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Now for real insight into Oscars -- by the guilds

'Argo' and 'Lincoln' appear to be early favorites for best picture. The Producers Guild and other awards could establish a clear favorite for Oscars.

January 26, 2013|By Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times

The academy liked "Argo," but not its director, Ben Affleck. The Directors Guild of America nominated Affleck, but couldn't find room for "Silver Linings Playbook" auteur David O. Russell, who, naturally, received an Oscar nomination for direction. "Lincoln" won the most Oscar nods, but, now, in a post-Affleck-snub awards-season landscape, finds itself viewed by many pundits as an underdog, a movie admired more than adored.

This year's murky, quirky best picture race remains a work in progress, but we should have a some clarity by Sunday night, courtesy of this weekend's Producers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild awards. And by the time the Directors Guild weighs in on Feb. 2, we'll have key clues about whether to dust off or mothball our stovepipe hats for the Oscars ceremony on Feb. 24.

The guild awards often provide the best indications of which films and artists are likely to win the main event, although some of the leading contenders don't qualify for the Writers Guild of America awards for various reasons.

PHOTOS: SAG Award nominees

Here's a look at the upcoming guild races and their influence on the Oscars.

PGA awards — Saturday

For the last five years, the PGA winner has gone on to win best picture. One reason: The 5,400-member PGA and academy use the same preferential system to count final ballots. So whether it's "Lincoln" or "Argo" — and it's likely down to those two films — the victor here will emerge as the favorite to take the Oscar. An "Argo" win, coming after its high-profile Golden Globe triumphs for picture drama and director, would leave "Lincoln" needing a SAG ensemble win or DGA victory to avoid an early obituary.

SAG awards – Sunday

The Weinstein Co. sees its best opportunity to secure a post-noms beachhead for "Silver Linings" with SAG's prestigious ensemble award. The studio's recent ad campaign features a wide shot of the movie's cast — and not just its Oscar-nominated leads, but everyone, even blink-and-you'll-miss-them actors Shea Whigham and Dash Mihok, who didn't secure single title cards in the movie's credits and thus aren't even part of the SAG-nominated ensemble. The message: Look at the size of our cast! We're an actors movie!

NOMINEE LISTS: SAG | DGA | PGA | WGA Awards

The emphasis on quantity might not be misguided, given that SAG voters have given the movie ensemble award to the biggest cast for four years running. Who has the numbers this year? "Argo" includes 13 actors; "Les Misérables" sports a dozen. Though smaller in size, "Silver Linings" and "Lincoln" own the most individual nominations (three apiece), indicating a depth of support for both films. For "Silver Linings" to continue its upward trajectory as a serious best picture candidate, a win here is almost essential.

DGA awards — Feb. 2

This is "Life of Pi's" make-or-break category. Its director, Ang Lee, was one of only two helmers nominated by the DGA and the academy. ("Lincoln's" Steven Spielberg was the other.) "Pi" won 11 Oscar nods, second to "Lincoln" but has been viewed by most as a fringe best picture contender, mostly because it has no acting nominees. If Lee wins, "Pi" will receive a nice momentum boost just before Oscar balloting begins.

FULL COVERAGE: SAG AWARDS 2013

Meanwhile, a victory here for Affleck would represent a Bronx cheer to the academy's directors branch, as well as further confirmation of an "Argo" insurrection. An upset for Kathryn Bigelow would put the controversial "Zero Dark Thirty" back in the conversation. Presumptive Oscar favorite Spielberg has the most to lose. DGA voters love him, nominating Spielberg a record 11 times and giving him three prizes along with a lifetime achievement award. If he loses with this bunch, "Lincoln" is in trouble.

WGA awards — Feb. 17

The Writers Guild brings up the rear, handing out its prizes about a week before the Oscars. Its afterthought status is appropriate in a way since, as has long been the case, many of this year's contenders (most notably Oscar nominees "Amour," "Django Unchained" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild") were ineligible because they didn't adhere to the WGA's restrictive contractual guidelines and jurisdiction or, in the case of "Django," because its writer, Quentin Tarantino, has never bothered to join the group. ("Beasts" was also ineligible for SAG because it did not meet the terms of the guild's low-budget feature agreement.)

Here, as with the DGA, a "Lincoln" loss would be significant since its screenplay, adapted by Tony Kushner, has been one of its most consistently praised elements.

Glenn Whipp writes the Gold Standard column for The Envelope.

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