most of the hardware on Saturday night at UCLA's Royce Hall – but if it does, it'd be silly to think it's on a roll that would affect its Oscar chances.
And if it doesn't win — if, somehow, the voters go for "Toy Story" the way they went for "Up" last year, even though none of the "TS" folks will be there to accept — then "Dragon" will have have to face reality ASAP.
The bottom line: both "The Social Network" and "How to Train Your Dragon" will probably have reason to celebrate on Saturday night. But they shouldn’t convince themselves that it means much come Sunday morning.