Final Oscar Predictions – 2016

In the interest of transparency, I always like to put out my Oscar picks, just for proof when I talk about getting 20/24 categories right (It’s always that number. Every year.) Think you know better? Let’s find out on Sunday.

Best Documentary Short: “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah”

Best Animated Short: “Sanjay’s Super Team”

Best Live Action Short: “Stutterer”

I haven’t seen any of the shorts except for Don Hertzfeldt’s animated “World of Tomorrow” (available on Netflix!), which is a potential spoiler for Pixar’s favored entry (let’s all take a moment to rejoice that “Lava” wasn’t eligible this year). So yeah, I’m mainly going by descriptions and other people’s predictions here. You know as much as I do. Move along.

Best Documentary Feature

A couple legitimate options here – Netflix has poured crazy campaigning money behind “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire,” and the easy streaming availability of those options is not a bad thing. I’ve also heard and read only impressive things about “Cartel Land” from those who make the time. But the high-profile name and critical acclaim behind team “Amy” will probably carry the favorite all the way through here, leaving Joshua Oppenheimer to dry his tears once again with a thousand glowing Sight & Sound reviews.

Will win: “Amy”

Could win: “Cartel Land”

Should’ve been here: “Listen to Me Marlon”

Best Original Song

There’s a slight complication here in that ballots go out with only the name of the song and the movie it’s from – no attached artists names, so it’s possible a good chunk of the voting body is unaware of the Lady Gaga/Diane Warren collaboration (I would beware “Writing’s on the Wall” just because of the name recognition behind Bond films for this reason). But if you bother at all to listen to the songs it’s pretty clear what the best choice is, and I think enough of the Academy will go there.

Will win: “Til It Happens To You,” from “The Hunting Ground”

Could win: “Earned It,” from “Fifty Shades of Grey”

Should’ve been here: “See You Again” from “Furious 7,” and “Feels Like Summer” from “Shaun the Sheep Movie”

Best Sound Editing

The below-the-line categories are going to be an absolute dogfight between “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Revenant.” It’s easy to see pretty much all of the crafts going to one or the other, and it’s hard to call how they’ll split up in the end. In the sound categories, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is also lurking as a spoiler (they’re historically the only categories where the franchise does well), but I think this is one area where the tortuous behind-the-scenes making of “The Revenant” will definitely impress. There’s some dubious ADR on the Native American characters, but overall the sound design of the frontier tale is incredibly immersive.

Will win: “The Revenant”

Could win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Should’ve been here: “Ex Machina”

Best Sound Mixing

See above.

Will win: “The Revenant”

Could win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Should’ve been here: “Sicario”

Best Visual Effects

A highly competitive category this year, with an impressive mix of practical and visual effects as well as in-your-face blockbuster bombast and effective low-key spot use. Will creating a super life-like animal character (the bear scene is memorable, if nothing else) be enough to carry “The Revenant” through? Will the flashier effects of “Mad Max” or “Star Wars” prevail instead? Or will voters be looking for somewhere below the line to express their appreciation of “The Martian?” All legitimate options – this is a close one.

Will win: “The Revenant”

Could win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Should’ve been here: “Crimson Peak”

Best Film Editing

We can probably cross off “Star Wars” here and gravitate towards the four Best Picture nominees in the mix – from there it gets a little trickier. “Spotlight” and “The Big Short” have both been praised for their energy, and the editing has a lot to do with that, particularly the latter with its many intercut interludes and asides. But it’s still likely one of the technical juggernauts here, and I think this is where the adrenaline rush of “Mad Max” starts to win out over “The Revenant.”

Will win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Could win: “The Revenant”

Should’ve been here: “Son of Saul”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Part of me thinks the peculiar inclusion of Swedish film “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” could be a sign for a possible upset (a la “Il Divo” a while back), but the changed rules that have the general Academy body voting on this category probably preclude that outcome now. Flip a coin between the other two contenders instead.

