By Ryan C. Showers
Last week, the Screen Actors Guild announced their nominations for the 2018-19 film awards season. The fundamental fact about predicting the acting winners at the Oscars is understanding the weight of SAG. If an actor misses a SAG nomination, it’s unlikely they will win the Oscar. Period, end of story. There have been only two instances in Academy/SAG history where an actor has won the Oscar without a SAG nomination: Marcia Gay Harden for “Pollock” (2000) and Christoph Waltz for “Django Unchained” (2012). If they win SAG, their chances of winning the Oscar increase but are not written in stone. But if they lose SAG, it’s not a complete death nail in terms of winning, as long as they are included in the lineup and are on the radar of the acting branch.
As far as this year is concerned, the most revelatory development to be born from the SAG nominations was in the Best Supporting Actress race, and it’s something that alters the course of who will be victorious at the Oscars in February. Regina King has been cleaning up the Best Supporting Actress category with critics groups everywhere. Over 20 associations have given her the win for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” On that basis, she appears like the runaway front-runner. But that’s not the case. She missed an individual nomination from SAG, which is detrimental to her campaign and practically kills a realistic path for her to continue her winning streak after the critics groups wrap up this month.
Since “If Beale Street Could Talk” premiered at TIFF, critics and pundits have been passionately mounting her as the next veteran performer to become an Oscar winner, citing her emotional performance in the film, respect within the industry (she’s won three Emmys), and her long career, spanning back decades. King’s biggest threat for the Oscar all season long has been five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams in “Vice,” and it was easy to ignore her in commentary because that film was an unknown during the festival circuit, having only started screening for critics and voting members last month.
Adams is one of the most overdue artists in Hollywood. She has five Oscar nominations (no wins), six BAFTA nominations (no wins), and seven Golden Globe nominations (two wins). The woman has accomplished more since 2005 than most actors do in their entire careers. Her buzz for “Vice” has been coming on strong, but there’s an energy in the room rooting against her. These people probably like Adams just fine, but don’t want her long-fought triumph to be a supporting win for playing a Republican Second Lady. And I can understand that: Adams should have won for “American Hustle” (had Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine” not existed or had it been released the year before, Adams would have won for this character) or “Arrival” (a difficult performance in a Best Picture nominee and one most of FilmTwitter holds up as the best work of her career).
The Internet has been pushing King’s momentum and trying to not let Adams gain a foothold. But after the SAG nominations, this is no longer a realistic course of action in terms of predicting the correct winners. Marcia Gay Harden is the only actress to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar after missing SAG in 2000, which was a strange year for the category in general. For King, 1 out of 24 years of the Oscar winner missing SAG is a pretty insurmountable statistic to try to overcome, let alone when you have the most prolific overdue actress in the business playing a real-life political figure as your main competition. Adams is not only competing with “Vice” this year but also HBO’s miniseries “Sharp Objects,” so she has double nominations at both the Golden Globes and SAG awards. And she’s likely to win all four of these awards. Her path is similar Kate Winslet’s in 2008: having two acclaimed projects in the same year and winning as many awards for each role as she can, which then leads her to an overdue Academy Award. Adams is even avoiding Winslet’s strategic misstep: having two leading film roles in one year, which could have split her vote (and did, in fact, cost her a second nomination that year). Adams has one film role and one television role, so she gets to have her cake and eat it, too.
I see fans of King scrambling to their rolodex of excuses, citing a lack of screeners as the reason she failed to make the SAG lineup. This is an illegitimate excuse. Yes, “The Post” missed SAG last year because of the lack of screeners. That film wasn’t completed until the last minute, so it makes sense that was overlooked. No one had seen it. “If Beale Street Could Talk,” on the other hand, had been seen by critics and audiences since September. It’s been on the radar of every pundit out there. There has been an enormous amount of buzz and conversation for her specifically. If King really is this titan of respect within the industry, voters would’ve felt compelled to “write her name in” without seeing the film, like many, are saying happened with Christian Bale and Adams. Even if there was some screener mixup, she should have been nominated at SAG.
