We're now less than a month until Oscar night, and the next few weeks will feature a steady drip of guild awards and other precursors, leading up to big shindig on February 24th. And the crystal ball is staring to get a bit more clear on who will walk away with some statues on Oscar night.
And an already refreshingly surprise-filled season got another turn over the weekend with the Producers Guild Awards on Saturday, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards last night, both of which awarded their top prize to "Argo," a film which had been deemed out of the running by some by the time December had rolled around. But a comeback for Ben Affleck's Iranian drama wasn't the only notable thing about these results. Below, you can find 5 things we learned about the Oscar season from the PGA and SAG results.
"Argo" is a real player, but hold off on the front-runner talk… for now
After the Oscar nominations, it seemed like "Argo" might be done as a real Best Picture contender, particularly with Ben Affleck missing out on a Best Director nod, making the chances of it taking the big prize significantly smaller. But almost everything that's come since has suggested otherwise, with the movie winning both Best Picture and Director at the Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards, and this weekend, taking the first two major guild prizes with the PGA and SAG ensemble prizes. Given the crossover between guild and Academy membership, it's always a telling sign — two years ago, guild victories were the biggest indicator that "The King's Speech" was going to beat "The Social Network." The PGA are 7/10 in matching Best Picture in the last decade, and 5/5 in the last few years (the SAG are 6/10, but only 3/5 in the last five), as impressive a record for a precursor award as any. Things are certainly going the way of "Argo," but that said, those declaring the race early are decidedly premature. For one, the record that no film has won Best Picture without a Directing nom since "Driving Miss Daisy" twenty-three years ago still stands. Furthermore, a run at the guilds doesn't necessarily open the gates to Oscar. Six years ago, "Little Miss Sunshine" won with the PGA, the SAG and the WGA, but still lost Best Picture (indeed, few really thought it would win). And perhaps a better comparison would be "Apollo 13," a similarly tense true-life thriller by an actor-turned-director. Back in 1996, the film won with the PGA, the SAG and the DGA, and yet missed out at Oscar. Like Affleck, the film's director Ron Howard didn't get a directing nod that year. And the tastes of the guild and the Academy do differ; take "Life of Pi," which showed up poorly with the guilds, but managed eleven Oscar nominations. Or "Silver Linings Playbook," which performed well above expectations with the Academy. And "Lincoln" is still likely to put up a mighty fight. This weekend might have put Affleck's film in pole position, but there's still a way to go til the finish line. That said, a Director's Guild Award win for Affleck is fairly likely (partly as a reaction to the Oscar snub), and if Chris Terrio beats David O. Russell and Tony Kushner to the WGA prize, then it might truly be game over.
Best Actor & Best Supporting Actress are locked up
If ever there was a time for a change in narrative in the two least competitive categories this year — Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress — last night at the SAGs was where it would have happened (see Jean Dujardin overtaking George Clooney after a guild victory last year). But no such thing occurred, and Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway, the two most honored contenders thus far, added another trophy to their respective cabinets. And barring a huge upset, we're certain that'll be repeated at the Dolby Theater in a few weeks, if only because it's hard to see anyone else winning. Had Bradley Cooper or Hugh Jackman taken the SAG prize, things might have been closer — after all, it's always felt like a big step for the Academy to make Day-Lewis the first person to win three Best Actor Oscars. But the SAG went with him, and Oscar should do the same; few like "Les Miserables" enough to give Jackman the prize, and Cooper's a new enough face that the nomination is a victory more than anything else (though it opens the door for him to take it in future years). "Flight" isn't acclaimed enough for Washington to win, and Phoenix (arguably the most likely to make a shock upset, given the praise for his performance) won't get there. Similarly, the competition in Supporting Actress is equally uncompetitive. Jacki Weaver is barely in "Silver Linings Playbook," the Academy aren't going to given Helen Hunt a prize if they didn't nominate co-star John Hawkes, and while Amy Adams is overdue, she's not going to win for "The Master." Sally Field is the biggest challenger, but probably not enough to overcome the Hathaway train.