Will win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Could win: “The Revenant”

Should’ve been here: “Crimson Peak”

Best Costume Design

I would limit it again to the two technical steamrollers here, but never ever count out a Sandy Powell joint, of which there are two available this year. “Cinderella” in particular has the flashy goods to be a major spoiler in this category. I’m predicting the “Mad Max” victory train rolls on in the design categories much the same way “The Grand Budapest Hotel” did last year, but I’m definitely keeping an eye on this one.

Will win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Could win: “Cinderella”

Should’ve been here: “Crimson Peak”, “Brooklyn”

Best Production Design

Another category where love for “The Martian” could be a sneaky alternative – but I’ve learned at this point that “spread the wealth” isn’t actually a thing that Oscar voters much care about, especially below the line. Keep ticking off those boxes, it’s all that most of the Academy is doing as well.

Will win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Could win: “The Revenant”

Should’ve been here: “Crimson Peak,” “Ex Machina”

Best Cinematography

After years of being an also-ran, Emmanuel Lubezki has turned into a force of nature at the Oscars. Lock up a record third straight win (“Gravity,” “Birdman”) for Chivo.

Will win: Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Revenant”

Could win: Robert Richardson, “The Hateful Eight”

Should’ve been here: Maryse Alberti, “Creed”

Best Animated Feature

Thanks to GKIDS, the nominees for Animated Feature have gotten delightfully unpredictable (and tasteful!) in recent years, but the winner remains, ultimately, rather predictable.

Will win: Inside Out

Could win: Anomalisa

Should’ve been here: actually i’m pretty much 100% on board with the lineup here

Best Foreign Language Film

“Son of Saul” has been the presumptive favorite since making its impact at Cannes last summer, and there’s little sense that anything’s changed. It’s got the highest profile, the subject matter is right in the Academy’s wheelhouse, and oh, it just happens to be an absolutely shattering and unforgettable film.

Will win: “Son of Saul” (Hungary)

Could win: “Mustang” (France)

Should’ve been here: abstain

Best Original Score

Tarantino may have been wrong about Ennio Morricone never winning a competitive American award (Morricone already had two Golden Globes to his name before claiming a third in absentia for “The Hateful Eight”), he’s right that the Italian master still only has an honorary Oscar as far as the Academy’s concerned. That name value and narrative (besides, you know, the terrific work) should be all that’s needed here this year.

Will win: Ennio Morricone, “The Hateful Eight”

Could win: John Williams, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Should’ve been here: Michael Brook, “Brooklyn”, Tom Holkenberg (Junkie XL), “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Best Original Screenplay

The writing winners have been locked and loaded for a while now. Look for them to line up in step with the Writers Guild Awards, both flashy, in-your-face examples of scripting.

Will win: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”

Could win: Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Ronnie Del Carmen, “Inside Out”

Should’ve been here: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig, “Mistress America”

Best Adapted Screenplay

See above.

Will win: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay, “The Big Short”

Could win: Drew Goddard, “The Martian”

Should’ve been here: Andrew Haigh, “45 Years,” Donald Marguiles, “The End of the Tour”

Best Supporting Actress

There’s narratives to support just about everyone nominated in this category winning – Winslet has the Globe and a BAFTA win behind her (Vikander went lead at the latter), Mara has the screen time of a true co-lead, and Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rachel McAdams are both respected vets who finally got good parts to play to their strengths (Leigh has the favor of flashy Tarantino dialogue behind her). But I’m sticking with Vikander, the breakout star of the year, who again has the screen time of a co-lead and winds up being the emotional core of “The Danish Girl,” a film that will still appeal to many in the Academy.

