In a nearly surprise-free show that went across the board for the favorites in movies, and past winners in television, the 24th annual SAG Awards was a predictable affair that gives momentum in the Oscar race to the big winner of the night: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri swept its categories after leading the nominations with four. No surprise there.
This is an actor’s movie if ever there was one and it essentially repeated its Golden Globe triumph of a couple of Sundays ago with winners Frances McDormand for lead actress, Sam Rockwell (over nominated co-star Woody Harrelson) for supporting actor, and the all-important Outstanding Cast award. The latter, pundits will tell you, is key since no film not nominated for it has won the Best Picture Oscar since Braveheart in 1996. We thought that streak might have been broken last year by La La Land, and it was true for about a minute before the actual Oscar winner Moonlight was revealed. Moonlight had been nominated for the SAG Cast award but lost to Hidden Figures. Sometimes, as was that case last year, there can be upsets in the SAG category many regard as their version of Best Picture, but not tonight.
So what does this mean for Oscar as we are about to roll into nominations Tuesday morning? Had Three Billboards pulled off a Producers Guild win last night, it would be the unquestioned front-runner, but the PGA, as is often their custom, muddied the waters so to speak by ignoring Three Billboards and nine other nominees to give their top honor to The Shape of Water. Couple that with Shape’s recent Best Picture win at Critics’ Choice (another strong Oscar predictor like PGA can be) and ladies and gentlemen, we have a race.
Just going by these precursors, it looks like a nail-biter between these two Fox Searchlight films for front-runner status in a season that hasn’t really had one. The next test will be those Oscar noms on Tuesday, where I expect Shape of Water to win the lion’s share of nominations, and then when the DGA names its winner on February 3. I have a hunch that might be Guillermo del Toro, who so far has picked up the helming prize for Shape of Water at the Globes and Critics’ Choice. Of course there is that gnawing statistic about SAG’s Cast category, one in which Shape was not nominated and Three Billboards just won. How this all plays out will be fascinating to watch in the weeks to come. Despite its awards season success Three Billboards was the subject of a scathing takedown piece by Wesley Morris in The New York Times this week, which certainly won’t help its cause as Martin McDonough’s sharp darkly comedic and angry film gets closer scrutiny.
So after the split decision between PGA and SAG, and between Critics’ Choice and Golden Globes is there a dark horse looming? Don’t count out Lady Bird or Get Out completely. Oscar history is littered with past contests between two main contenders who then split the vote letting in something completely unexpected. It happened in 1951 when A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire were duking it out, only to have An American in Paris sneak in and shock them both with a win. And remember 1981 when Reds and On Golden Pond were the most nominated and hottest prospects only to have a stunner of a finale when a little British film called Chariots of Fire rocked the results with its Best Picture win? In both cases the Best Director winner did not match Best Picture. I could go on.
The PGA’s outgoing co-president Gary Lucchesi emailed me after last night’s ceremony to explain how he thinks Shape of Water might have prevailed in this highly competitive year that produced a record 11 films for the Guild’s top movie honor, and that is a term called film language he says was used in the 1980s and ’90s. “We used it to describe filmmakers who made their films using artistic visuals,” he said. “I think Guillermo is a master at ‘film language.’ and it distinguished him with this year’s crop. I think it’s why he won,” adding that he was pleased. The fact is, Three Billboards can be divisive, while Shape admirers are passionate. Both have their champions. What is interesting is the big major studio films in the race, particularly The Post and Dunkirk have largely been on the sidelines so far, but the industry with its numerous guild contests is just getting revved up so perhaps, Dunkirk especially can rebound. Right now, though, it looks like Searchlight is holding the hot hand.
I would further venture to say on the acting side of things the four SAG winners, which also include Gary Oldman for Leading Actor in Darkest Hour, and Allison Janney for Supporting Actress in I, Tonya, are all likely to repeat at the Oscars. It just seems like such a suddenly predictable acting race, with each of these four performances the kind of go-for-broke, larger-than-life turns voters love. They all won at the Globes and Critics’ Choice, so you can take that prediction to the bank.
As for SAG’s Television races, only the Drama Series Ensemble win for NBC’s This Is Us really seemed like a surprise, as most pundits were predicting a repeat for Netflix’s Stranger Things or some love for Hulu’s Emmy-winning The Handmaid’s Tale. The show in its second go with SAG, after being blanked last year, really came to the party, also winning for Lead Drama Series Actor Sterling K. Brown. This was the first broadcast win in SAG Drama Series since Grey’s Anatomy in 2006. It was a nice rebound for broadcast TV in a ceremony that virtually ignored the previously surging streaming services, with only one win for Netflix, a repeat for The Crown’s Claire Foy as Drama Series Lead Actress, and nothing for Hulu’s hot Emmy, Globe, Critics’ Choice and PGA winner The Handmaid’s Tale, or any mention of Amazon, which has been doing well elsewhere with its first season hit The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel including last night at PGA, but it wasn’t even nominated at SAG due to the Guild’s ridiculous early voting deadlines, no doubt. Maybe next year. It takes time for SAG to catch up.
The actors union, with occasional exceptions, likes to repeat its winners. This year William H. Macy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus won again, but the latter’s show Veep surprisingly was a first-time winner for Comedy Series Ensemble after losing the past three years to Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. HBO scored with its Veep sweep, as well as stunt ensemble for Game of Thrones and a pair of TV Movie/Limited Series wins for Big Little Lies (Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard continuing their winning ways, the latter looking embarrassed to beat Robert De Niro).
For my play by play on the entire show check out the live blog we did on Deadline. Now it is on to Tuesday, and nominations for the 90th Academy Awards. Can’t wait.