Still, Best Actress is still wide open
Unlike Best Actor or Supporting Actress, Best Actress seems to get more competitive over time this year, not less. Jessica Chastain has had the biggest head of steam of late, but it's not a showy performance, and the extensive PR campaign against "Zero Dark Thirty" has potentially damaged it in the eyes of Academy voters. And so Jennifer Lawrence stepped up, with a busy few weeks including a funny Golden Globes speech and a hosting gig on SNL, both of which have kept her in the spotlight. Despite being only 22, her nomination two years ago means she's a viable candidate to take the prize, and she's certainly a figurehead for the well-liked "Silver Linings Playbook" in a way that Cooper or Robert De Niro aren't. But it's far from a two-horse race, and in fact, Naomi Watts is probably the only nominee who doesn't stand a chance at winning. Neither Quvenzhane Wallis or Emmanuelle Riva were SAG nominees (the former was ineligible, the latter missed the cut), but it's conceivable to see either winning. There's still some degree of debate of whether Wallis, only 6 when she shot the film, is giving a performance or being cleverly directed (the former, we'd argue), but the film's popular, and Wallis is plenty adorable. Meanwhile, Riva, as the oldest nominee in the category's history, has a narrative to match her 70-years-younger co-star (indeed, she'll celebrate her birthday on the day of the Oscar ceremony), and has clearly been striking a chord with Academy voters. Chastain and Lawrence are sure to have nominations for years and years to come, but this is likely to be the Academy's last chance to honor Riva. So while Chastain and Lawrence are getting the lion's share of the attention, Riva still has a very decent chance of sneaking in for the win.
Tommy Lee Jones probably has the edge in Supporting Actor, but it's still competitive
For the last five years, there have been few surprises in the Supporting Actor category — Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger, Christoph Waltz, Christian Bale and Christopher Plummer all dominated the precursor awards, and were anointed months before Oscar night. This year, it couldn't be further from the truth, with another wide-open field, but the SAGs did at least indicate what we've suspected for a while, that "Lincoln" star Tommy Lee Jones is in the lead here. As the most emotional and passionate element of an otherwise cool-headed film, he's the obvious choice, and it's close to twenty years since the actor last won an Oscar, and it would certainly be more deserved here than for his previous victory for "The Fugitive." That said, the competition is tough. Robert De Niro also has his first nomination in two decades, and "Silver Linings Playbook" love, and gratitude for his turn away from paycheck fare, may see him be awarded. Alan Arkin is always a popular vote, and could repeat his 2006 upset. And despite Christoph Waltz's "Django Unchained" performance essentially being a benevolent reprise of his winning performance from "Inglourious Basterds," he did as well at the precursor awards as anyone else; clearly, people can't get enough of Tarantino's verbose dialogue coming from Waltz's mouth. Indeed, the one arguably least likely to win is by far the most deserving — Philip Seymour Hoffman for "The Master" — but even that isn't totally inconceivable. Interestingly, though, this is the first time in a while that the SAG have awarded the same film Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and while it happened in 2004 for "Mystic River," that was the first film to do so in over forty years ("Ben Hur," which won for Charlton Heston and Hugh Griffith, was the one before). And let's not forget that no actor has ever won for a performance in a Steven Spielberg film. So there's a certain amount of history against Tommy Lee Jones picking up another Oscar.
Best Director is still wide open
Assuming "Argo" does win Best Picture — and again, it's far from a foregone conclusion at this point — the absence of Affleck from the Best Director nominees again makes it an unpredictable category. Benh Zeitlin's probably the least likely to win, given his status as a first-timer, but we're sure he'll be back. Comedy directors tend to not have much luck, but there's a growing sense that David O. Russell is due, and the popularity of "Silver Linings Playbook" could see it happen. The thought of Michael Haneke winning might be surprising when you think about it, but he's got a near-legendary reputation, and given that the film's already performing well with the Academy, it could yet happen. But the greater likelihood comes with two previous winners, who each won their last awards while missing out on Best Picture, in Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee. Both are as respected as any directors out there, and Spielberg would join William Wyler and Frank Capra as the only three-time winners (and be just behind John Ford, who holds the record with four). But would awarding them without their films feel like salt in the wound after "Saving Private Ryan" and "Brokeback Mountain"? Or would it be deserving recognition of impressive achievements? Unlike Zeitlin and Haneke, both are up for for the DGA, so if they take the prize, that may be the biggest indicator to date.
Your thoughts on the almost unpredictable Oscar race this year?