'Spotlight's' Oscar Chances: Regional Critics Groups
Courtesy of Open Road

It might appear to be a wide open race, but one movie closed out the year in the driver's seat.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Oscars in 2013. An up-for-grabs year in many categories — among them best picture, particularly between front-running contenders “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” — came into focus thanks to agreement among regional critics organizations.

While the early awards circuit that year had seen the New York film critics favor “American Hustle” for the top award, and the Los Angeles org deadlock on “Gravity” and “Her,” the guilds further muddied the waters down the stretch with “Hustle” winning the Screen Actors Guild’s ensemble prize, “Gravity” helmer Alfonso Cuaron taking the directors guild’s prize, and “Gravity” tying “12 Years” for the Producers Guild crown. Consensus seemed to be lacking everywhere you turned.

But on the regional circuit, “12 Years,” the eventual best picture Oscar winner, was racking up win after win. Groups from Boston, Chicago, Florida and Houston, to name but a few, lined up behind Steve McQueen’s slavery drama, just as many had the year before with Ben Affleck’s “Argo.” It was noteworthy, because consensus is crucial when it comes to the best picture Oscar; the Academy’s preferential balloting system favors films that are generally agreeable over “love it/hate it” contenders.

That kind of consensus appears to be developing among regional groups this year for “Spotlight.” Tom McCarthy’s film has claimed best picture honors from 17 critics groups, including those from Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Vancouver, St. Louis and Detroit, to name a handful. A distant second is George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” with eight. Only three other films — “Carol,” “Suffragette” and “Creed” — have claimed best picture honors from critics organizations.

Is the writing on the wall for Open Road’s journalism drama, or is “Spotlight” — a film about a crusading team of journalists — simply a film that inherently appeals to the media? That’s a key question in the midst of this year’s final Oscar balloting phase. Miller, by the way, is far and away the leader when it comes to director wins, having claimed 19 trophies. “Carol” helmer Todd Haynes is far behind with four.

Meanwhile, “The Revenant” star Leonardo DiCaprio has remained in front of “Steve Jobs’ ” Michael Fassbender 11 to six for actor wins, while “Room’s” Brie Larson continues to dominate “Brooklyn’s” Saoirse Ronan in the lead actress arena, 16 to six.

In the supporting ranks, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa encore in “Creed” is ahead of “Bridge of Spies” star Mark Rylance nine to six, while somewhat surprisingly, Alicia Vikander has left all other supporting actress contenders in the dust, with 13 wins. (Surprising because they’ve all come for her “Ex Machina” performance rather than her Oscar-tipped work in “The Danish Girl,” which has received just one win, from the Detroit critics.) “Clouds of Sils Maria’s” Kristen Stewart is next in line with four wins.

And if you’re curious about screenplay totals, “Spotlight” is dominating the original field, while “The Martian” and “Room” remain neck-and-neck in the adapted race.

This is merely data, however. The mantra to keep in mind is “critics don’t vote for Oscars.” Not only that, they find themselves weighing in during an entirely different time frame than Academy members, many of whom likely received their ballot alongside 2016’s first issue of Variety after returning from holiday vacation.

Other clues are on the way, such as the next wave of guild and industry nominations (both the art directors and producers announce today with the costume designers on Thursday and the British academy on Friday). But if you have a mind to predict the 2015 best picture Oscar victor now that the year has officially drawn to a close, “Spotlight” wouldn’t be a bad bet.

Latest Predictions:

Silence Picture
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  2. "Moonlight" A24

  3. "Fences" Paramount Pictures

  4. "Hacksaw Ridge" Lionsgate

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Damien Chazelle la la land BTS Director
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  2. Barry Jenkins "Moonlight"

  3. Kenneth Lonergan "Manchester by the Sea"

  4. Mel Gibson "Hacksaw Ridge"

  5. Martin Scorsese "Silence"

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Manchester by the Sea Actor
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  2. Casey Affleck "Manchester by the Sea"

  3. Ryan Gosling "La La Land"

  4. Tom Hanks "Sully"

  5. Andrew Garfield "Hacksaw Ridge"

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Jackie Natalie Portman Actress
  1. Emma Stone "La La Land"

