Do the DGA Awards point to a ‘Spotlight’ vs. ‘Revenant’ race for Best Picture?

The Acting and Below the Line branches may make the call

I have a theory about who is going to win Best Picture.

After the DGA surprisingly awarded Alejandro González Iñárritu the DGA Feature Film Award for “The Revenant” Saturday night Oscar watchers were slightly taken a back. A George Miller win for “Mad Max: Fury Road”? That made sense. “The Martian’s” Ridley Scott getting love from all the television members of the DGA he’s given work to over the years? Plausible. “The Big Short’s” Adam McKay or “Spotlight’s” Tom McCarthy giving their films a leg up in the Best Picture race with a win?  Sure.* Instead, Iñárritu made history as the first back to back winner since the DGA began handing out the honor 68 years ago.

*Hilariously, no one really cares yet who is going to win the Academy Award for Best Director yet outside of those nominated, of course.

This was not the best news for “The Big Short” team who were hoping they could seal the deal with a DGA win, but they obviously are still in the game. For the “Spotlight” crew it was obviously a relief “Short” didn’t earn another win. As for 20th Century Fox, New Regency and “The Revenant” filmmakers they are probably thinking, “Wait, are we going to win Best Picture and Best Director again?” And, yes their chances are probably now better than you might have thought previously.

Essentially, in my opinion the Best Picture race currently comes down to a battle of the biggest blocks in the Academy: the Actors branch and the combined below-the-line branches (Costumes, Cinematography, Production Design, etc.). Let’s break it down, shall we?

“Spotlight” took the Ensemble award from SAG and earned two acting nominations including a Best Supporting nod for Rachel McAdams (the  significance of which I covered last week). Like “The Big Short,” “Spotlight” has only one below the line nomination, Best Editing, a category that many believe “Mad Max” will take home on Oscar night. Both films also have writing nominations and are the likely frontrunners to win in each category they were recognized in (essentially, a wash with the writer’s branch). “Big Short” did win the PGA Award and that is hugely significant, but, as noted, its acting support outweighs that branch of the Academy.

The real competition for “Spotlight” actually comes from “The Revenant.” Iñárritu’s epic scored the most nominations of any film with eight of those in the below the line categories. Most notably, the only below the line nomination it missed out of was in Adapted Screenplay. And, most expect the drama to battle “Mad Max” for a majority of these honors. While I’m certainly a “Fury Road” fan even I realize it could easily outrace the genre masterpiece to at least six or seven wins in those categories. Needless to say, the below-the-line members embraced “Revenant” almost across the board (and most wouldn’t consider the Writer’s Branch BTL even though technically they are).

“The Revenant” also has one other kicker going for it. Unlike “Big Short” it has two acting nominations: one for Leonardo DiCaprio, the biggest lock of the night in the Best Actor race, and the other for Tom Hardy in Best Supporting Actor. Hardy’s nod was a major surprise as he knocked out more prominent players such as eventual SAG winner Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”), Michael Shannon (“99 Homes”) and Michael Keaton (“Spotlight”). Obviously, this is indicative of major support in the actor’s branch.

Granted, with such a wide-open race you can spin who is the frontrunner and who will win about 100 different ways. In “Big Short’s” corner the PGA Award winner hasn’t been wrong as a Best Picture indicator since 2007 when “Little Miss Sunshine” won. Then again, a Best Picture winner hasn’t been released in December since 2005 (“Million Dollar Baby”). You can knock “The Revenant’s” chances because the last time a movie won Best Picture without a screenwriting nomination was “Titanic” in 1998 (18 years ago). “Spotlight,” on the other hand, is clinging to the guild support of the SAG’s Ensemble honor which has only lined up to Oscar five out of the last nine years.

Throwing a wrench into an already murky pool are the British Academy Film Awards.  The U.K.’s moment in the sun – there are estimated to be 500 or so members in BAFTA who are also Academy members – takes place on Sunday morning. Before they anointed “Boyhood” last year BAFTA had famously predicted the Oscar winner for six years in a row. “Spotlight,” “The Big Short” and “The Revenant” are all up for the top prize this time around. Will they be the final indicator or give “Carol” the recognition many believe it deserves? At this point, I’d say that’s a pick ‘em. For Oscar, it’s “Spotlight” vs. “The Revenant” for the win.


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With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios, has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times and co-founded HitFix, Inc. serving as its first Editor-in-Chief and President. Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.

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