Will win: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”

Could win: Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs”

Should’ve been here: Alicia Vikander, “Ex Machina,” Tessa Thompson, “Creed”

Best Supporting Actor

It’s kind of odd that so many pundits (including myself) are so convinced that Stallone is going to carry this home, considering he has nothing but a Golden Globe to his name and the HFPA is hardly a reliable precursor for the acting categories. But I think his misses at the SAG and BAFTA awards has more to do with bad timing in the season – screeners of “Creed” hadn’t really gotten to SAG before they voted, and the heat really lit up under the movie after the BAFTAs had voted as well. Mark Rylance and Mark Ruffalo are both looming, but Stallone’s comeback, playing the same character the Academy adored forty years ago, is too good a story for them to pass up.

Will win: Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”

Could win: Mark Rylance, “Bridge of Spies”

Should’ve been here: Oscar Isaac, “Ex Machina”

Best Actress

Such a terrific lineup and such a boring race. For all that we’ve been discussing this as a great year for female leads and for all the possible nominees ultimately left on the sidelines, it hasn’t really been close at any step.

Will win: Brie Larson, “Room”

Could win: Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn” (but not really)

Should’ve been here: Charlize Theron, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Mya Taylor, “Tangerine,” Lily Tomlin, “Grandma” (if we had like, ten nominees)

Best Actor

Finally a stupid fucking internet meme comes to an end. Are you happy, internet? You won.

Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”

Could win: Bryan Cranston, “Trumbo”

Should’ve been here: Géza Röhrig, “Son of Saul”, Michael B. Jordan, “Creed”

Best Director

There have been two back-to-back Best Director winners before in the history of the Oscars: John Ford and Joseph Mankiewicz. Look for Iñárritu to join that august company after triumphing at the Directors Guild Awards.

Will win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “The Revenant”

Could win: Adam McKay, “The Big Short”

Should’ve been here: László Nemes, “Son of Saul,” Todd Haynes, “Carol,” Andrew Haigh, “45 Years”

Best Picture:

And now, ultimately, the hardest call of the night. Honestly I’m not sure we’ll have any idea what’s in this envelope until the last possible moment, unless “The Revenant” really goes on a below-the-line sweep – and even then I could still see “The Big Short” or even “Spotlight” coming out of the mouth of Tom Hanks (or whoever) at the end of the night. “The Revenant” got the Directors Guild award, which has been the best predictor in recent years – but “The Big Short” triumphed with the Producers Guild, who use the same preferential ballot voting system as the Oscars. Does that mean anything? Nothing? Any way you slice it, some kind of precedent is going to get broken, so you might as well go with your gut. And my gut feels kind of grumbly and unhappy this year.

Will win: “The Revenant”

Could win: “The Big Short”

Should’ve been here: “Son of Saul,” “45 Years,” “Carol”

Outguess Ethan 2014

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It’s that time of year again. On Friday, the Academy sent out their Valentines to Oscar watchers everywhere – final ballots for their voting members. Sunday night, the BAFTAs – the British equivalent of the Academy Awards – handed out their notices, and if you thought they would be helpful in clearing up the season, you haven’t really been paying attention. A bevy of awards for “Gravity” (six total, including Best Director for Cuarón and the dubiously applicable Best British Film) made it look like the sci-fi thriller was finally going to make a major statement and clear this muddle once and for all – until “12 Years a Slave” swooped in at the last second, as at the Golden Globes, and still took the crowning Best Film award (it managed only one other on the night – a deserved Best Actor statue for Chiwetel Ejiofor, who did not have to go up against Matthew McConaughey this go-round).

So what does that mean? It means it’s time to make some final picks, and all of us are going to be going out on a limb in one way or another this year. No guts, no glory. It’ll be tough, but I never back down from an Oscar-predicting contest – which means it is time for Outguess Ethan 2014. The rules, as always are simple – fill out your ballots HERE, featuring my custom category point-ranking system. Come Oscar night, if you get enough correct predictions and score higher than myself, I will buy you a DVD/Blu-Ray of your choice (~$20 or less, let’s not get greedy here). If multiple entries score higher than my ballot, only the top scoring ballot will claim the prize. Go big or go home!

You can only fill out your ballot once, so choose wisely! Again, follow the link HERE to submit your entry. In the interest of transparency, I offer my final predictions of the year. Think you can do better?

