DGA Awards: Is 'Revenant' the New Oscar Frontrunner? (Analysis)

Alejandro Inarritu DGA Awards 2016 - H 2016

Two weekends ago, the Producers Guild of America went for The Big Short. Last weekend, the Screen Actors Guild went for Spotlight. And now, this weekend, the Directors Guild of America has gone for The Revenant.

In the 20 previous years in which the three highest-profile guilds presented their top prizes, a split of this nature has happened four times: 15 years ago, when the PGA went for Gladiator, SAG went for Traffic and the DGA went for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; 14 years ago, when the PGA went for Moulin Rouge!, SAG went for Gosford Park and the DGA went for A Beautiful Mind; 11 years ago, when the PGA went for The Aviator, SAG went for Sideways and the DGA went for Million Dollar Baby; and two years ago, when the PGA went for 12 Years a Slave and Gravity (they allegedly tied), SAG went for American Hustle and the DGA went for Gravity.

The first and fourth time, the Academy ended up siding with the PGA; the second and third time, they went with the DGA.

In other words, the guilds, which usually offer Oscar prognosticators some very helpful hints, do little to nothing for us this year.

As borne out by the aforementioned examples, SAG has historically been the weakest predictor of the three — its best ensemble has corresponded with the Academy's best picture on only 10 of 20 occasions (or just 50 percent of the time).

The DGA has historically been the strongest predictor of the Academy. Indeed, over the 67 years in which its top award was previously presented, its winner went on to win the best director Oscar on all but seven occasions (or 90 percent of the time), and his or her film went on to win the best picture Oscar on all but 13 occasions (or 81 percent of the time).

But there is some reason to believe that the PGA is the one we should pay the most attention to in 2016, even if it has historically has fallen in between the other two in terms of its accuracy, having anticipated 19 of the last 26 winners (or 73 percent).

Why? For a few important reasons.

Because the number of PGA voters and the number of Oscar voters is almost exactly the same — both right around 7,000 — and the PGA Awards are one of the few awards groups that conducts voting using the same quirky preferential balloting system as the Academy. (They both adopted it seven years ago, as part of an effort to honor "consensus choices," and have arrived at the same winner every year since.)

And because all but one of the nominees for the best picture Oscar — The Big Short, The Revenant, Spotlight, The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road, Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn — were also nominated for the PGA's top award. (Only Room was missing.) Meanwhile, SAG voters weren't offered the option of The Revenant, The Martian, Mad Max, Spies, Brooklyn or Room in their top category, and DGA voters weren't offered the option of Spies, Brooklyn or Room.

In other words, PGA voting offered the best simulation of Oscar voting, by far, and it resulted in a win for The Big Short. Does this mean that Spotlight, a film that has the backing of the Academy's largest branch (actors), or The Revenant, a film that landed a field-leading 12 Oscar noms, cannot win? Of course not. In fact, their more recent wins may indeed have stunted whatever momentum The Big Short had coming off of its PGA win.

Then again, the whole notion of "momentum" may be irrelevant, since no Academy member can cast a ballot until Friday, and voting continues all the way through Feb. 23. In the meantime, all of the Oscar nominees will gather for a luncheon on Monday; BAFTA voting will end on Wednesday; the Writers Guild of America Awards will take place on Saturday; the BAFTAs will take place in London on Sunday; and, barring any further erratic behavior by North Korea or Marco Rubio, the world will continue to turn and, in the world of the Oscar race, a lot can still happen.