As far as being a good Oscar harbinger, the SAG awards have a fairly good track record. Last year for instance, they first awarded Matthew McConaughey, Cate pete_hammond_300x100Blanchett, Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong’o, and then they all went on to win Oscars. However, American Hustle took the Outstanding Cast award, but was shut out by the Academy. Cut to tonight where Birdman took the Cast award. The continuing coronation of  Julianne Moore in lead actress for Still Alice, J.K. Simmons in Supporting Actor for WhiplashSAG Awards Live Blog and Patricia Arquette in Supporting Actress for Boyhood were locks at the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Movie Awards and now SAG. They remain locks at the Oscars in the same corresponding categories, although Arquette’s handlers might hope CBS would lay off the heavy CSI: Cyber (in which she stars) promos until after voting closes on February 17th. The only roadblock could be at BAFTA on February 8th.  Those can be unpredictable and these are three very American performances, but I expect the Brits could well fall in line with the o462208742ther groups. It doesn’t really matter anyway.  All three should make room on their shelf for Oscar.

It is the lead actor category, as it has been all season, that provides the only suspense in the acting races on Academy Award night and SAG just ratcheted up the stakes by giving  The Theory Of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne their Best Actor award.  As I noted in our live blog tonight, I thought Michael Keaton might have a great chance to pull this one off. It is a group of actors voting and he plays an actor in crisis in Birdman. Plus he just came off three wins at the Critics Choice Movie Awards blanking Redmayne. At the Globes they both won, with Redmayne in drama and Keaton in comedy/musical.  This has been a seesaw battle recently but the SAG win is very important for momentum since Redmayne is favored to also pick up the same win at BAFTA in two weeks. This is the industry talking now.

Perhaps the 100,000 strong SAG/AFTRA membership that voted thought by handing the Cast award to Birdman that it was also a way to take care of Keaton. In a way it was as he did get an opportunity to make a speech on that stage , so that kept him front of mind. And the Cast win for Birdman will get a lot of attention as it is SAG’s version of Best Picture and it comes on the heels of last night’s surprise PGA win for the film. The movie which was not quite the critics choice that Boyhood 462211748 has been, has come soaring into this Oscar race with big wins at the first two industry awards shows and leaving Boyhood (sans Arquette’s win) in its dust.  That cannot be underestimated, and I think it really opens up this race making the February 7th DGA show all that more important.

Most people to whom I have spoken think the DGA will go to Boyhood’s Richard Linklater. After all this dogged 12-year joTNT's 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Backstageurney on that film was a monumental achievement for any helmer. If it’s not a directors’ triumph, it’s nothing.  But now with the back-to-back wins this weekend for Birdman , Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu might be flying into a co-frontrunner status there with his equally impressive and risky directorial achievement on Birdman. Who knows? Maybe he has been the leader all along.  It will make for an interesting evening and DGA voting continues for almost another two weeks. After the PGA awards last night, Inarritu told me he thought that the industry was possibly sparking to his film because they, better than anybody, know what a real high wire act pulling it off was. Risk sometimes equals reward, and the term equally applies to both Boyhood and Birdman. And as was clearly evident to anyone who watched the SAG awards on television, the numerous and very powerful new spots on the box office and cultural phenomenon American Sniper signal that Warner Bros will be going all out to win this race with that blockbuster. If box office returns count, it could really complicate things. There were no SAG nominations for the late-breaking December 25th release, but Clint Eastwood landed a DGA nomination. Although he was not given the same nod by the Academy’s Directors branch, his film is up for six Oscars including Picture and Actor for Bradley Cooper. The latterTNT's 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Show could be a real spoiler in the already crazy lead actor race helping to make Sniper an unprecedented and unknown contender as we enter the last month of the race. And what do you want to bet that Harvey Weinstein thinks he can still pull off a big Oscar win for his The Imitation Game even though it has yet to win anything. I wouldn’t count it out though it really has to come from behind now and that’s tough. It’s enormously popular with Academy members,so I guess anything is possible, even after being shut out at PGA and SAG.

So on to the next chapter. Final Oscar balloting begins February 6th and the next night those much anticipated DGA Awards take place, followed the next day by BAFTA. What all this means is that the money may well be flowing as there are still a number of movies, even at this late date, that still think they are in the race.