The whole "since going to ten nominees/using preferential voting, PGA has never been wrong" thing is ridiculous, because 1) we're talking four years -- ludicrously small sample size; 2) the DGA -- whose track record of predicting the Oscars dwarfs PGA -- picked the same films those years. If Fincher had won DGA in '10, or Spielberg last year, and the Oscar result was the same, then PGA would have something to brag about. (But alot of us would argue the results probably WOULDN'T have been the same -- DGA was the clincher in those races) And, given that, prior to these past few years, PGA had a far less sparkling record (missing best picture in '01, '04 and '06), I think you have to look at their choices as far from infallible.
Over at Awards Daily, everything is good news for 12 Years a Slave. Sharing the win here is definitely a positive sign for the film -- probably its best so far -- but, as on pretty much every other significant day this year, the film also fell a bit short of hope. BJ mentioned, after Hustle's SAG win, that the best way to keep the race wide-open was for 12 Years to win PGA and Cuaron to take DGA. I think many people expected it go exactly that way. So, 12 Years winning only half PGA is a bit less than anticipated. Now, DGA remains unannounced, and if McQueen were to win there, that would really change things. But if, as widely expected, Cuaron takes that prize, it's hard to see 12 Years as out in front.
"But at least American Hustle's dead!" -- widely cackled at other sites. Sorry: I don't see that. A SAG win can't be tossed off as meaningless, especially in tandem with leading the Oscar nominations, and very strong box-office (Shakespeare in Love having had that precise profile). And, while we know American Hustle finished (at best) third among PGA voters, we have no idea how close it came.
In fact, I've been thinking about how this preferential voting system works (which requires concentration); I could make the argument that, with the tiniest variation in voting, American Hustle might have won going away. (Note: this is not to say it's what happened, or to try to argue that losing is winning; merely thinking the system through) I'd like dws, or anyone else math-inclined, to check me on this, but here's how I see the process:
Ballots are divided into piles by first place vote; presumably every film gets at least one such, so there are ten piles to start. Finishing near the top is inconsequential in the early rounds: the only object is to avoid being last, as that candidate is eliminated. Its first place votes are then crossed off, and its ballots are redistributed into the piles of the films that showed up in second place. This process is repeated round by round, with the low-placing film eliminated, as in a game of musical chairs, and its ballots being added to the pile of whatever shows up next in preferential order. Presumably, at least some ballots might go down to 6th-7th-8th choices as the process goes on.
As I see it, the key to the race is when it gets down to three films. But then, 7 trailing candidates have been eliminated, and the surviving 3 likely have a great many votes. Let's say there are about 4000 ballots in play. We know Gravity and 12 Years led at that point -- figure they had 1300-1400 votes apiece. It's possible American Hustle trailed by very few votes at this point -- like, 12 Years 1345, Gravity 1330, Hustle 1325 (all hypothetical, of course). Hustle is, by fair and square rule, eliminated, and then it becomes a runoff between 12 Years and Gravity, with the only thing that matters being where on each American Hustle ballot 12 Years lies vis a vis Gravity -- if 12 Years is ahead (even 9th place to 10th), it scores a vote; same in reverse with Gravity. In my hypothetical example, I've assumed American Hustle backers were close to evenly split on the two films...some preferring human-centered stories and going for 12 Years, others finding 12 Years cold and preferring Gravity...but with just enough of a margin for Gravity to bring it into a tie position with McQueen's film.
Now, assume the very slim margin Gravity had over Hustle in round-of-3 was reversed; this pits Hustle against 12 Years for the win. But here, the results could be less ambiguous: disappointed Gravity supporters much prefer the on-a-lark quality of American Hustle to the dark indie 12 Years, and overcome 12 Years' 20 vote margin with ease; Hustle could win by a hundred votes or more and be the individual champion.
Again: you don't need to tell me this didn't happen, or accuse me of belittling the winners; I'm not. What I am saying is, this is a totally plausible result -- that American Hustle (or, for that matter, Nebraska, or Captain Phillips) could have missed the runoff by a tiny margin, and lost a chance to win the Guild decisively. So, the idea that any film beside these top two finishers is out of the race becomes a bit harder to argue.