Oscar races used to be so predictable, at least for the top honors.
It was “Birdman” versus “Boyhood” for best picture last year, and “12 Years a Slave” versus “Gravity” the year before. The list goes on. With few exceptions, film industry observers can usually narrow down the front-runners to one or two films.
FOR THE RECORD:
SAG Awards: In the Dec. 10 Calendar section, an article about the Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations said that voters had received free Netflix subscriptions in order to watch the streaming service's film "Beasts of No Nation" for consideration. Nextflix has since said that it did not provide free subscriptions to SAG voters.
With the Golden Globes and SAG Awards nominations announced this week, however, the 2015 Oscar race is shaping up as anything but certain. There are a lot of strong movies and performances, and critics groups and awards voters have yet to reach any consensus on the best of the best.
“There's not a film this year that people really have a crush on,” says awards consultant Tony Angellotti, an academy member. “Every group seems to like a lot of different things, but you're not seeing that emphatic stamp of approval.”
“There's no clear front-runner, and that makes it interesting,” adds director Pete Docter, whose “Inside Out” earned a Globes nomination for animated feature. “Who doesn't love a little suspense at the Oscars?”
Nearly every contender could look at the last two days and foresee scenarios of glory. Or doom.
“Spotlight” earned nominations for SAG ensemble and Globe drama, but, individually, its male actors have gone unsung.
“The Martian” and “Joy” found love from the Globes' Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. voters, but both wiggled their way into the group's comedy categories, where the competition is softer.
“Straight Outta Compton” scored with SAG but not the Globes. “Mad Max: Fury Road” continued its critics group momentum — the film and its well-liked director, George Miller, won prizes from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and the National Board of Review — with the Globes.
But “Fury Road” doesn't fit the usual definition of most best picture films, which tend to have social relevance, a historical hook or a biopic format (plus extra points if it's about Hollywood). “It's essentially one really long car chase that feels like it never ends,” one academy member gripes.
Meanwhile, “Steve Jobs” earned four Globes nods — tied for second-most — but the film flopped at the box office, and Oscar voters rarely reward failure. “Jobs' “ nominations also did not include that of best picture. Perhaps it should have petitioned the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. to be considered a comedy — it has as many laughs as “Joy” and “The Martian.”
The period romance “Brooklyn” couldn't find any takers except for its lead actress, Saoirse Ronan, whose name isn't quite the tongue-twister Dennis Quaid made it out to be when announcing her Globes nomination. (It's pronounced Sir-shuh, Mr. Quaid.)
Steven Spielberg's Cold War thriller “Bridge of Spies” is also off to a slow start, though it wouldn't be surprising to see academy members, who packed its screening in Beverly Hills, give it momentum. Spielberg and the film's star, Tom Hanks, remain two of Hollywood's most popular figures.
Netflix's child soldier war drama “Beasts of No Nation” pulled off a surprise SAG ensemble nomination with just three cast members cited (the lowest number) since Clint Eastwood's “Million Dollar Baby.” Netflix made certain SAG voters got to see the film, giving them a free, three-month subscription to the streaming service.
All these contradictory signals have created an air of uncertainty around this year's awards races. Nobody in the industry — or watching it — knows what to think.
“It's all over the place,” says Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, which saw four of its films — “Son of Saul,” “Grandma,” “The Lady in the Van” and “Infinitely Polar Bear” — each win a single Globes nomination.
“Looking at the race, I had predicted five movies I thought were surefire best picture nominees, and only one of them won a SAG ensemble nomination,” Barker says. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be a tough year to predict.' ”
Two things to remember: The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is made up of 82 members who are journalists and fans. By and large, the academy loathes this group and isn't inclined to follow any of its dictates, though sometimes, by coincidence, the groups' choices match. Last year, the HFPA, following the lead of most critics groups, lauded “Boyhood” and its director, Richard Linklater. But it was “Birdman” and its writer-director Alejandro G. Inarritu holding Oscars at the Academy Awards.
SAG, meanwhile, votes early, and its deadline seems to penalize movies that arrive late and don't provide voters DVD screeners. Academy members have more of a chance to watch the December films, take in the entire field and nominate late releases — recent examples include “American Sniper” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
“So few people I know have seen ‘The Revenant,' ” Barker says. “It's just way too soon for most people to make their way through all these movies.”
The holidays will provide that opportunity. After we've rung in the New Year, the Producers Guild will announce its 10 picture nominees on Jan. 5 and the Directors Guild will follow with its list of five on Jan. 12. Two days later, Oscar nominations will be announced.
It's a long time to wait for answers. But look at it this way: Everyone still has a little hope (or hell) to hang on to for five more weeks.
5:20 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional reporting.
This article was originally posted at 9:10 a.m.