SAG, DGA Results Split Between 'Artist' And 'The Help' Adding Intrigue To Oscar Race: Hammond

The Help’s Viola Davis certainly got a leg up in her fierce Best Actress race against The Weinstein Company’s duo Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams, and Help’s Octavia Spencer continued on her supporting actress roll that started in earnest with the Critics Choice and Golden Globe awards. But the Outstanding Cast award that also went to The Help let that Dreamworks film rack up one of the biggest single film hauls in the Screen Actors Guild Awards’ 18-year history. Only two other films, American Beauty in 1999 and Chicago in 2002, match Help’s three wins out of five film categories. Interestingly, both went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. A good omen? In this case it probably doesn’t lend as much weight for the Oscar Best Picture race as pundits normally give to SAG’s cast award, which is often thought of as their version of Best Picture.

The Oscar nominations earlier this week showed no love throughout the individual branches of the Academy except the large actors group which gave it three nominations (Davis, Spencer and another supporting actress contender Jessica Chastain) to go with its Best Picture nod. With no directing, writing or editing (not to mention song, costumes, art direction where it also might have competed) the odds are very long that The Help can use its impressive showing at SAG to propel it into a dogfight with frontrunner The Artist. With Oscar ballots shipping on Wednesday though, Dreamworks and Disney may just be emboldened enough to give it a go. Warning: no film since 1930’s Grand Hotel has managed to win the Academy’s top prize without at least one directing, writing or editing nod and no film has won where its director wasn’t at least nominated for a DGA award. Of course precedents like these are made to be broken but a Best Picture win at this point would rank as one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. It would have to be driven by an extremely large majority of the powerful actors branch — easily the Academy’s biggest pool of voters with 1,183 members (nearly three times as many as the Producers which are the next largest group).

Is it possible? Well The Help is  by far the only film of Oscar’s magnificent 9 to gross more than $100 million (well over that with $169 million domestically). Academy voters might want to pick the most popular kid in class this time especially since the front-running Artist (with 10 nominations) has made just $16 million so far. And Hugo with 11 nominations is inching toward $60 million since being released at Thanksgiving. Does the Academy, worried about TV viewers’ interest in their February 26th show, want to use this SAG sweep as impetus to put some weight behind the only smash hit in their Best Picture lineup? Or would they rather stick with historical patterns and conventional Oscar thinking, placing box office fairly low on the list of considerations? Judging by the majority of Oscars-past, voters generally don’t put popularity ahead of their own feelings. The victory two years ago of The Hurt Locker over Avatar made that crystal clear.

Certainly director Michel Hazanavicius’s big DGA win Saturday night, on top of the highly predictive PGA win last weekend and previous wins from the New York Film Critics, Golden Globes and Critics Choice Movie Awards among others strongly position The Artist to sail toward a Best Picture win at this point. The DGA winner has failed on only six occasions to go on and win Best Director at the Oscars and the winner of Best Director usually is also winner of Best Picture. The somewhat surprising Best Actor win for The Artist‘s Jean Dujardin at SAG also indicates there was much love for his movie even though it didn’t take the Cast prize. Plus there is no indication that The Artist has lost any of its apparent rank and file voter appeal in the Academy despite some vocal naysayers who dismiss the black-and-white silent as too slight to win the big prize. In other words, while The Help had a big night it doesn’t seem to be at the expense of The Artist which is splitting the headlines with its rival for this very important weekend.

This does not seem to be the same situation as in 2005 when eventual surprise Best Picture victor Crash was able to use a SAG cast win to derail the surging momentum of PGA and DGA winner Brokeback Mountain. The former also had those key directing, writing and editing nominations (winning the latter two in addition to Best Pic). But it does add a bit of intrigue.

Speaking of French superstar  Dujardin his SAG win is reminiscent of Italian Roberto Begnini’s surprise SAG win in 1998 , a victory that began his march to Oscar. Even though he had won a Golden Globe in the less competitive Musical or Comedy category, beating favored George Clooney and Brad Pitt was no small feat. But in hindsight it’s not too surprising to think that an actors union might favor the kind of challenging silent performance Dujardin had to deliver. After all it’s the essence of screen acting. He won Best Actor at Cannes from a jury that included his peers and Oscar and SAG voters like Robert De Niro, Jude Law and Uma Thurman. The Dujardin win at SAG turns this Best Actor race into the same kind of barnburner we have been seeing in the Best Actress contest. Now it gets fun.  But whether the SAG victories of Davis and Dujardin drive viewer interest in the Oscars to see if they can repeat is questionable since they are far less known to fans than the superstar actors they defeated.

