oscar futures

Did the SAG Awards Just Show Us the Oscar Acting Winners?

Can Will Smith, Ariana DeBose, Troy Kotsur, and Jessica Chastain all repeat at the Oscars? Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Warner Bros, Walt Disney Studios, Apple TV+ and Searchlight Pictures

Although their majority has shrunk recently, actors are still the largest and most influential branch of the Academy. When they get together to hand out prizes among themselves, it’s usually a good sign of the way the Oscar wind is blowing. Sunday night’s SAG Awards were the first televised ceremony of the 2022 Oscar season, and recent history suggests that the lucky winners in SAG’s individual film categories have a fair chance of showing up at the podium again next month: In the past decade, the guild’s picks lined up exactly with the eventual Oscar winners four times.

A perfect match is once again in play this year, as all of Sunday’s SAG winners were also nominated at the big show. (The idea that Lady Gaga’s Oscar snub would spur SAG to honor House of Gucci unfortunately turned out to be nothing more than hopediction.) How likely are each of the SAG winners to repeat at the Oscars? Let’s run down the contenders, from most to least likely.

Best Actor: Will Smith, King Richard
Awards season is long, and as the months drag on, pundits’ eyes can start to wander. Despite the fact that Will Smith was universally proclaimed the Best Actor frontrunner as soon as King Richard debuted at Telluride, once the calendar turned to December, Oscar forecasters got tired of the safe, reliable pick. They started talking themselves into bad boy Benedict Cumberbatch, or the adorable Andrew Garfield. Smith’s SAG win snapped everything back into place. Visibly moved by the outpouring of support for his performance, he turned in a note-perfect acceptance speech, equal parts triumphant and gracious. At their best, the precursors act as televised dress-rehearsals for the Oscars broadcast, and I would say that Smith’s speech did exactly what he needed it to — if I didn’t suspect he already had this Oscar sewn up.

Best Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Like Smith, DeBose was a Globe winner getting her first major podium moment of the season. A former So You Think You Can Dance contestant and member of the Hamilton ensemble, she used her time to thank her fellow actors for making her finally feel like part of the club. This was another case of the Guild cementing a frontrunner: While West Side Story has fallen from the lofty perch it momentarily occupied following ecstatic preview screenings, DeBose has run rampant through the precursors and seems increasingly likely to follow her predecessor Rita Moreno to Oscar glory.

Best Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur, CODA
The night’s first surprise came in Supporting Actor, when Kotsur’s scene-stealing turn as a salty deaf dad beat out assumed frontrunner Kodi Smit-McPhee of The Power of the Dog. The Kotsur train had been gaining momentum in recent weeks, as the longtime character actor made a promotional blitz with a fresh round of profiles and interviews, and pundits started to wonder whether the 25-year-old Smit-McPhee might lack the seasoning voters prefer in male acting winners. Just as he did at the Gothams, Kotsur charmed the SAG audience with his ASL acceptance, emphasizing his roots as a struggling actor and noting that he’d been a member of the guild since 2001. (A subtle way of underlining the age gap with his young rival?) Expect the bandwagon to get a lot more crowded: Not only has Kotsur crafted a compelling narrative of the grateful veteran finally getting his due, he’s also got the feel-good factor of being the easiest way voters can reward CODA.

(A note on Power of the Dog: While the Best Picture frontrunner couldn’t notch a win in any of the three categories it was nominated for, rivals like Belfast and Don’t Look Up also went home empty-handed. There is a small chance that CODA’s Best Cast award was the first wave of a Parasite-style surge for the indie, but it’s more likely this was akin to previous wins for the Black Panther and Hidden Figures ensembles, a way to give a well-liked film with little shot of winning Best Picture its moment in the spotlight. I suspect Dog’s blank has more to do with Smit-McPhee’s candidacy being weaker than expected than the film itself losing ground.)

Best Actress: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Welcome to the madhouse. At various moments of the season, each of the five Best Actress nominees has oscillated between looking like the frontrunner and seeming out of the race entirely. Chastain’s SAG win ensures it’s her turn on top this week, and you can imagine a world where some combination of SAG momentum, the physical transformation, and the “she’s overdue” factor spurs Academy voters to hand her that long-awaited trophy. (In that event, she’d better thank the Ting-Tings.) Still, in the likely event that neither Chastain nor Globe winner Nicole Kidman triumph at the Critics Choice Awards, we’ll be in for another season of chaos in Best Actress, in which each precursor goes to a different woman. Awards Twitter seems to think the race has come down to Chastain versus Penélope Cruz, but the only safe prediction is that whatever you think today is going to seem incredibly silly two weeks from now.

More on This Season's Awards Race

See All
Did the SAG Awards Just Show Us the Oscar Acting Winners?