SAG Awards Film: 'Argo' On A Roll; Is It Unstoppable?

Though the media often refer to Outstanding Cast In A Motion Picture award as the Screen Actors  Guild’s version of Best Picture, SAG balks at the comparison. The actors say their winners don’t always match up and in fact are strictly an honor for a cast. But Argo‘s big win in SAG’s marquee film category tonight is a Best Picture award. And there can be no question now that Argo is on a roll. Voters just seem to like this picture, and sometimes that’s all it takes. Right now its key rivals are probably beginning to feel like Argo is holding their Best Picture hopes hostage.

Related: SAG Awards To ‘Argo’ Cast, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jennifer Lawrence

With the PGA win last night, and recent Critics Choice and Golden Globe wins for Picture and Director, Ben Affleck‘s 3rd outing as helmer is so far proving that three’s the charm. Those first two all-important  Guild contests have very good predictive track records when it comes to Oscar. As someone connected with Argo‘s campaign emailed me tonight, “We’re making progress.” That’s an understatement. This morning one Academy voter who was angry after the directors branch snubbed Ben Affleck emailed this to me: “I voted for Argo for a SAG award. And if it wins tonight the world will see the all-powerful wizard: the Academy is not so smart.” Not surprisingly that same voter plans to give a first-place Best Picture vote to Argo – and is often right in line with the way things turn out on Oscar night. In retrospect, I think Affleck being snubbed is proving to be an unexpected boost to Argo just when it was falling behind some more prominent competition in terms of Oscar buzz. The film has definitely rebounded, perhaps in part to all that snub publicity (even though the film did receive 7 nominations including one for Affleck as a producer). Warner Bros also smartly stepped up its campaign spending for the early October release and effectively freshened its materials to compete with the later holiday contenders. Its TV blitz didn’t hurt one bit.

Related: SAG Awards TV Winners Analysis

Some of the other SAG  Cast nominees, notably Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables, and Lincoln really seemed to have their hearts set on this award to gain much-needed momentum. Lincoln’s January 20th Sunday full-page newspaper ad in voter-heavy Los Angeles was dominated with their SAG nominations, emphasizing “Ensemble” at the top. It didn’t even mention the 12 Oscar nominations. Les Miz was prominently using the quote, “The Greatest Ensemble Performance Of All Time“. Silver Linings was also trying to make a connection, using photos of a fairly large cast though outside of the five principals most had just small roles. But Affleck frequently emphasized in interviews Argo’s 150 person cast (something he repeated in his acceptance tonight) – and  that may have sealed the deal. Actors love to be employed and Argo clearly employed a lot of them. It also doesn’t hurt if you and your co-producers (George Clooney and Grant Heslov) are also actors. It shows in a way that the inmates can in fact run the asylum.

So where does the SAG Awards leave us? Lincoln can boast of the most SAG wins with two: for Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis and Supporting Actor Tommy Lee Jones (who was absent due to the flu and could not travel). But last year DreamWorks actually won three Actors including Best Cast for The Help but only cashed in on one for Octavia Spencer on Oscar night. Day-Lewis is a near sure thing to win his historic third Best Actor Oscar. Jones is in a much more competitive contest against four other former winners, and results have been split at earlier awards shows. The SAG win gives him real strength, though, because SAG is usually accurate in at least 3 out of the four acting categories.

Silver Lining‘s Jennifer Lawrence won for Best Actress and that was no surprise. She was heavily favored especially since Sony did not send screeners or make iTune available for Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty which was just beginning its theatrical runs. The Weinstein Company did send screeners, movie cash, iTunes downloads, and anything else they could to SAG’s entire 100,000 members. A rep for Zero Dark Thirty even sent an email earlier today warning of this outcome due to the uneven screener playing field between the two pictures. Oscar nominees Emmanuelle Riva of Amour and Quvenzhane Wallis of Beasts Of The Southern Wild weren’t contending at SAG. So this race could still be strongly competitive though Lawrence’s heartfelt speech and win gives her a definite boost.

