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Their Best Guesses

Many Oscar harbingers actually have a poor record when it comes to top picks.

December 20, 2006|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

IT'S one of the most reliable bellwethers of the Academy Award for best picture. The Golden Globes? Hardly. The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures? Not a chance. Perhaps the Screen Actors Guild ensemble award? Wrong again.

If you are really interested in who has their fingers on the pulse of Oscar voters, you need to travel to north Texas, and canvas the 35 members of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics Assn. In the last five years, they've correctly foretold the best picture winner four times -- missing only "Crash," a movie everybody underestimated.

For all the media and studio attention lavished on the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., its 88 Golden Globe voters reliably celebrate films that don't go on to repeat their wins at the Oscars. Last year, even with 10 films short-listed for best picture (the Golden Globes are handed out in two categories, drama and musical/comedy), the HFPA didn't manage to nominate eventual Oscar best picture winner "Crash."

The last time the Globes correctly presaged the winner of the top Academy Award was with 2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." None of the best picture Globe winners in the last two years -- "Brokeback Mountain," "Walk the Line," "The Aviator" and "Sideways" -- repeated its triumph at the Kodak Theatre.

Philip Berk, the HFPA's president, takes that as a compliment, proof that his organization thinks independently.

"The stereotype of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is that we are the friends of the studios and we are easily manipulated," Berk says. "But we have a lot of new blood. Over the last 20 years, our members are less star-struck and less interested in pleasing the studios.

"And there is no attempt by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. to use the Golden Globes to predict what will happen in the Academy Awards," Berk says.

Although the Globes bypassed "Crash," Berk points out that five other top HFPA winners repeated with wins at last year's Oscars -- "Brokeback Mountain" director Ang Lee, "Capote" star Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Good Night, and Good Luck's" George Clooney, "Walk the Line's" Reese Witherspoon and "The Constant Gardener's" Rachel Weisz.

Another equally small award group with an outsized profile actually has a poorer Oscar prediction track record.

In each of the last five years, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures gave its best picture award to a movie that didn't win the best picture Academy Award. This year, the obscure group of film professionals, educators, students and historians handed its top honor to Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima."

And even though some Oscar prognosticators and consultants say the Screen Actors Guild's ensemble award is critical -- SAG singled out "Crash" last year, after all -- its reliability is less than perfect.

Although SAG's ensemble acting award winner has gone on to win a best picture Oscar three times in the last five years ("Crash," "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and "Chicago"), the prizes SAG bestowed on "Gosford Park" and "Sideways" did not translate into best picture wins.

The Directors Guild of America makes pretty dependably accurate forecasts; its top filmmaker choice has gone on to collect the best picture Oscar in each of the last five years except last year (when it picked "Brokeback's" Lee, not "Crash's" Paul Haggis).

But it's the Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics Assn., a group of online, print and broadcast journalists that isn't even on most people's radar, that seems to nail it most often. Like the DGA, the group missed only "Crash" over the last five years, picking "Brokeback Mountain" instead. Every other time, its top film also went on to grab the Oscar.

"It's gotta be a coincidence," says Todd Jorgenson, critic for the Denton Record-Chronicle and president of the group. "It's certainly not anything we try to do. But our members are good about seeing everything and making sure the voting is as thorough as possible."

The DGA announces its nominees Jan. 9, and the Dallas group was expected to reveal its winners Dec. 18, after The Envelope went to press. (See their picks at www.dfwfilmcritics.com.)

"The DGA is the powerhouse," says Oscar consultant Murray Weissman. "The correlation for the DGA is just enormous. They are numero uno in our book."

So why do the Globes enjoy so much attention? "They create such a publicity stir," Weissman says, an opinion shared by fellow consultant Dale Olson. "There are three things that influence Oscar voters. One is the Golden Globes. Two are the collected critics' Top 10 lists. And three is box office. Ideally, you get all three."

john.horn@latimes.com

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