Best Picture

“American Hustle” has SAG. “Gravity” has the DGA and a tie at the PGA. “12 Years a Slave” has the BAFTA and a tie at the PGA. It’s more or less a pick ’em category, though the momentum has definitely swung away from “Hustle” in the month since nominations went out. Beloved though it is, I just can’t quite see “Gravity” eking out a ground-breaking victory when there’s an equally brilliant period drama right there for the taking. I think the “12 Years” campaign has kept just shy of brow-beating the voters with their film’s “importance” – though they have come awfully close to a scolding tone at times, which is a big no-no. But “12 Years” is not the lecture many people have made it out to be, and I think as long as the voters actually saw it, McQueen’s bold, searing film will win out.

Will win – “12 Years a Slave”

Could win – “Gravity”

Should’ve been here – “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Director

I do not feel good at predicting a Picture/Director split, not at all. But even if my gut goes for “12 Years a Slave” in the top race, it’s hard to see a way around Cuarón taking home this prize. He’s got the director’s branch and the British bloc behind him, and the whole narrative around “Gravity” is the years of hard work and vision it took for him to bring it to the screen.

Will win – Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”

Could win – Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”

Should’ve been here – Joel and Ethan Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Actor

This feels like the acting race with the most wiggle room. McConaughey’s the presumptive favorite, but Ejiofor’s surely got strong support as well. And DiCaprio has been hitting the circuit hard the past two months, make no mistake, with a distinct “it’s time” feeling gathering around the star (kind of a dubious narrative, though; DiCaprio’s still only 39, and the Academy often makes its male legends wait) – could he pull off the upset win with McConaughey and Ejiofor splitting, a la Adrien Brody and “The Pianist?”

Will win – Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Could win – Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave” or Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Should’ve been here – Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Actress

Game, set, match. The resurgent Woody Allen controversy won’t have any effect here.

Will win – Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Could win – Amy Adams, “American Hustle”

Should’ve been here – Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”

Best Supporting Actor

Another three-way race, with Michael Fassbender and newcomer Barkhad Abdi looking to play spoilers to favorite Jared Leto (Abdi took the BAFTA over native son Fassbender, if you think that’s a far-fetched possibility). But unlike the dogfight in the lead race, I don’t think the trailing campaigns here have built up enough momentum for a real challenge.

Will win – Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Could win – Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”

Should’ve been here – Matthew McConaughey, “Mud”

Best Supporting Actress

Even Jennifer Lawrence herself has been practically begging the Academy to give this to Nyong’o. Lawrence does electric comedic work in “American Hustle,” but are they really ready to hand her a statue two years in a row? Somewhere a voice is screaming at me that yes, yes they are, but I just can’t swallow it. If I go down on this one, so be it.

Will win – Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Could win – Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

Should’ve been here – Lea Seydoux, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

Best Original Screenplay

David O. Russell’s film has slipped to the point where we’re considering whether it can actually go home completely empty-handed after leading the nomination field. The best shots for it are Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, and Costume Design – and I’m not predicting either the former or the latter. Spike Jonze’s screenplay has a passionate fan base, but I think “Hustle” will be getting a lot of consolation votes here.

Will win – David O. Russell, Eric Singer, “American Hustle”

Could win – Spike Jonze, ‘Her”

Should’ve been here – Joel and Ethan Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Adapted Screenplay

The screenplay isn’t the first thing people are quick to praise about “12 Years a Slave,” but there really hasn’t been any buzz coalescing around the other nominees. Desperately trying to stick with formula in a crazy year, I’ll hope that the Picture-Screenplay correlation maintains.

Will win – John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave”

Could win – Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope, “Philomena”

Should’ve been here – Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

Best Original Score

First-timers often do great in this category, and that trend looks to continue since none of the vets (Thomas Newman, John Williams, Alexandre Desplat) did really stand-out, career-defining work. That leaves “Gravity” and “Her,” which are more or less on opposite ends of the musical spectrum, in terms of ambition and desired effect. I think the relative bombast and intriguing arrangements of Steven Price’s work will stand out more in voters’ minds.

