Of the 31 Oscarologists polled by Gold Derby, 26 had predicted Viola Davis ("The Help") would win Best Actress. Only five foresaw victory by Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady"): Richard Rushfield (DailyBeast), Kevin Polowy (NextMovie), Tariq Khan (Fox News), Kevin Lewin (WENN) and me. (See the pundits' predix here.) So how the heck did Streep do it?
Those wrong-headed Oscarologists were foolishly relying too much on the outcome of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which, granted, usually forecast the Oscar champs – largely because they share the same voters, just in different proportions. There may be only 1,300 members of the academy's actors' branch, but they all belong to SAG, which has 120,000 members. That's a statistically reliable sample, but there are 4,000 other Oscar voters who pick winners too – and they're not actors.
Bottom line: SAG voters received a DVD screener of "The Help" early and watched it, but they didn't see "The Iron Lady." Its DVD arrived after most ballots already had been mailed in.
* Streep won the Golden Globe and BAFTA.
* Streep portrays a real person – just like 7 of the past 10 winners. Her performance had a strong resemblance to one of those: Helen Mirren, who so convincingly portrayed another female British leader of recent years in "The Queen." Viola Davis portrays a fictitious character.
* Streep was in virtually every frame of "The Iron Lady." Arguably, Viola Davis was a supporting star in "The Help."
* Streep ages dramatically on screen. That was one of the factors that helped Marion Cotillard to pull off an upset in this category for "La Vie en Rose."
* Harvey Weinstein's campaigners did a great job reminding Hollywooders that Streep hadn't won in 29 years.
* "The Help" wasn't as strong as most Oscar-watchers originally thought. Yes, it was nominated for Best Picture and "The Iron Lady" wasn't, but it failed to get other expected bids like Best Director, Director, Screenplay and Costumes.
Streep is now the second-biggest winner of acting award, having two previous wins ("Sophie's Choice," "Kramer vs. Kramer"). She's tied with Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson and Walter Brennan. Only Katharine Hepburn has more (four, all in the lead race).