Matthew McConaughey accepts the Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role award for 'Dallas Buyers Club' during the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
(USA TODAY) -- More than a month remains until the Academy Awards, but it looks as though Oscar will fete either a drama bout American brutality or a comedy about American greed.
Over a critical four-day span last week, "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle" emerged as the frontrunners for the best-picture Oscar to be handed out March 2.
PHOTOS | 2014 SAG Awards
PHOTOS | 2014 Oscar nominees
"Hustle," the story of con artists and crooked politicians, picked up honors as best ensemble film at the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday. The win followed its 10 Oscar nominations, including best picture, on Thursday, tying "Gravity" for the most nods.
"Slave," the true story of a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, continues to counter with its own wins. It earned nine Oscar nominations, won the Golden Globe for best drama and took an acting win from the SAGs, turning the best picture and supporting actress races into possible nail-biters.
Both films were expected to do well at Sunday night's Producers Guild of America Awards in Beverly Hills. Barring upsets there, these nominees appear to have the early upper hand in the six major Oscar categories:
This looks to be one of the tightest races since 2005's "Crash" edged out "Brokeback Mountain." While academy analysts considered this largely a three-film race between "Hustle," "Slave" and "Gravity," the outer space saga has been bumped from the conversation as "Hustle" and "Slave" break from the pack in what forecasters call a coin-flip call.
With his win and eloquent acceptance speech at the SAGs, Matthew McConaughey is the one to beat for his turn as an AIDS patient in "Dallas Buyers Club." Chiwetel Ejiofor is a close second.
If there's anyone who can beat Cate Blanchett from Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," she hasn't appeared yet. Blanchett has collected about every piece of hardware this season, including the SAGs. The entire field is a distant second.
Best Supporting Actor
Like Blanchett, Jared Leto from "Dallas Buyers Club" is a prohibitive favorite. He, too, has had to revise his acceptance speeches this season so as not to sound repetitive. He'll need to have a fresh one March 2 because he's lapping the field.
Best Supporting Actress
The race is emblematic of the neck-and-neck sprint between "Slave" and "Hustle." Lupita Nyong'o won the SAG for "Slave," as well as best supporting actress from Thursday's Critics' Choice Awards, a solid Oscar bellwether. "Hustle"'s Jennifer Lawrence, meanwhile, took the Globe. Nyong'o has the slight edge, say forecasters.
While "Gravity" is coming to earth in the best-picture race, nothing is weighing down Alfonso Cuaron, who is earning plaudits for his technical mastery. "Slave" director Steve McQueen and "Hustle" director David O. Russell are within striking distance, oddsmaskers say, though Cuaron will have it wrapped up if he takes the Director Guild Award on Saturday.
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