Will win – Steven Price, “Gravity”

Could win – William Butler, Owen Pallett, “Her”

Should’ve been here – Hans Zimmer, “12 Years a Slave”

Best Cinematography

Another no-brainer category. Even the cinematographer’s guild, who have been far more averse to digital work in the past few years than the Academy, sprung for the man they call Chivo. For the ASC, it was in fact Emmanuel Lubezki’s third victory (the guild being much more savvy in recognizing the man’s brilliant work on “Children of Men” and “The Tree of Life”); for the Oscars, it’ll be an overdue first.

Will win – Emmanuel Lubezki, “Gravity”

Could win – Roger Deakins, “Prisoners” (just because I have to put SOMEthing here)

Should’ve been here – Sean Bobbitt, “12 Years a Slave”

Best Costume Design

Remember, flashy is the name of the game here, regardless of how well the film did overall. Also, the more hoop skirts the better, but fortunately or unfortunately we don’t really have any of those this year.

Will win – “The Great Gatsby”

Could win – “American Hustle”

Should’ve been here – “Her”

Best Production Design

There’s no shortage of quality options in this category – in fact, pretty much every one would be a highly deserving winner in their own way. Personally I’ll be pulling for the subtle futuristic advances of “Her,” but again ostentatious and glamour usually wins out here. To that end, how can one deny anything Baz Luhrmann-related?

Will win – “The Great Gatsby”

Could win – “12 Years a Slave”

Should’ve been here – “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Very tough call. Bizarre as it is for me to say it, “Bad Grandpa” actually probably deserves this one – but will enough Oscar voters be able to see that? I think they’ll end up tossing one the way of a film they already like.

Will win – “Dallas Buyers Club”

Could win – “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”

Should’ve been here – “American Hustle”

Best Film Editing

The overlooked little category that savvy Oscar watchers know often holds the key to everything. “Argo” couldn’t take Best Director last year, but it could take Best Editing; and sure enough that Best Picture victory followed. But you know, this is a weird enough year that I think we’re going to break the pattern. There’s precedence for that as well: at the 2001 ceremony, “Gladiator” prevailed overall despite “Traffic” taking both Best Director and Best Editing (and Adapted Screenplay, in fact – what a bizarre year that was as well, for a film to take all three of those big categories and not the big prize). “Gravity” is just the more striking technical achievement, and I think they’re going to recognize that across most of the craft categories even if they don’t up declaring it Best Picture material.

Will win – “Gravity”

Could win – “12 Years a Slave”

Should’ve been here – “Upstream Color”

Best Visual Effects

I could waste your time making up an argument for “The Desolation of Smaug,” but really, we’ve already both spent enough of our lives on this post.

Will win – “Gravity”

Could win – nope

Should’ve been here – “Pacific Rim”

Best Sound Editing

I’m tired of explaining the difference between the two sound categories every year, so just go read this thorough run-down. This is the best shot for “Captain Phillips” to take away some craft thunder from “Gravity,” as Paul Greengrass’ team is highly respected within the industry. Again, though, “Gravity” strikes me as a runaway train in most of these categories.

Will win – “Gravity”

Could win – “Captain Phillips”

Should’ve been here – “Stoker”

Best Sound Mixing

Meanwhile, musicals tend to fare better when nominated here – does that mean a consolation prize for “Inside Llewyn Davis”? Probably not.

