In general, actors drive the Best Picture race. They are the largest voting branch in the Academy, almost doubling the size of second largest group. What they think matters. Why they are split on a movie that also matters. The only real indicator we have for what the actors think are the Screen Actors Guild nominations. I believe that the SAG’s 2,500-strong randomly selected nominating committee is comprised of both SAG and AFTRA members. I seem to recall that only actors in SAG can nominate for the film categories but I could be wrong.
Either way, the Golden Globes had a weird year in that three of its acting winners aren’t nominated for SAG awards. That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t or can’t win the Oscar. It has happened before. Since the beginning of SAG, this is how many nominees that won Golden Globes and also received an Oscar nomination or an Oscar win:
1995 — Sharon Stone, Casino (lead) —*
1995 — Brad Pitt, 12 Monkeys (supporting) —*
1996 — Edward Norton, Primal Fear (supporting) —*
1997 — Peter Fonda, Ulee’s Gold (lead) —*
1998 — Ed Harris, The Truman Show (supporting) —*
1998 — Jim Carey, The Truman Show (lead)
2002 — Meryl Streep, Adaptation (supporting)—*
2004 — Natalie Portman, Closer (supporting)—*
2004 — Clive Owen, Closer (supporting)—*
2012 — Christoph Waltz Django (supporting)—<<
2015 — Sly Stallone, Creed (supporting)—*
2016 — Aaron Taylor Johnson, Nocturnal Animals
2016 — Isabelle Huppert, Elle (lead), —*
2018 — Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk (supporting) —<<
As you can see, this happens most often in the supporting categories. Only two Globe winners did not go on to earn Oscar nominations. That shows you the power of a Globe win to influence voting members, with or without the SAG nomination.
Though there have been at most two nominees slighted in a given year, this year’s three is a record. Will all three make it into the Oscars? Maybe. It does seem like Andra Day, who made history at the Globes for The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah are strong contenders heading in. But will they also become two winners that didn’t earn SAG nominations? It’s possible. That leaves Jodie Foster for The Mauritanian as the third to potentially get into the race. This would be highly unusual, but given this year’s strange schedule it’s not unlikely. In fact, this is a year where a lot of what has just come before won’t matter.
What really matters is right now, at least for nominations. How are people feeling about movies and contenders right now? How are they feeling in general about the awards right now? Are they annoyed about them? Are they excited in any way? Are they afraid? All of these things will factor in on how people vote in the next couple of weeks.
When a film sweeps the Oscars, it generally starts winning and never stops. Films that have won the Globes, the PGA, the DGA, and the SAG can’t lose. That has only happened once in the era of the expanded ballot with Argo winning all of them (except the Oscar for Best Director because it was not nominated).
Ever since the SAG ensemble award has been given out, the juggernauts that hit the Globes and then dominated the PGA/DGA/SAG ensemble also include American Beauty, Chicago, Slumdog Millionaire, and Return of the King.
The SAG ensemble is also in play when it comes to predicting Best Picture splits. When a film doesn’t have the SAG ensemble nomination, that can sometimes signal a split vote is coming. The reason being the Best Picture Oscar is decided using a ranked or preferential ballot, where every other category isn’t. That is how La La Land ended up winning so many awards then lost to Moonlight. It has to do with how the preferential ballot is counted.
Here are the films that won the SAG ensemble and then went on to split the Oscars:
Shakespeare in Love (upset Saving Private Ryan) — won Picture, Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress, Costume, Production Design, Score
Crash (upset Brokeback Mountain) — won Picture, Screenplay, Editing
Spotlight (upset The Revenant, more or less) — won Picture, Screenplay
Parasite (upset 1917) — won Picture, Director, Screenplay, Foreign Language Film
Parasite has the unique honor of winning the SAG ensemble, losing the PGA and DGA, and winning Picture, Director and Screenplay at the Oscars. It is an anomaly. All of the others lost Best Director.
The films that have won Best Picture without a SAG ensemble nomination were:
The Shape of Water — nominated for Best Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
Green Book — nominated for Best Actor, won Best Supporting Actor
The theory is that their casts weren’t large enough for an ensemble nomination since the main players were all getting nominated anyway. If Nomadland wins Best Picture, it will follow in this tradition, more or less. In general, though, actors like movies with lots of actors in them — that’s why the ensemble award is key.
Let’s look at the nominated films at SAG vis a vis our presumed Best Picture contenders:
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — Best Actor frontrunner, Best Actress, Ensemble
Minari — Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Ensemble
Trial of the Chicago 7 — Supporting Actor, Ensemble
One Night in Miami — Supporting Actor, Ensemble
Da 5 Bloods — Supporting Actor, Ensemble
The Father — Best Actor, Supporting Actress
Hillbilly Elegy — Best Actress, Supporting Actress
Mank — Best Actor
Sound of Metal — Best Actor
Promising Young Woman — Best Actress
Judas and the Black Messiah — Supporting Actor — frontrunner
News of the World — Supporting Actress
Borat — Supporting Actress
Are there any Best Picture contenders without a SAG nomination? Only Soul, which might make the list.
Obviously not all of these will make the list, but the actors are often the anchor that drives a Best Picture nomination, especially in the era of the expanded ballot. Let’s look at last year’s lineup:
Parasite — SAG ensemble
Ford v. Ferrari — Best Actor (SAG)
The Irishman — Supporting Actor x2 (SAG, Oscar), SAG ensemble
Jojo Rabbit — Supporting Actress (SAG, Oscar)
Joker — Best Actor (SAG, Oscar)
Little Women — Actress, Supporting Actress (Oscar)
Marriage Story — Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress WINNER (SAG, Oscar)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — Supporting Actor WINNER (SAG, Oscar), Actor (SAG, Oscar)
1917 (no acting nominations)
You can go through each year (which I won’t do now) and find a similar situation. It’s extremely rare for a Best Picture winner to not have any SAG nominations. In fact, in all of their history only one ever has: Braveheart. We of course call that here at AwardsDaily “Ye aulde Braveheart stat.”
So here’s the thing. A film can upset Nomadland if it has the support of the actors, I would imagine. It is the safe bet to continue to predict Nomadland to win, but without that SAG nomination and without being a movie full of lots of actors, there is a small chance another movie could slide in to win.
Like La La Land and Shape of Water and Green Book, Nomadland can’t win the SAG. So another movie will.
That means you have to figure out which movie will win the SAG and what that might mean if it goes ahead and wins in Best Picture.
We don’t yet know the Oscar nominations, so it is foolish to predict what might happen. But at the moment, in terms of a potential split, you want to look at the films that have the strongest chance of creating a wave of excitement heading into the Oscars if it isn’t going to be Nomadland.
Whatever wins the SAG ensemble would likely have to also win one other prize (at least) at the Oscars.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is tied to Chadwick Boseman and the goodwill that brings. If he’s the frontrunner to win you, know the movie is winning at least one Oscar. Ideally, it would need one other, like Screenplay.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 seems poised to win the WGA and maybe the Oscar. If that films wins SAG ensemble and heads into the race potentially winning at least Screenplay but also maybe Editing, it theoretically could upset in the Best Picture category with those wins.
If Minari wins ensemble, it would then need to win one other thing, like Screenplay (original) which puts it squarely up against Chicago 7 for that prize. If Minari wins Screenplay, then you could imagine it upsetting in Best Picture.
Can a film win Best Picture in an upset without also winning the SAG ensemble? I can think of only one: Moonlight, which was tied to a Supporting Actor and a Screenplay win.
What that tells you is any movie can win but it always helps in the era of the preferential ballot to have actors on board and that necessary Screenplay win.