Finally the one person sitting pretty after SAG is Beginners Supporting Actor winner Christopher Plummer who has been sweeping the field. His string of eloquent and witty acceptance speeches aren’t hurting his chances a bit as he now goes forward against a stellar group of nominees in that category.

  1. I’m sorry, Viola Davis was amazing in The Help….but there is NO performance than even comes close to Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady. None.

      1. Disagreed. Tilda Swinton and Olivia Colman had better performances. Streep was great too but Davis doesn’t deserve her spot, she deserved it for Doubt though, she was better than Cruz.

    1. I disagree, i was bored out of my mind with the iron lady — meryl streep was good but it is no way her best performance. Viola Davis was robbed from getting as Oscar in Doubt and she was superb and moving in the help. If not Viola, Michelle williams was superb in My week with marilyn. I love Meryl streep a lot, but not her best and not the best of the year.

    2. A maid is “amazing?” I feel so sorry for Viola Davis. She’s done award caliber acting her entire career, and The Help is hardly her best work. To think she had to stoop this low just to get any recognition. I really wish she hadn’t.
      She’ll find out what Cuba Gooding Jr and halle Berry, and Gabourey Sidibe found out; cooning and debasing yourself for white people’s amusement is not a rung on the ladder, it’s the end of the line.

  2. I have to agree that Ms.Davis is quite good in The Help,but Meryl Streep is Margaret Thatcher. That is one hell of a performance.

    1. Meryl Streep *IS* Maggie Thatcher? Are either of you British? Were you in the UK for her tenure as PM?
      It seems to me that you yanks only know Thatcher from this movie.

  3. Oh please. Streep is NOT Thatcher. She was Streep dressed up and impersonating her. I am so sick of actors winning awards for playing real life people.

    Oh and let’s not pretend that The Iron Lady didn’t suck or anything. It’s barely above 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. And no one is going to see it either. It’s bombed at the box office. The Help soared.

    And let’s see whose gonna have more chances in the future- Streep or Davis? Streep gets nominated every year and gets every good film role for women over 60. Davis just got her first lead film role at age 46. Gee whose career would benefit the most?

    Go Viola! What a speech! Also so glad Dujardin upset Clooney. I hated The Descandants. Had no idea why Clooney was sweeping to begin with. Would love to see Jean and Viola win at the Oscars. Who the hell cares if they are not as well known? Hilary Swank was known for 90210 before Boy’s Don’t Cry. What a lame reason Hammond.

  4. Is there anyone else out there who just doesn’t get THE ARTIST — i honestly don’t see why every group is just falling head over heels over this movie. I just can’t believe that every year, every group manages to agree on the same movie being the best. Academy voters to seem to like things simple and you can’t get any more simplistic than the artist. Its frustrating because in my mind, it is nowhere near the best picture of the year — does anyone agree? disagree?

    1. Jake, I am right here with you. I really don’t get it with The Artist. It’s a cute little movie that pulled off executing a clever a silent film in 2011. Bravo. But Best Picture it is not!!!!

  5. Viola Davis gave such a moving and affecting performance. Meryl though so proficient with hair voice and prosthetics left me cold.

  6. I honestly doubt The Help will surprise and take Best Pic. but it looks like Davis might take Actress over Streep… as far as Best Actor, I still think it’s Clooney’s but you never know.

  7. Why is “The Help” getting so many acting nods? I would swap both Chastain and Spencer in their supporting Oscar nods for Kiera Knightley’s performance in “A Dangerous Method.”

    I guess the trend in recent years has been for the Oscar to go to the feel-good movie of the year. Hence, the reason why that Loud-Incredibly-close-whatever film is nominated. And the reason why Bullock won for “The Blind Side.”

    These are fine films, but not great films.

  8. Actually, there is no intrigue. Both DGA and PGA choose The Artist vs. only SAG choose The Help. Oscar BP is pretty much belongs to The Artist.