  2. Natalie Portman "Jackie"

  3. Annette Bening "20th Century Women"

  4. Meryl Streep "Florence Foster Jenkins"

  5. Isabelle Huppert "Elle"

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Hugh Grant Florence Foster Jenkins Supporting Actor
  1. Jeff Bridges "Hell or High Water"

  2. Mahershala Ali "Moonlight"

  3. Dev Patel "Lion"

  4. Hugh Grant "Florence Foster Jenkins"

  5. Mykelti Williamson "Fences"

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Nicole Kidman Lion Supporting Actress
  1. Viola Davis "Fences"

  2. Michelle Williams "Manchester by the Sea"

  3. Naomie Harris "Moonlight"

  4. Nicole Kidman "Lion"

  5. Greta Gerwig "20th Century Women"

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Arrival Adapted Screenplay
  1. "Lion" Luke Davies

  2. "Fences" August Wilson

  3. "Arrival" Eric Heisserer

  4. "Hacksaw Ridge" Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan

  5. "Sully" Todd Komarnicki

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Hell or High Water trailer Original Screenplay
  1. "La La Land" Damien Chazelle

  2. "Moonlight" Barry Jenkins, Tarell McCraney

  3. "Manchester by the Sea" Kenneth Lonergan

  4. "Hell or High Water" Taylor Sheridan

  5. "The Lobster" Efthymis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos

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Ben Affleck John Goodman Live By Night Cinematography
  1. "Silence" Rodrigo Prieto

  2. "Live By Night" Robert Richardson

  3. "La La Land" Linus Sandgren

  4. "Lion" Greig Fraser

  5. "Jackie" Stephane Fontaine

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  2. "Silence" Dante Ferretti

  3. "Allied" Joanna Johnston

  4. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" Colleen Atwood

  5. "La La Land" Mary Zophres

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Sully Movie Film Editing
  1. "La La Land" Tom Cross

  2. "Sully" Blu Murray

  3. "Moonlight" Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders

  4. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" Jabez Olssen

  5. "Arrival" Joe Walker

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Star Trek Beyond Makeup & Hairstyling
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  2. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

  3. "Hacksaw Ridge"

  4. "Florence Foster Jenkins"

  5. "Gold"

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The BFG Original Score
  1. "The BFG" John Williams

  2. "La La Land" Justin Hurwitz

  3. "The Jungle Book" John Debney

  4. "Lion" Hauschka, Dustin O'Halloran

  5. "Florence Foster Jenkins" Alexandre Desplat

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Hidden Figures trailer Best Original Song
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  2. "How Far I'll Go" "Moana"

  3. "City of Stars" "La La Land"

  4. "Runnin'" "Hidden Figures"

  5. "Faith" "Sing"

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Passengers Production Design
  1. "Live By Night" Jess Gonchor; Nancy Haigh

  2. "Silence" Dante Ferretti; Francesca Lo Schiavo

  3. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" Stuart Craig, James Hambige; Anna Pinnock

  4. "La La Land" David Wasco; Sandy Reynolds-Wasco

  5. "Passengers" Guy Hendrix Dyas; Gene Serdena

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Rogue One A Star Wars Story trailer Sound Editing
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  2. "Hacksaw Ridge"

  3. "Live By Night"

  4. "Sully"

  5. "Deepwater Horizon"

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Hacksaw Ridge Venice Sound Mixing
  1. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

  2. "La La Land"

  3. "The Jungle Book"

  4. "Hacksaw Ridge"

  5. "Live By Night"

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  2. "Kubo and the Two Strings" Laika/Focus Features

  3. "The Red Turtle" Sony Pictures Classics

  4. "Moana" Walt Disney Studios

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Weiner Sundance 2016 Documentary Feature
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  5. "I Am Not Your Negro" Raoul Peck

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Toni-Erdmann-1 Foreign Language
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  2. "Land of Mine" Denmark; Martin Zandvliet

  3. "The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki" Finland; Juho Kuosmanen

  4. "The Idol" Palestine; Hany Abu Assad

  5. "Barakah Meets Barakah" Saudi Arabia; Mahmoud Sabbagh

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Jungle Book Visual Effects
  1. "The Jungle Book"

  2. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

  3. "Doctor Strange"

  4. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"

  5. "Passengers"

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