With that said, I’m not sure I buy Annapurna’s treatment of the screeners as an excuse to still predict her for the Oscar win because…
- Adams and Bale were both nominated for “Vice,” another Annapurna film. If there was a screener issue, logically, they should’ve been affected as well. If anything, not many have seen “Vice,” or at least, it hasn’t screened nearly as much as “If Beale Street Could Talk.” “Vice” had the threat of going down the alley of “The Post” at SAG last year and being shut out due to its late-breaking nature. Bale and Adams’s nominations show strength for the film. I also don’t believe the idea voters wrote Bale and Adams’ names in without seeing the film, as obligatory name check. Flashback to “American Hustle” five years ago, which won the SAG Ensemble win. It was a late-breaking film and only received an individual nomination for Jennifer Lawrence, yet the film, once it was more widely seen, got four acting nominations at the Oscars, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes. I have always suspected enough people saw “American Hustle” to simply get the strongest performance in at SAG, yet not enough saw it before the voting deadline to get all four actors in.
- Even if SAG voters have not seen “If Beale Street Could Talk” and the lacking screener theory is correct, it doesn’t bode well for King, anyway. The name of the game during award season is to raise your profile with a compelling campaign, being visible, and getting as many Academy voters to see your film as possible. If voters haven’t seen her film by now and Adams will have the opportunity to give four on-air speeches between SAG and the Golden Globes leaving King no public platform, the “If Beale Street Could Talk” actress lacks a solid foundation to mount a winning campaign.
- “If Beale Street Could Talk” underperformed at the Golden Globes, too. It wasn’t just at SAG where it disappointed. Had it received five or six Globe nominations most were anticipating, maybe then one could see SAG as an outlier. But perhaps the truth is, “If Beale Street Could Talk” is more of movie for critics rather than the industry and it has only been talked up as an awards contender because it was made by Barry Jenkins, the director of Best Picture-winning “Moonlight.”
- King’s trajectory for winning the Oscar relied on her also winning SAG and Critics Choice. Winning Critics Choice is still a possibility, but now she’s down the SAG victory entirely. She never stood a great shot at winning the Golden Globe over the Hollywood Foreign Press darling Adams, let alone considering the sobering fact that “Vice” received double the nominations that “If Beale Street Could Talk” did.
- There’s a realistic chance King may miss a BAFTA nomination, and a win for her there, even if she is nominated, is off the table. BAFTA voters love Adams, having given her six nominations in the past ten years without a win, and that will be seven after being nominated for “Vice.” In addition, Rachel Weisz has a feasible and formidable opportunity to win Best Supporting Actress for “The Favourite.” BAFTA voters love to reward British talent and films, let alone one of the most famous actresses in the United Kingdom who has never won a BAFTA award. After those two, Emma Stone, Margot Robbie, Claire Foy, and Nicole Kidman are all more BAFTA-friendly performances than King. She may be slightly ahead of Foy and Kidman in the race for a nomination, but it’s wishful thinking to see this final slot as anything but tenuous for her.
The largest thorn in Adams’ side is how toxically controversial “Vice” critical reception. The reviews have reinvented the idea of a love-it-or-hate-it prestige motion picture. (And how could “Vice” not be controversial under a Trump administration?) The film’s Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scores are on the lower end of typical Best Picture contenders, yet the film has a siring buzz, landing 6 Golden Globe nominations, 9 Critics Choice nominations, and 2 SAG nominations. Even so, I don’t think voters will hold the backlash against Adams personally. In fact, reports say the Academy is responding well to “Vice.” Regardless, it’s difficult to imagine the overdue Oscar princess will win two Golden Globes, two SAG awards, possibly a BAFTA (if Weisz doesn’t pan out), and then lose the Oscar.
The bottom line is, a gaping divide between critics groups and the industry has been brewing for some time. We got the first pungent whiff last year when Laurie Metcalf and Willem Dafoe won critics group after critics group, yet they proved to have no substantial backbone when it came to the televised awards. Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell won all five televised awards in cakewalk last year, and it didn’t matter what critics and Film Twitter tried doing to stop it. Being victorious in critics associations is proving to win the battle while clinching the televised awards is winning the war. One can easily look at the Best Supporting Actress race this year through the lens of King as Metcalf – a longtime working actress, famous for television, in a more critically favored role, with a mild campaign narrative – and Adams as Janney – the industry stalwart, who has worked with everyone in the business, has more awards/nominations under her belt than her competitor, and an authentically overdue narrative.
What do you think of the Best Supporting Actress race so far? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.