Sunday, December 10, 2023

Surveying The Oscar Field – What Does SAG Tell Us?

By Matt Neglia The SAG Awards were handed out last night and we are now a few steps closer in closing the gaps in the big Oscar races for acting and Best Picture. Some are very pleased, while others are left scratching their heads and wondering if there is more that could be happening in the awards race. Well now it’s time to survey the Oscar field post SAG, so feel free to click below to read my thoughts on some of the key categories post SAG.

Supporting Acting Races Are Locked Up

​Both Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali won in their respective Supporting categories tonight which was expected by many and now their paths towards Oscar glory seem all secure. Don’t let the Ensemble win for “Hidden Figures” fool you into thinking that Octavia Spencer can pull an upset over Viola. This is her year and there is not anyone that can stop it from happening. Naomie Harris showed another side of her which many of us had not seen before and hopefully, she’ll have another shot to come back and while Michelle Williams is certainly overdue (Her performance in “Manchester By The Sea” represents her 4th Oscar nomination) she will more than likely be back soon.

​Mahershala Ali appeared to be on shaky ground after losing the Golden Globe in a bit of a head scratcher to Aaron Taylor-Johnson for his evil performance in “Nocturnal Animals” but Taylor-Johnson did not manage to get nominated for the Oscar (Instead replaced by his co-star Michael Shannon) leaving the path open for Ali to secure the lead. And he seized the moment and then some, with a truly passionate speech that brought tears to many. It also should be noted that he took the stage a second time to accept the award for best cast ensemble for “Hidden Figures.” Bottom line is that people are familiar with his work and awarding him is also a way for them to award “Moonlight.” The Oscar is his.

Leading Acting Categories Are Closing In

​In the leading categories, things went exactly as I expected they would which makes me feel very confident heading into the Oscars, although there are many out there who will disagree with me and will be persuasive in trying to get me to change my mind. Denzel Washington may have never won a SAG award before last night but he also has never been nominated for BAFTA either (Which also shares crossover with the Academy). He’s also a 2-time winner while Casey Affleck has never won before and is unlikely to ever give as great of a performance as he does in “Manchester By The Sea.” Despite the fact that I feel Affleck should win for what I felt was the more complex and challenging performance, Denzel is going to win his third Oscar. The reasons? Casey Affleck’s backlash in regards to his sexual harassment allegations are finally starting to make the rounds, Denzel Washington’s film “Fences” is peaking at the right time and Denzel is charming and likable at all of these awards shows where Casey Affleck is stuck with a terrible beard/hair combo and a lot of “umms & uhhs” in any of his speeches. Plus, the opportunity to make history with Denzel’s potential third win for a performance that is truly remarkable & completely deserving is I believe too hard for the Academy to pass up. I think that even if Affleck wins BAFTA (Where once again, he’s nominated and Denzel is not) Denzel still wins the Oscar.

​Which brings me to Emma Stone & her path the Oscar. I’ve been calling it since she won Best Actress at Venice. The fact that she’s starring in one of the most beloved Best Picture frontrunners in ages certainly helps, along with being a young and beautiful actress (Just how AMPAS likes them). She faces competition from Natalie Portman (Who won BFCA) but lost the Golden Globe to her other competition in Isabelle Huppert. However, here is what Emma has working in her favor…Portman is a previous winner (Recently too) in a film which underperformed with AMPAS, while Isabelle Huppert cannot possibly win any more awards (Was not nominated at SAG or BAFTA) in order to build any sort of momentum at a time when “La La Land’s” momentum is in full swing. Emma Stone needed to win here tonight for the Oscar to be hers and now that she has, it’s going to happen.

“La La Land” Is Unstoppable

​And finally, we come to SAG’s Best Ensemble award and what it means for Best Picture. Let me make one thing perfectly honest here first, just because “Hidden Figures” won the Best Ensemble award does not mean it has a fighting chance at Best Picture. With only 3 nominations (Showing a lack of broad support) and no nominations in Editing or Director, Hidden Figures would be the most unlikely Best Picture winner, based on stats, of all time. This win happened at a time when it’s Box Office is peaking and as illustrated by Taraji P. Henson’s wonderful speech, is happening at an important time politically. It’s a truly great movie with a talented and deserving cast of this award. It was a terrific feel good moment that signified, in my opinion, something greater, and that is that “Moonlight” officially has no chance at beating “La La Land” at the Oscars. When the nominations were announced, I had said that “Moonlight” needed some very important guild wins if it stood a chance to go up against the Awards juggernaut that is “La La Land.” After coming up short at the ACE, PGA & now SAG, it’s clear that outside of Mahershala Ali and maybe Adapted Screenplay, “Moonlight” does not stand a chance. “La La Land” will continue to dominate the Guilds, clean up at the BAFTAs where “Moonlight” also underperformed in nominations, then go on to the Oscars to sweep there as well becoming the first film since “Braveheart” to win Best Picture without a SAG Ensemble nomination. So with “Hidden Figures” lacking the broad support, “Moonlight” not having enough broad support and all other contenders just trying to win anywhere else they can where “La La Land” is also nominated, the question no longer is whether or not “La La Land” will win Best Picture, but instead now we must ask ourselves, how many Oscars can “La La Land” win? In a year where the film that can win Best Picture could surely make a grand statement to the rest of the world on how Hollywood currently feels, “La La Land’s” message of dreamers pursuing their dreams feels a little trite in the face of “Moonlight” and what its win would signify. It’s clear that audiences want escapism and “La La Land” offers that. This may be an unpopular opinion but it distracts us from the problems of today instead of confronting them head on and for that reason alone, along with the potential chance for the film to tie or break the all time Oscar win record, it could make this one of the more boring Oscar races in recent memory. You can follow Matt and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @NextBestPicture

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Matt Neglia
Matt Neglia
Obsessed about the Oscars, Criterion Collection and all things film 24/7. Critics Choice Member.

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