  9. Let me ask someone — does Jean look as good in real life as he does on TV? That man’s skin just gleams!

    And finally I’m going to write something that’s going to get a smackdown. I think Octavia is one of the best character actresses and frankly I never heard/saw her before the Help. But we won’t hear from her again….Think that precious girl (gabby something?)not in a MAJOR movie. I envision her on Broadway or TV in a small role.

    As for Viola, her future is sealed. She can move from movies to TV…and she’s not Halle Berry who seems “above” doing TV….Viola is not above doing TV or Broadway. I’m glad to see women of color who are dark skinned being recognized.

    The problem with Streep is people are tired of her “accent” roles. If she wants to win another Oscar she should take a contemporary role, small supporting role like the Prada movie, and get a supporting actress nom. Streep has done two back to back “accent” roles, while very good, it gets tiresome after a while. Do like Judy Dench. Get a powerhouse “supporting” role in an action movie.

    And finally I’m pulling for the Artist to win bp, because it was a total surprise to me. Thoroughly enjoyable and a different experience.

  10. Sometimes the ensemble award goes to a film with a truly great ensemble. Inglorious Basterds is a prime example. That was an ensemble movie with one break out performance and he got the Oscar. The movie did not go on to take best picture though. Same would go for Little Miss Sunshine, got ensemble, best supporting, but not best picture. So, no sure what this really does for the Help.

  11. No surprise here….Academy wants there to be a ‘race’, and for people to watch its show. Viola Davis is an outstanding actress….and deserves all the recognition she receives. The problem for her is this performance was in a bad movie and she’s up against the greatest actress of the 20th century. No question that Streep will win the Oscar….and should.

    1. From your lips… Streep’s performance is in a category all its own this year. It will be a crying shame if someone else nabs the award. Davis is an amazing talent, but I’d rather see her win for a different kind of film.

  12. Meryl Streep seems to always inch towards that 3rd Oscar but someone comes along and nabs it. I agree with both of you. But since when is the Oscar about who should really win?

  13. Meryl doesn’t campaign. That’s why she loses to lesser performances like Bullock in ‘The Blind Side’ and Winslet in ‘The Reader’ each year.

  14. Why is it that Brad Pitt never wins. He is one of the most versatile actors out there, yet he never wins. Anyone care to answer why?

    1. I think Brad comes up empty handed because he’s so good looking. I mean, can a guy THAT handsome also act?? Yes he can, but that face seems to be the only reward he gets. (Oh, and that lady he’s with…)

    2. What do you mean “never wins” – he’s only been nominated twice before, and for two performances that were not considered the frontrunners. If you want to talk about why he’s not nominated for MORE awards, then we can talk.

    3. Yeah, sure. Unfortunately, his performance wasn’t able to match those of Clooney and Dujardin. Although Brad Pitt is a great actor, he just needs a breakthrough performance that gives him an actual shot at winning an Academy Award.

      As for the Best Actress race, Viola Davis was great. But Meryl Streep’s performance was beyond masterful, and the fact that she doesn’t campaign for her roles pretty much explains why she losses to good/great performances.

  15. I saw both the Help and Iron Lady. While Viola’s performance was incredibly moving, not even she can match Meryl’s amazing skill in capturing Margaret Thatcher’s spirit. I’m sorry but I agree with the others, Meryl deserved it. She deserves the Oscar!

  16. We must be a lucky lot to know that Meryl Streep captured the essence of what Margaret Thatcher was like before and after she became Prime Minister because we all know Thatcher so well. Let us, however,claim that Streep is probably America’s greatest living actress and one of Hollywood’s best of all time. Whether she wins the Academy Award is immaterial nice though that it would be.

  17. But I truly hope she doesn’t win for “The Help.” Her few minutes on screen in “Doubt” blew anything she did in “The Help” out of the water. She’s much better than that material allowed her to be, and it would be great to see her win for something that allows her to be the sexy vibrant woman she is, not just another beat down maid. I’m sick of seeing her play this role and she’s got more in her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she won for this however because that’s what Oscar does for black actors/actresses, pass them over for true tour de force performances (Cuba Gooding in “Boyz in the Hood, Whoopi Goldberg in “The Color Purple”) for the typical clowning, demeaning type roles they are more comfortable seeing black performers in. I think it would be sad if Viola won for this portrayal which was far from being her best, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

  18. The Help was no better than a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. And Viola Davis can do so much better than her role in that film. I’d give the oscar to Michelle Williams or Meryl in a hearbeat.

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