But Weinstein’s hopes to gain Best Picture momentum were definitely punctured by not getting the Cast award. Director David O Russell is not nominated at DGA so the last big Guild chance is at the WGA February 17th, two days before Oscar voting closes. Silver Linings also is not in contention for Best Picture or Director at BAFTA February 10th unlike rivals Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Life Of Pi and Lincoln (whose director Steven Spielberg was oddly snubbed there). It’s looking like Harvey is going to have to put all his eggs in Oscar’s basket and  hope for the best after his last two Best Picture wins, The King’s Speech and The Artist. The strong box office success of Silver Linings since going wide last week could bolster its case.

Anne Hathaway’s Les Miz win was completely expected and she should repeat on Oscar night. But any Best Picture hopes weren’t helped tonight. Another Best Picture contender, Life Of Pi, was not a factor at SAG and hopes to turn the race on its head one more time with a possible Ang Lee win at DGA on Saturday.  For Steven Spielberg, the DGA is also key. He is a perennial favorite of that Guild and a much-needed win could help rescue Lincoln from underdog status just days before the Oscar balloting begins on Feburary 8th. Of course Affleck is also a nominee and a win for him would unquestionably put Argo in the driver’s seat.

As for the SAG show itself, it was a fairly flat affair what with the same exact format year after year. It would be nice to shake things up but SAG seems content. Day-Lewis’s speech was the essence of class and only added to his Oscar inevitability. Lawrence and Hathaway also did nicely this time out as did Affleck, clearly excited to win at SAG. But it was Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dick Van Dyke who showed the master touch as the 87-year-old ageless wonder bounded to the stage to a genuinely heartfelt standing ovation, definitely the show’s highlight.

On to the DGA.

(Photos by Getty Images)

  1. As much as I liked the film, it was anything but breath taking. Hadn’t it been based on true events, the movie would’ve been an average thriller. I think something like Beasts of the Southern Wild should deserve more Academy attention for being so refreshing.

    1. Thank you! Argo is not a great film. It’s entertaining, sure, but the best of the year?? Come on, people!

    2. Beast is a wannabe Malick. Lincoln is pedestrian Spielberg. Silver shouldn’t even be nominated simply because of the overacting.

      One can find faults in all of the films. Argo is the best reviewed mainstream film of the year according to Rottentomatoes. It has won critics prices, now the guilds.

      Don’t hate because your film isn’t doing that well.

  2. the fix is clearly in if Argo wins anything else. There are several films that are much better. Hopefully sanity comes back at the DGA awards and then the Oscars because this is NOT the best film of the year.

  3. Hugh Jackman should have won ! He is “the triple threats ” actor, he can sing, he can dance and he can act ! What a true actor !

  4. Let’s not forget that Affleck didn’t even get a nom. Whether you agree with it or not – no way Argo wins best pic.

    1. Although i loved argo, without a best director nomination, the academy is going to end up snubbing the film. While films sometimes win best picture without best director, only one time on a technicailty over the last 80 did a winner not receive a best director nomination.

  5. Argo is a fine film but if it wins this will be one of those years people will cite as Hollywood taking the “easy way” out and rewarding the safe choice instead of the more challenging and thought-provoking competition. Unfortunately this is becoming the norm with Oscar as the last two years have shown us.

    1. Totally agree. I have been disappointed in the “Best Picture” win for too many years to name. I notice too that the films that are really great stand the test of time. They last. They keep you coming back to see them again and again. I can honestly say for most of the Best Pictures that have won I have no desire to watch these films again. The Academy has a tendency of going with what they think the public is behind, instead of really looking at the quality of the film. Sometimes the Best Picture is not the easy choice. But it should always be the right choice.

    2. Perhaps “thought-provoking ” means something different in America. A SEPARATION was thought-provoking. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA was thought-provoking, SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER, SPRING was thought-provoking. Lincoln is much more about a modern man in 1860’s. If Spielberg wanted to make a thought-provoking film he could’ve shown Lincoln for the racist he was. That’d made him a complex character.

      ZD30 is ARGO without the humanization of the other.
      Beast is a wannabe Tree Of Life.
      Silver is overacting at its best.

      Life Of Pi is great. I loved it almost as much as Argo, and it should’ve gotten more awards.

    3. Argo is NOT the safe choice. Argo is a fun, almost popcorn blockbuster film. How completely unconventional for the Oscars to choose a film that was thoroughly ENJOYABLE at the theater. It was a brilliantly executed and a fantastic film.

      The SAFE choice is LINCOLN. An epic historical bio-pic with a master director at the helm and a slew of veteran actors.