Will win – “Gravity”

Could win – “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Should’ve been here – “The Conjuring”

Best Original Song

Idina Menzel’s classic Disney power ballad seemed like a foregone conclusion from the moment it was sprung on the Internet, but this race has turned remarkably frisky in recent weeks, mostly thanks to the Academy nominating some songs and musicians that people had actually heard of (you know, besides that “Alone Yet Not Alone” incident that we’ve all already agreed never to speak of again). Pharrell Williams is scorching hot in the business right now; with his high-profile performance with Daft Punk at the Grammys (not to mention THAT HAT), “Happy” has rocketed up the charts, incredible considering “Despicable Me 2” came out all the way back in summer. Of course, “Let It Go” is sitting way up there as well, so even in a popularity contest Disney’s still got the inside edge. Meanwhile U2 and Karen O. have been campaigning the hell out of their entries as well (with the former performing “Ordinary Love” on Jimmy Fallon’s debut “Tonight Show” appearance last night, and the latter releasing a new version of “The Moon Song” with Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig). All four will also be performing live at the ceremony (BOY are Zadan and Meron glad that “Alone Yet Not Alone” problem solved itself), a sign of just how high the star wattage really is in this category. Arguments for all entries are possible.

Will win – “Let It Go,” from “Frozen”

Could win – “Ordinary Love,” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”

Should’ve been here – “Please Mr. Kennedy,” from “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Foreign Language Film

Another really tough call category, made worse by the fact I haven’t seen any of the entries. “The Broken Circle Breakdown” apparently has a lot of fans but might be a little too bleak for the general voting body; “The Great Beauty” is certainly the most high-profile but I’m not sure it has enough there there. Does that pave the way for respected Danish director Thomas Vinterberg and his morality parable “The Hunt,” anchored by the now well-known Mads Mikkelsen (who, remember, won Best Actor for the film at Cannes all the way back in 2012)? Or could Palestine make history with “Omar?”

Will win – “The Hunt” (Denmark)

Could win – “The Broken Circle Breakdown” (Belgium)

Should’ve been here – (abstains, courteously)

Best Documentary Feature

“The Act of Killing” has all the critics behind it, but rarely does that matter in this category. There’s a lot of arguments going around for the eccentricities of “Cutie and the Boxer” or the activism of “The Square,” but the Academy’s track record here supports an emotional story told well. “20 Feet from Stardom” it is, I think fairly obviously.

Will win – “20 Feet from Stardom”

Could win – “The Square”

Should’ve been here – “Stories We Tell”

Best Animated Feature

GKIDS and Studio Ghibli brought the international-flavored class back to this category with “Ernest & Celestine” and “The Wind Rises,” but Disney finally has a non-Pixar powerhouse to back and they’ve gone all in.

Will win – “Frozen”

Could win – “The Wind Rises”? I guess?

Should’ve been here – Actually they probably got it about right, unless you were really a big “Monsters University” fan. Not a lot of options among the qualifying candidates.

Best Documentary Short: “The Lady in Number 6”

Best Short Film, Animated: “Mr. Hublot”

Best Short Film, Live Action: “Aquel no era yo (That Wasn’t Me)”

…sure?

Take a Wild Guess

Well we’re still approximately a month away from the Oscars – the ceremony will be held on the evening of March 2nd, pushed back by a week or two from its normal slot to avoid viewership conflict with the Winter Olympics. If it were perhaps any other season, that extra time would honestly be agony, waiting and waiting for the inevitable victory of a steamroller “King’s Speech” or “Artist”-style campaign. Thankfully, the year we have some unexpected time on our hands also happens to be the most competitive and unpredictable year I’ve ever covered. The comparison going around out there is to 2000, when “Gladiator,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Traffic” took a three-way dogfight all the way to a heavily divided ceremony (in which “Gladiator” ultimately triumphed without winning a corresponding Director, Screenplay, OR Film Editing award).

And after the major guild awards, it certainly seems like we’re headed towards that kind of oddball result. The three major bodies ended up going with either a three-way, or even four-way split, depending on how you look at it: SAG unsurprisingly went with actors’ showcase “American Hustle,” the Directors opted for Alfonso Cuarón’s visionary work on “Gravity,” and the Producers couldn’t even make up their minds, splitting their top award between “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” in the organization’s first tie.

