We’ve barely had any time to digest this week’s announcement of the 89th Oscar nominations, and already we are on the brink of knowing the results of two of the three major industry guild awards. Tonight, the Producers Guild of America will hold its annual ceremony, leading up to the announcement of of this year’s Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures. As always, right on the PGA’s heels, the Screen Actors Guild Awards are presented tomorrow night. PGA, with its strong AMPAS crossover membership and its use of a preferential ballot system, is a key indicator of the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner. SAG, similarly, gives us a strong indication of where each acting race is headed. By Sunday evening, we may well have a myriad of confirmations as we inch closer to Oscar Night.
Alternatively, our pre-conceived notions could also be shot to hell. It’s 2017, after all – there are no rules.ly
Both the PGA and SAG awards are relatively young in the context of the Oscars – this year will mark the 28th PGA Awards and the 23rd SAG Awards. But within their recent histories, these guild prizes have held sway in terms of predicting the trajectory of the Oscar race. And indeed, they will mark the first significant voice of the industry when it comes to actually singling out winners. Every guild plus AMPAS has made known their broader preferences, but this weekend, producers and actors will provide a more accurate industry temperature.
There are two distinct paths to each Oscar season: the unpredictable tight race and the foregone conclusion. In the past few years, those paths have alternated from one season to the next. In 2013, Argo was a steamroller. In 2014, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity were neck-and-neck until the final envelope was opened. Birdman was dominant in 2015, but last year was as evenly split as a race could possibly be, with The Big Short winning PGA, Spotlight winning SAG, and The Revenant winning DGA. That puts on course to have a predictable juggernaut this time around, and so far the season has complied: La La Land seems like a runaway frontrunner. Indeed, it’s the type of film that one would expect to sweep the top three guilds. One problem with that seeming inevitability: the film failed to garner a Best Cast nomination from SAG. As a result, we are guaranteed that there won’t be a clean sweep of the guilds, and so by default we must build in a certain degree – however small – of uncertainty.
If not for La La Land’s general dominance across all cinematic disciplines – having tied the all-time record by earning 14 Oscar nominations on Tuesday, it’s clear that folks up and down the industry love the movie – there would be a path for an uncertain three-way race. Both Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea have the juice to make a serious run for Best Picture – and as it happens, both possess precisely what La La lacks, SAG Best Cast noms. When the SAG nominations were initially announced, I posited a longshot scenario that was essentially a repeat of last year’s three-way divide, with La La Land winning PGA, Manchester winning SAG, and Barry Jenkins winning DGA – or swap that out for any of the other potential permutations that are possible. That remains possible, if not probable. By the end of next weekend, once the DGA has also announced its winner, if La La Land won PGA and Damien Chazelle won DGA, then there’s little to alter its Oscar destiny.
But before I jump too far ahead, it all begins with the PGA, a ceremony that keeps us East Coasters up late into the night, stalking social media until the final envelope at the PGA ceremony is opened. As always, the lineup consists of ten films:
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Fairly safe, I would say, to narrow this list down to the three aforementioned titles. And I stay strong on my prediction for a La La Land win until we get clear indication otherwise from the industry. A different winner from the PGA would provide that clear indication, and we would readjust going forward. Lest we forget, however, last year we commenced with the post-PGA readjustment after The Big Short claimed the top PGA prize, upending presumed frontrunner Spotlight. I and sundry other pundits leaned on PGA’s preferential ballot as the most accurate Oscar indicator in terms of shifting the race in favor of Big Short. But then Spotlight won Best Picture anyway. Sometimes there is no best laid plan.
For Sunday’s SAG ceremony, one would look for some bulwark winners to solidify the frontrunner status of the would-be recipients. That would be Casey Affleck and Emma Stone in the lead categories, and Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis in supporting. However, I would deem only Davis a shoo-in. There is some wiggle room in the other three categories. Stone’s chief competition is certainly Natalie Portman, and going forward most Oscar predictions will lean heavily towards the name on that SAG envelope. Ali is something of an odd frontrunner; his run of critics group wins has been dominant, and yet his role is so small, limited to only one of Moonlight distinct thirds. I’ve always wondered if beloved veteran Jeff Bridges – by virtue of the fact that his role in Hell or High Water is, after all, a shared lead – could be an upset waiting to happen. And in terms of Affleck, I and plenty of others always assumed Denzel Washington would be his chief competition…and that’s still a possibility. But I’ve found my way to a different possibility: a Ryan Gosling Best Actor win. Affleck has been dominant on the critics circuit, but the murmurs over his history of sexual harassment allegations has been a specter hovering over this season. On the contrary, Gosling has long been venerated as basically a Hollywood saint, with ample material evidence to back up such a claim. His earnest Golden Globes acceptance speech only reinforced that image. Plus, if La La Land is truly the industry’s favorite movie, then a duo of SAG wins for Stone and Gosling would blunt the severity of the film’s missing Best Cast nomination. Each category has its own frontrunner, and each has its own potential spoiler. In general, I loathe predicting anything other than the Oscars, but I feel like our winners will be Stone, Davis, Ali…and I will go ahead and pick Gosling. “No Guts, No Glory,” as they say, though I’m not sure if this is a guts or shit-for-brains type of pick.
As for Best Cast, without La La Land, here are the nominees:
Manchester by the Sea
This seems like a race between Manchester and Moonlight. The former leads all films with four nominations, and the latter is close behind with three. I actually wouldn’t be at all surprised if a film like Hidden Figures, with its big cast and uplifting historic tale celebrating diversity, pulls off a surprise win here. I like the look of Manchester as a big acting showcase, but I suppose the frontrunner here is Moonlight.
Enjoy the awards weekend. I’ll talk to you Monday, at which time we’ll either be moving forward with assurance or feverishly retooling our prediction charts…