At Sunday night’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, the acting community finally got its chance to weigh in on this year’s Oscar race. Thanks to their significant overlap with the largest branch of the Academy, the SAGs are considered one of the stronger Oscar precursors, though they’re not immune from making their own random choices every now and again. (Never forget Emily Blunt’s SAG nom for drunk-acting through The Girl on the Train.)
How much did Sunday’s ceremony reveal where things stand as we head into the season’s final month? Two of the acting categories feel, if not quite locked up, at least like the key is hovering somewhere outside the keyhole. In Best Actress, The Wife’s Glenn Close built on her Golden Globes boost by triumphing over both Lady Gaga and Olivia Colman; if she dethrones Colman at the BAFTAs in two weeks, it’ll be time to get rid on any lingering doubt that the Academy might once again pass over Glenn Close. And in Supporting Actor, Mahershala Ali’s triumph for Green Book seems to indicate that he’ll join Christoph Waltz in the two-Oscars-in-three-years club. At the SAGs, Ali spoke about how he took the role of Shirley because it offered the most screen time he’s ever had, a strong campaign message that may resonate even with those who find the film itself problematic.
Another win was good news for a contender who wasn’t even nominated Sunday. All season long, Regina King of If Beale Street Could Talk has been in a weird pickle: She’s the assumed Best Supporting Actress front-runner, winning nearly every single time she’s been nominated, but she was left out completely at the SAGs and the BAFTAs, both of which include many Oscars voters. Those ceremonies could have been an occasion for some of her competition to pick up crucial momentum, except that SAG threw a curveball, handing the win to A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt, who didn’t make the cut at the Oscars. King’s chances of following Marcia Gay Harden as the only actresses to win an Oscar after being snubbed by the guild look strong today. (An additional takeaway: Actors really like Emily Blunt.)
Best Actor has been considered a three-man race between Vice’s Christian Bale, A Star Is Born’s Bradley Cooper, and Bohemian Rhapsody’s Rami Malek. Bale and Malek won the Globes, while some have suggested that Cooper missing out on a Best Director nomination at the Oscars could spur supporters to rally around him in Best Actor instead. Bale was considered to have a slight edge, but it was Malek who triumphed Sunday night. It’s tempting to read this as proof that the Bryan Singer story won’t affect the Mr. Robot star’s Oscar chances, but I don’t know if that SAG win is the most compelling evidence. The guild’s voting took place from December 18 to January 25; The Atlantic’s Singer exposé wasn’t published until January 23. Unless the vast majority waited until the very last minute to cast their votes, they were likely doing so before the latest details emerged. So while Cooper is probably a long shot at this point, I would not start selling Bale stock.
But the main impression I got from the SAG results is that the Best Picture race remains incredibly murky. Just about the only thing we learned on Sunday is that A Star Is Born, which went zero-for-four, will probably not be our Best Picture winner. But if not Star, then who? A nomination for Best Cast at SAG is usually considered a prerequisite for winning the ultimate Oscar (though The Shape of Water famously triumphed last year without one), and Roma and The Favourite, which led this year’s Oscar field in nominations, didn’t crack it; neither did Green Book, which won the Producers Guild prize. BlacKkKlansman has been scoring all the nominations you supposedly need, but it went home trophyless at the SAGs, too. The movie that ultimately won the Best Cast prize was Black Panther, which, after failing to snag a writing or directing nomination from the Academy, was thought to be a Best Picture also-ran, just happy to be there. That’s still probably the case, but of the eight films nominated this year, there are about five that would not come as a complete surprise if they won. Heck, a part of me is even preparing for a Vice win! With only a few weeks to go before the Academy hands out its awards, a race that may have seemed a little boring back in October now feels more unpredictable than ever.