That latter result is particularly fascinating, since the PGA is the only guild that uses the same preferential voting system that the Oscars have used since expanding their Best Picture field – a system that, in theory, makes such a tie all but mathematically impossible. But there it is. Many bloggers are claiming that these past few weeks have put “Gravity” in the solid lead because it essentially got two mentions to one each for its competitors, but I’m not so sure. I’m just looking at that PGA tie and thinking it shows how divided and close this race is; there’s basically three camps in the industry (as well as those brave souls who are going to throw some votes the way of “Her”), and they seem to be about equal in size and passion.

So what does that mean? It means in the top categories this year, including Picture, Director and the Screenplay races in particular, your guess is as good as mine. The permutations are endless: do we have two years of Picture/Director split in a row? Or can McQueen and Cuarón end up sweeping their way to victory? Will the massive love in the acting categories (and a likely Original Screenplay win) leapfrog “American Hustle” over the auteurists? Or will Russell’s bullshit-and-glamor-fest walk away empty-handed, even in the acting races? It seems baffling for a film to get four nominations and no wins, but you wouldn’t call anyone from “Hustle” the front-runner in their respective category at the moment. This means there’s a lot of attention on the Brits – whoever walks away with the BAFTA on Feb. 16 (a few days before Oscar voting closes) will probably end up being my pick for Oscar as well. Right now I’d say both “12 Years” and “Gravity” have an equal shot at it, since both directors have the hometown advantage. Stay tuned!

Of course, one can’t check in on Oscar and not mention the past week’s kerfuffle in Original Song. Yes, “Alone Yet Not Alone,” that most unlikely of Oscar nominees, is now nominated yet not nominated. After one of the opposing campaigns that lost out on a nod reportedly hired a private investigator to peek into the tactics of Bruce Broughton’s obscure Christian tune, Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the Academy Board of Governors took the unexpected route of disqualifying “Alone Yet Not Alone” from the Original Song race. There have been a few examples of the Academy rescinding nominations in the past, but they were all based on eligibility requirements (most famously, Nino Rota’s score for “The Godfather” was DQ’ed after it was found Rota recycled the film’s love theme from an earlier, obscure Italian film that he had also scored), making this the first case of campaign malfeasance to merit such drastic consequences.

The story is, Broughton indeed wrote personal e-mails to a large portion of Music Branch members on behalf of his entry, pointing out its number on the mix CD of clips from all eligible songs sent out to everyone in the branch (yes, Academy voting includes mix CDs as part of the official process). You might ask how this is different from “The Hurt Locker” producer Nicholas Chartier, who sent out similar e-mails on behalf of his film in early 2010, and was reprimanded simply by having his tickets to the Oscar ceremony revoked. Well, the problem is the Music Branch’s former representative on the Academy Board of Governors and a current member of its executive committee. Isaacs and the Board determined that this constituted an unfair advantage; presumably, if some third party had sent the e-mail on behalf of Broughton, everything would be hunky dory. C’est la vie.

You can talk about how “unfair” this really was compared to the inequity of studios with millions and millions of monies campaigning against a minuscule indie film that was released for about two weeks in three “Christian” markets; but really this just looks embarrassing for the Academy, considering cronyism is apparently so rampant in the Music Branch that they’ll just vote for their fearless leader’s entry because he asked. Just bad news all around, and it really seems like it’s time to either a) rehaul the Best Original Song category significantly, b) clarify campaigning rules, or c) ditch the category altogether. I would aim for a combination of a) and b) personally; perplexing as it’s been at times, looking back over the past decade, they’ve generally got it right when it mattered most. “Falling Slowly,” “The Weary Kind,” “Skyfall,” “Man or Muppet;” like it or not, those were pretty much the best options available in their respective years, and the weakness of the category overall is equal parts Academy staleness and shifts in the industry.

Plus, I mean, what are the ceremony directors going to do without song performances? Just have random tributes to whatever musical is having an anniversary this year? Oh, wait.