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Want to show off your knowledge and win some dough at the same time by winning your office Oscar pool? Then pay attention. This past Saturday, the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) announced Joel and Ethan Coen as the winners of their top directing award. Then on Sunday night, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) announced the winners of their top awards. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) have yet to announce the winners of their awards. Why do these awards matter? Because the winner of these Guild awards often go on to win the Oscar in their respective categories.

DGA logo WGA logo SAG logo

Why you may ask? It’s because of the way the Oscars are voted on. You see, the rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), that is the organization that puts on the Academy Awards, state that each member may only vote on the nominees in their profession. In other words, writers may only vote on writing awards and costume designers may only vote on costume designers.

That’s why the Guild awards are so important to handicapping the Oscar race. For the most part, it’s the same group of people voting for both awards. But why, you may ask, are the winners and nominees for the Guild awards sometimes different than the nominees for the Academy Awards? The reason is that all the members of the Guilds are not necessarily members of the AMPAS. Only members of the AMPAS are allowed to vote on the Oscars and you have to be invited to become a member of the AMPAS. Thus while all the members of a Guild may not be Academy members, all of the Academy members are members of their respective guild. It’s an astonishing pattern, once you recognise it. Of course, if you’re planning to take advantage of the theory, we say go for it – if you’re aware of probability laws in anything, from betting on the Oscars to learning the tricks of strategic Partypoker play, then it’s always best to put it to use. But the pattern doesn’t quite stop there, and it does beg a few questions.

So how does this play into picking the winners of the Academy Awards? To start things off, always pick the winner of the DGA award for Best Director. Why? Because since the inception of the DGA Award in 1948, only seven times has the winner of the DGA award not gone on to win the Academy Award. That makes the DGA award a pretty good barometer.

The next award to pick is Best Picture. Keep in mind this statistic, 58 of the 79 winners for Best Director were for films that also won Best Picture. It makes sense, right? The Best Director usually will make the Best Picture. But there were 21 instances where this didn’t happen. Why? Because the rules of the Academy state that while each member may only vote for the awards for their respective professions, all members may vote on Best Picture. Keep in mind that actors represent the largest branch of the Academy and you’ll understand why the winner of Best Picture is sometimes a surprise. Still, 58 out of 79 comes in at 73.4% and that’s a decent enough statistic to bet on.

For the writing awards, pick the winners of the Writers Guild awards. These awards are fairly accurate and straightforward.

Things get a little tricky with the acting categories. The SAG awards have only been around since 1994 and, while the awards oftentimes are given out on the basis of merit, they are just as often given out based on popularity. This explains why Johnny Depp won the SAG award for Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Leading Role for Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl and Sean Penn won the Oscar for Best Actor for Mystic River. So how do pick the winners in these categories? Go with the Guild winners in that category unless the winner was for a movie in a comedy. Comedies don’t do well with the Academy. In those instances, go with the most talked about dramatic performance.

Another thing to keep in mind is that most actors are style over substance and this is reflected in how they vote. The Academy tends to like stars. That’s why George Clooney won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Syriana when Paul Giamatti won the SAG award in the same category for Cinderella Man.

For Best Editing, pick your winner for Best Picture. They usually go hand in hand. If for some reason your Best Picture winner isn’t nominated for Best Editing, then go with the movie with the flashies editing.

For the Documentary categories, go with either the most popular documentary or the one with dead Jews.

For the rest of the awards, just remember this: most Academy winners will vote for the movie that they wished they worked on themselves. Usually, this means the flashiest nominee. For example, for Best Sound go with the loudest movie. For Best Costume Design, go with the movie with the flashiest costumes. And so on and so on.

Academy Award

So to recap, here are your picks:

Best Director = DGA award winner
Best Picture – match with DGA award winner
Best Editing – same as Best Picture
Best Original Screenplay/Best Adapted Screenplay – go with WGA winner

Acting categories – go with SAG award winners unless they’re for a comedy, go with stars over character actors

Best Documentaries: most popular or the one with dead Jews

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