The season is starting to shift, as usual, into that phase that separates the wheat from the chaff. It is that moment, after Thanksgiving, when everyone who thought they still had a shot gets a sober assessment as critics groups (Gotham, National Board of Review, and New York Film Critics Circle all this week), and particularly the big televised precursor shows like the SAG Awards, the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards, start anointing their favorites and announcing their noms. The Globes go first with their noms December 6, followed by the Broadcast Film Critics Association’s Critics’ Choice Awards nominations on December 10, and then SAG will weigh in with their list of actors December 12.

Few awards are as sought after as the Golden Globe, due to a 70-year history and the show’s wide exposure thanks to its NBC broadcast. But it also has a mixed record when it comes to predicting the Oscar winds. Like everyone else last year, it awarded all four eventual Oscar acting winners—Frances McDormand, Gary Oldman, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney. But it went big-time for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Lady Bird, giving them its drama and comedy prizes respectively, and while both were nominated for Best Picture, they lost out to The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro did, however, pick up Best Director from both the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Academy.

Netflix

SAG threw its lot in with the same four acting winners, but they also gave their top trophy—Outstanding Performance by a Cast, their equivalent of Best Picture—to Three Billboards. The Shape of Water wasn’t even nominated for that award, usually a sure sign that a movie doesn’t have a chance at Oscar’s Best Picture. It was only the Critics’ Choice Awards that nearly ran the table, agreeing with the Academy in Best Picture, Director, Acting, Writing, Music, Song, and most of the craft categories, solidifying the critics’ group’s reputation as a reliable seer of all things Oscar.

But every year presents its challenges, and you can never really depend on these early voting states to be 100% accurate, even if they’re collectively influential. When just about every group picks the same acting winners, as happened last year, it lessens the suspense of Oscar night because you can pretty much bet that the Academy will follow suit. When winners start making acceptance speech after acceptance speech, the odds increase on watching them repeat themselves at the Dolby Theatre in February.

Perhaps this endless parade of the same winners is why AMPAS got fed up and blamed their ratings dive in 2018 on the fact that there are just too many imitators stealing their thunder. To curb this, the Academy’s Board of Governors voted to move up their 2020 broadcast by two weeks to February 9th, a continuing pattern of creeping earlier in order to keep it fresh. But if this is a move meant to intimidate the precursors, don’t count on it working. All of them—including BAFTA, which currently claims the Sunday the Oscars will be stealing—will just crowd together, along with all the other guild shows, making the parade of the same winners seem all the more intense.

A Star Is Born
Warner Bros.

But what of this year, as business proceeds as normal? It’s a wide open field, and disagreements are likely. The Netflix factor on Roma seems to be the biggest question mark for the precursors. It’s widely considered a frontrunner for Best Picture, but since it’s a black-and-white Spanish language movie with no one you have ever heard of in the cast, it will be interesting to see what kind of momentum it can build on the early awards circuit. It’ll be eligible for the Globes’ acting and directing categories, but it won’t qualify for Best Picture Drama, because HFPA’s rules won’t allow Best Foreign Language Film candidates to play outside that sandbox. It’s possible first-time actor Yalitza Aparicio could turn up in Best Actress Drama, and certainly Alfonso Cuarón in directing and screenplay, so the film could still have a good night. And despite standing ovations at its SAG Nominating Committee screenings, it will be interesting to see how the actors handle it, considering many in its key cast are non-professionals delivering performances heavily crafted by the strong input of the film’s director. Can they score the much-desired Cast nomination, or will the union’s voters look to more experience in the craft when they choose their favorites?

Likely Cast nominations from SAG will go to A Star is Born, Black Panther, The Favourite, Green Book, and a possible wildcard nod for Crazy Rich Asians, in a nod to diversity and recognition for a smash hit featuring the first all-Asian ensemble in a studio picture in nearly a quarter century. Black Panther is a similar breakthrough, offering SAG, Globe and Critics’ Choice voters an opportunity to reward a superhero movie with rare Best Picture recognition. These two films mark the greatest opportunity for the precursors to chart a path and make Oscar success seem inevitable.

Things can get a little messy with the Globes, since there is a lot of jockeying among studios to place their films strategically in the Drama or Comedy/Musical categories; wherever they feel they have the best shot, despite questions about whether they really belong. This year, Warner Bros. placed their musical remake of A Star is Born in Drama, despite the honors granted the 1976 and 1954 versions in the Comedy/Musical category. Fox will similarly compete Bohemian Rhapsody in Drama, while Universal places dramedy Green Book—arguably a movie that tilts to more dramatic moments than comedic ones—in the Comedy/Musical category also; presumably to compete with the likes of Mary Poppins Returns and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!. That category will likely find room for The Favourite and Crazy Rich Asians, and perhaps the Dick Cheney movie from Adam McKay, Vice, too.

20th Century Fox

While the spotlight is always on the film competition at these shows, lots of networks and studios look to them to make an early impact on eventual Emmy races as well, even if those don’t heat up until the Spring at the earliest. Just look to the overwhelming success of Comedy Series Emmy winner The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Before it swept the Emmys, it scored big time at the Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards, not to mention several guild shows. That had to have a positive impact on its Emmy campaign, and at the very least it put the series right to the top of TV Academy voters’ screener stacks. SAG is usually a beat behind in honoring newbies, but you can bet they will be adding Maisel to their list of nominees this time around. 

Barry, Atlanta, Glow and The Good Place are also good bets to show up in Comedy categories, along with possible new entrants like Forever, The Kominsky Method, Sacha Baron Cohen’s wonderfully satiric Who Is America?, and Jim Carrey’s Kidding. Reboots like Will & Grace, Murphy Brown, and The Conners are more of a question mark. For Drama series, newcomers like Pose, Homecoming and Killing Eve could be building momentum for Emmy out of these races, along with more established names like Ozark, Better Call Saul, House of Cards, Westworld, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Americans, and This is Us. It wouldn’t be surprising to see other titles out of left field make their mark in some of these races as well, particularly from Critics’ Choice, which tends to be a little more adventurous than the others when it comes to the vast universe of TV offerings.

You can bet, for both movies and TV, getting noticed at these shows is crucial, and crunch time is upon us to make it happen.