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Oscar Leaderboard: Lupita Nyong'o vs Jennifer Lawrence Is the Race of the Year

Lupita Nyong'o and Jennifer Lawrence
Lupita Nyong'o accepting her SAG award for Best Supporting Actress and Jennifer Lawrence accepting her Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. (Getty Images)Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong'o are locked in the tightest race of the 2014 awards season. Who will come out on top? Who knows?! The whole thing would be easier to deal with if they weren't BOTH so ridiculously lovable.

The Screen Actors Guild and the Producers Guild of America both held their awards ceremonies last weekend, and both were very interesting. The SAGs are often the most accurate predictors of Oscar victory in the acting categories, so Nyong'o's win there changed our perspective on the race.

But before we dig in, I wanted to explain a little bit about how Oscar voting works. Feel free to skip this if you already know or it's not interesting.

There are 6,028 eligible voting members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. The largest voting block is made up of actors. Nomination ballots are sent to voters in late December with a voting deadline set sometime in early January. After the votes are tallied and the nominees are announced, a few weeks pass before voters are sent the final ballots in late January. The deadline for final voting is the Tuesday before the Oscars. That gives the Oscars a much later voting timeline than the other awards shows, which means all those other awards shows' outcomes stand to influence Oscar voters. Sorry if this is a little dry, but I've been fielding a few questions about this lately, and it seemed like a good time to bring it up. Now on to the fun stuff.

Cate Blanchett has been a consistent winner throughout this awards season. She picked up the Screen Actors Guild award last weekend, the Golden Globe the weekend before that, and there's no reason to think she won't be winning an Oscar. As we predicted last week, many Academy prognosticators now consider Amy Adams, not Sandra Bullock, Cate's primary competition. It's interesting because before the nominations were announced, she was seen as the sixth candidate in the race. But with the field narrowed she's looked at as the only other real option.

After an epic Golden Globes acceptance speech, and a mind-blowing SAG acceptance speech, we're now hoping Matthew McConaughey wins the Oscar just to hear what he'll say next! In a category where Chiwetel Ejiofor was very recently perceived to be the frontrunner, we now predict he's running in second, or maybe even third place. Momentum has gathered behind Bruce Dern's performance in Nebraska, and Academy voters who see Ejiofor's campaign as a lost cause, may throw their support behind Dern. It's worth noting that final Oscar voting has yet to begin, so Academy voters may still be making up their minds.
After a major Golden Globe win, it looked like Jennifer Lawrence had taken the lead for Best Supporting Actress from Lupita Nyong'o, but Nyong'o came up big at the SAG awards, which is a much better predictor in the acting categories. Still, this is a very tough category to call. American Hustle won the Best Ensemble award at the SAGs (the SAG equivalent of Best Picture), and there's still a lot of love for Lawrence. This is looking more and more like a two-way race.

Not much has changed in the Best Supporting Actor category. Jared Leto's steamroller awards season campaign continued over the weekend as he won the SAG award, and Michael Fassbender is still seen as his primary competition. We've ranked the other three nominees, but really Barkhad, Bradley, and Jonah are probably running about even. This category is probably not going to change much in the coming weeks.

We'll be looking closely at the Directors Guild of America awards this weekend to see if Alfonso Cuarón comes up with his expected win. If he does, he's almost a sure thing for the Best Director Oscar. Steve McQueen has been the number 2 in this race for a while, but that stagnation might mean he'll slip with late-voting Academy voters enamored with American Hustle. David O. Russell clearly deserves to be awarded at this point. The danger here is that he'll turn into the next Scorsese, who didn't win for Best Director until The Departed in 2006 despite its being seen as inferior to some of his earlier work. (Not to take anything away from The Departed.) The Academy has been reluctant to embrace Russell, but he'll probably have to wait for another year. Cuarón seems to have this all locked up.
A weird thing happened at the Producers Guild of America awards last weekend — an unprecedented thing actually. Gravity and 12 Years a Slave tied for Best Picture. Since the PGA awards are usually the most accurate predictor for the Best Picture Oscar, it seems a pretty clear indicator Gravity is a serious contender. But let's digest that information with a grain of salt. The PGA has a much smaller voting block, and the wider Hollywood constituency probably feels more obligation to vote for the picture that matters most. And no matter how scary it was to watch Sandra Bullock go hurtling into space, 12 Years a Slave is a movie that Matters with a capitol M. Solomon Northup's firsthand account of being sold into slavery is one of our most important documents describing life as a slave, and Steve McQueen's movie will likely be the standard by which all other slavery films are judged for decades. If it doesn't win Best Picture, I predict a slew of articles accusing the 94 percent white Academy of racism. I'm not saying that's why voters should vote for 12 Years a Slave, but it might be in the backs of their minds.
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