  6. Pete:

    You’re a talented writer. But you need to STOP (today, PLEASE) looking at these Guild Awards SOLELY through the prism of how the affact the Oscar race. Do you have any CLUE how seriously members take being named to the SAG Nominating Committee? At least have the respect to honor these awards for what they really are: full-bodied peer recognition, irrespective of future contests.

    Nobody votes for a SAG Winner saying, “gee this should help their odds on Oscar night!”

    Get a clue, dude–the tone of your piece is INSULTING and reeks of somebody desperate to stay in the (quite tenuous) game.

  7. @Michael – Agree totally. Argo is good, it’s entertaining, but when you walk out of the movie, it disappears from memory. The movie that stuck with me, that had heart was BOTSW. The fix is in.

  8. Jones is in a much more competitive contest against four other former winners, and results have been split at earlier awards shows.

    ^^ Is it a fluke that all 5 actors are past winners? Has that happened before? Somehow I feel angry at the Academy this year probably more than any other year, because at least ONE of those supporting spots should have gone to John Goodman, or Leo, or Dwight Henry, who have won NOTHING but gave great performances. This incestuous relationship that Hollywood seems to have with the same-repeat actors is disappointing.
    As much as I don’t think JLaw is that great an actress, I can appreciate that at last, finally — Hollywood is giving some love to the younger generation of actors.

  9. The ARGO nonsense continues. It’s a good film, I like it, but the ending is totally manipulative, in the manner of a 1970s TV movie. Ben Affleck’s lead performance was not very enticing. The Canadian Embassy was mostly responsible for the work in the real life version. When you have LINCOLN, DJANGO, BEASTS, AMOUR, ZERO DARK THIRTY, and LIFE OF PI, it’s just really strange to give awards to something likable and safe. When I saw those films, I came away with thoughts on how the themes relate to our current life and times. ARGO had the opportunity to relate to current affairs, and did not. And in the “ensemble” acting award, to deny LINCOLN was an embarrassment. Even LES MIZ was a better choice for ensemble. I would think SAG would be impressed by actors who can sing live. In a year of daring films, this is very disappointing. So, Ben Affleck is a nice guy? I don’t care if Spielberg, Bigelow, Tarantino, Haneke, and Lee aren’t “nice.” They challenge. Too bad that’s a threat.

  10. People will vote for Argo so they don’t have to give Spielberg his much too coveted oscar. Same thing happened with Bigelow and her ex, the king of the world. Anything not to vote for Cameron. These days most of these vain, vapid awards are voted against rather than for. Vanity fair.

  11. Some good movies this year, but Lincoln is uneven, Silver Linings is tonally all over the place and none of the rest really worthy. I think Argo wins by default. And as is stated in the post, because Ben wasn’t nominated for Best Director, a lot of people will probably want to split their vote.

  12. Argo was not THAT great. And Affleck’s performance was shallow and boring and dragged down the film. He should quit acting.

  13. Beasts of the Southern Wild is over rated. The story lacks arc. Wallis’s character does not change – only the environment around her changes. The beast as a metaphor is diluted at best. Wallis is charming but a 7 year old kid isn’t acting – a 7 year old is simply being a 7 year old. Her talent is hugely overstated.

  14. THE TOWN was leagues better than ARGO. If that didn’t win best picture the year it came out, then ARGO doesn’t deserve it now.

    ARGO was a solid film and that’s it. Good, not great. The supporting cast, the American’s at the embassy weren’t memorable at all and hardly registered.

    The hype around this film is mind-bottling. You know, when things are so crazy, it gets your thoughts all trapped, like in a bottle.

  15. Since we’re shouting out to those whom were negelected.
    Tom Hardy (Warrior and Lawless) Nick Nolte (Warrior). A very entertaining film, with excellent actors.

    The ENTIRE cast of (Moonrise Kingdom). My personal favorite this year. Outstanding, Mr. Wes Anderson. You deserve the screenplay Oscar.

    (Life of Pi). For me, it was like looking, being part of a dream. Absolutley Brilliant, Mr. Ang Lee.

  16. Are you f*%king kidding me?
    Argo is one of/if not the greatest cinematic products of our time. Ben-Hur does not hold a candle to Argo, and it is a vicarious slap in Ben Affleck’s face that the film did not get AT LEAST 12 nominations. Wake up Academy!

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