Here are ten things to remember when going over this morning’s SAG nominations.
First – take a breath. Okay, let’s go.
- MOST IMPORTANT – SAG merged with AFTRA in 2012 but we really didn’t see the full impact of that until last year when the SAG noms were wildly off the chart compared to what we were thinking and seeing in the race. Remember, only two of their choices for ensemble went on to be nominated for Best Picture last year. Two of their Best Actress choices did not go on to get Oscar nominations and one in their Best Actor category missed.
- The nominating committee is a random sampling of their 150,000 membership. They are selected totally at random and with a membership that large it is virtually impossible to do two things 1) judge them on the basis of their pre-merge history with AFTRA, 2) judge them by their history at all, because they are different people, randomly selected each year, as opposed to other groups that have roughly the same individuals choosing the nominees year after year. But really, the AFTRA thing is what is really changing up the game for SAG as we saw last year. (For the record, the R in AFTRA stands for radio. Which means every easy-listening DJ and wacky AM jock across America is a voting member of who choose the Artists Previously Known as SAG. And they’re all very fine people, no doubt. They’re just not actors.)
- Perception is still everything. Unfortunately, La La Land missing in ensemble, for whatever reason, is not a good thing. It just isn’t — can it overcome? Well, sure. Movies have in the past. But that is a big big big big stat. Which would mean, to my thinking, Best Picture is down to: Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea and Fences. And in the year following the Oscarssowhite hashtag is that a big surprise? No, not really.
- They really liked Captain Fantastic. I don’t know what to make that since I’ve mostly been too annoyed with Viggo Mortensen being a Jill Stein voter (“Both candidates are bad” – no Viggo. Both are not bad…no, not by any stretch) to even watch the film. But you do as you see fit. If you think he’s in, predict him. I am not sure what I will do on that. I’ve always loved him as an actor but some things are bigger than fandom. Some things are bigger than the Oscars and to me, the election was that thing. So that’s my deal. Just ignore me on this film and judge things accordingly. I have never believed an artist should be blacklisted for what they think and what they do – judge them on the work. Problem for me is that I have been unable to watch the film because of this. Maybe I’ll get over it, maybe I won’t. I don’t know. If he’s deserving, then he deserves to be nominated.
- Hidden Figures looks like a strong bet for Best Picture, as does Fences, provided this isn’t like last year where only the films with all white casts got through (Spotlight and The Big Short) while Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton did not. Hidden Figures is one of the few truly FEELGOOD films and that is shaping up to be a big deal this year. On the other hand, Moonlight is looking really strong, and come to that, so is Manchester by the Sea. The latter would make film history by elevating Amazon into the movie studio business. (Which, incidentally,should open the door for Netflix as well.)
- The Oscar voters are wildly different creatures from the SAG voters. They just are. Once we hear from the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild we’ll get a slightly better idea but you could see some very strange things happening — for one thing, the hashtag Oscarssowhite exists for a reason. In the past, they have been resistant to films with all black casts. Can you imagine a year where Moonlight, Fences and Hidden Figures are all nominated for Best Picture? I know, it would be insane. But more likely, and depressingly, only one will get in. Remember, you need to be roughly 150 people’s number one film of the year to get an Oscar nomination on the preferential ballot.
- If a film was totally shut out, does that mean it won’t get in for the Oscars? See number 6. SAG is departing more and more from the Academy to become its own thing. And in a way, vive la différence. If they can bring more youthful vitality to the awards race who cares if they match Oscar. In terms of predicting, though, don’t forget who Annette Bening is in the industry. She’s a big deal. And 20th Century Women is much more of an Academy movie than it would be a SAG movie.
- What of Isabelle Huppert and the support from critics? Two words: Charlotte Rampling. SAG voters didn’t vibe with her movie but Oscar voters certainly did.
- Why is it such a big deal to miss out on an ensemble nod? Well, it must be said that La La Land is really about the two leads. It’s not so much about the ensemble (like Gravity). But that isn’t a good enough reason for them to lock it out. Their choices showed they liked five movies — including Captain Fantastic, for crying out loud — more than La La Land. Best Picture is a consensus over a large body of 6,000 on a preferential ballot. There is no room for divisive films winning there. You’re looking for well-liked across the board and hated by none.
- Can La La Land still win? Sure it can. You have to go all the way back to 1995, when Braveheart missed out (the very first year the SAG Awards were inaugurated). Now, all bets are off. Now, SAG is SAG-AFTRA, so in a way we have to start from scratch. Don’t forget that Argo won without a director’s nomination for Ben Affleck from the Academy — a circumstance which was previously thought to be unheard of. The impossible becomes possible if enough people like the movie. Unfortunately for La La Land it became the frontrunner early on. And people always react to that in one way or another. Either they watch the movie and they think, “WOW that is great.” Or they watch it and they say “Really? That’s it?” People by nature love underdogs. That’s one reason Trump won, and it’s one reason why we’ll be hearing cheering for Viggo Mortensen, and that’s unfortunately why the media narrative could not let go of Bernie Sanders. They hated that Hillary was the frontrunner. Hated it. The trick with Oscar season is to pretend to be the underdog when you know you are secretly the winner.
So there you have it. What this announcement tells me is that 1) I’ve underestimated Captain Fantastic for personal reasons (bad Oscar blogger, bad!), and 2) the Best Picture race is now officially unpredictable.
My new Oscar predictions would be shifted slightly to look like this:
Manchester by the Sea
La La Land
Hell or High Water
Alt. Silence (yes, still in play for now) and Florence Foster Jenkins
I would swap out Emily Blunt for either Isabelle Huppert or Ruth Negga (leaning towards the latter), and I would swap out Viggo for Tom Hanks or Joel Edgerton at the Oscars – or keep Viggo if I can stomach actually watching him in a movie ever again. Now that we’re about to be a fallen empire because of people like him, I take it personally. So sue me.