Usually, Oscar prognostication takes its cues from the guilds, as winners from the SAG, DGA, and PGA awards tend to provide a sense of films that have traction with the Academy. This year, however, that math isn’t as reliable.
Most years the awards tend to go to the same films. But this year, they’re all over the place. The Producers Guild, which is always more mainstream than the Academy, went for “Green Book”— but the Screen Actors Guild gave another popular film, “Black Panther,” its Ensemble Award, and the Directors Guild gave its top award to Alfonso Cuarón for “Roma.”
We know that “Roma,” with 10 nominations, has wide appeal across the Academy branches, only missing Best Editing. Those nominations, unlike some of the other branches, went to the five films statistically most likely to win Best Picture: “BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Favourite,” “Green Book,” and “Vice.”
But do these statistics still mean anything these days?
As the guild wins go to such a wide range of Best Picture contenders, it’s becoming clear that they are no longer reliable markers for what will happen with Academy voters, who often, especially in recent years, lean more toward art than commerce. That’s partly because the Academy, under the leadership of CEO Dawn Hudson and president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and her successor, John Bailey, has pushed hard to add diversity to its 17 branches. The changes in the burgeoning Academy membership over the past three years have brought women up to 31 percent of the 8,971 members, people of color about 12 percent, and black voters about 350.
But the guilds have not been pushing as hard as the Academy. Pressure has been brought to bear especially on the DGA to add more women and people of color, but the Academy has outpaced these efforts. As presenter Regina Hall pointed out at the PGA awards, the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton was very white — which is something you can’t help but notice at all of the guild awards.
Spike Lee, for one, is convinced that the newly diversified Academy made a big difference in Oscar nominations. He’s the sixth black filmmaker nominated as Best Director; if he wins, he’ll be the first. On Oscar nominations morning, Lee thanked the Academy. “All the films of color in the last year might not be getting the love without the diversity of the voting members being changed,” said Lee. “People didn’t automatically say, ‘All right.’ It took some work. The Academy is better for it. An organization like this should reflect the diversity of this country.”
Peter Farrelly’s charming ’60s racial drama “Green Book,” which has stirred controversy since it won the People’s Choice award at the Toronto Film International Film Festival — which often presages the ultimate Best Picture winner — has delighted audiences ever since. The 8,000-plus PGA-member producers tend to vote for the movie they like best, as opposed to the best-produced movie. Since the PGA Awards launched in 1990, 21 PGA winners have gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar. (For the oddsmakers, that’s a success rate of about 72 percent.) “The Shape of Water” did land the big win last year, but the two prior winners, “La La Land” and “The Big Short,” did not.
Momentum is a real thing. The word-of-mouth hit is reaching its widest release just as the movie is on a surge, challenging “Roma” for Best Picture. Truth is, “Green Book,” which has strong support from writers and actors (although it did not land a SAG Ensemble nomination), makes many people feel good. And it plays well to the still-most-dominant group in the Academy, white men, who voted for movies like “In the Heat of the Night” and “Driving Miss Daisy,” and gave “Crash” Best Picture over “Brokeback Mountain.”
While the Oscar Best Picture odds favor the PGA winner, the big question heading into the Oscars is whether “Green Book” can withstand the controversy surrounding it. Many Academy members say they either haven’t heard about the complaints that the true story favors the perspective of Bronx bouncer-driver Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) over jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) — or, they don’t care. Shirley’s family was disgruntled to be left out of the production and have voiced their complaints that the film doesn’t portray him accurately. Many insiders have been speculating about the source of a poisonous social media reveal involving Lip’s son, screenwriter Nick Vallelonga, and the resurfacing of sexual pranks by Farrelly in the ’90s.
Divebomb campaigns are not unusual where the Oscars are concerned — but it’s hard to believe that ex-Weinstein publicist Lisa Taback, who runs awards at Netflix, would target another movie from Participant Media, which also backed “Green Book.” Nor would Universal’s Focus Features unit, which released “BlacKkKlansman,” go after the parent studio’s nominee “Green Book.”
Historically, no movie has won Best Picture without a DGA nomination, which Farrelly got. But that didn’t mean he was guaranteed an Oscar nomination; instead, he had to settle for Best Picture and Original Screenplay Oscar nominations. The DGA winner, voted on by 16,000 DGA members in film and television, was Alfonso Cuarón, which puts him in position to win the Directing Oscar for the second time, after “Gravity.”
SAG nominations are often seen as a bellwether for the Oscar race, as the Academy acting branch dominates the votes, but this year’s SAG nominations didn’t overlap with the Oscar race as much as usual. While “A Star Is Born,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “BlacKkKlansman” could have used some forward momentum for their bids by winning SAG Ensemble, the winner was the 12-member cast of “Black Panther,” even without any acting nominations for the film.
To add to this year’s confusion, “Green Book,” with two acting nods, wasn’t even nominated for the coveted SAG Ensemble Award. But “Green Book” won Supporting Male Actor for Mahershala Ali. Whatever might be wrong with Globe Comedy and PGA winner “Green Book,” it’s not Ali, who is widely admired for always taking the high road and is favored to win the Oscar as well. At the Academy nominees lunch, he earned the day’s most enthusiastic round of applause.
But tellingly, with Regina King not nominated for SAG Supporting Female (as she is at the Oscars), the SAG award went to Emily Blunt (“A Quiet Place”), who isn’t nominated for an Oscar at all.
If “Green Book” wins Original Screenplay this weekend, that’s another good sign for the Oscar win as well. But that award could go to “Roma.” And “The Favourite” wasn’t eligible, which leaves us back where we started.