Okay, it's almost over... the first phase of the Oscar race, that is. In the past few years, the modern Oscar race has settled into three distinct phases:
1. The Critics Awards (November-December)
2. The Union Awards (January)
3. The Oscars (February)
1. The nation's film critics groups, and there is a growing number of them, announce their winners for the year's best in film in a stretch of weeks from late November to late December. Some of these groups are questionable, i.e. having a very small number of members, and/or having journalists which may or may not really know much about film, but nevertheless, these are the first and most important flares which go up and tell the Oscar voters how to vote. It's very important to remember that the Oscar voters are NOT critics, and believe us, if you're trying to predict the Oscar race, you forget this fact at your own peril, but it's also important to remember that the Oscar voters wish they were critics. In other words, Oscar voters end up voting in what often turns out to be little more than a popularity contest, but they want to their awards to be IMPORTANT, and therefore, they know they can't veer too far away from what the critics consider credible.
2. Right after the critics hand out their awards come the Union Awards, i.e. the awards from The Screen Actors Guild, The Producers Guild, The Directors Guild, etc. These awards are actually the best predictors of the Oscar race for one simple reason: many of the Oscar voters are also members of these guilds.
3. And finally comes The Oscar show itself, and we don't have to wonder any longer who is going to win, we find out. For many years, it was conventional wisdom to look to The Golden Globes for a predictor of the Oscars, but as many have come to realize, The Golden Globes are a questionable, sometimes even shady, organization which almost always goes for the "popular" choices for its winners. The Golden Globes are now seen as a fun night for the actors, and a great t.v. show, but it's largely ignored by serious Oscar voters.
So, at this point, we have just a few more critics awards, and then in January, we head into the home stretch of the Oscar race. The last big variable in the race, but something which is almost impossible to track or measure, is the effect of the film reviews. Because so many of the serious Oscar-contending films wait until late December to release, many of the critics awards are handed out before a film is seen by the public and/or the film's reviews hit the newspapers. So sometimes, even after a film wins a truck-load of critics awards, the film opens and gets bad reviews in the newspapers, or worse, it flops at the box office. Then all bets are off, and suddenly the bevy of critics awards that the film won can mean absolutely nothing.