They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

SAG and Golden Globes Give Us Tea Leaves

By J Don Birnam

December 11, 2014

If it helps, I had even worse hair for Before Sunrise.

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Has Boyhood already won the Best Picture Oscar? And just what do the SAG and Golden Globe nominations mean for the 2015 Academy Awards? The main races are starting to come into sharp focus. Let’s analyze what the latest slew of nominations and awards means for the speeding-up Oscar race.

SAG: The Industry Finally Speaks

The Screen Actors Guild was the first industry group to speak this year. Some of its members also belong the actors’ branch of the Academy, its most numerous. However, with its 100,000 or so members, SAG is gargantuan compared to the 6,000 or so voting members of AMPAS. Thus, while SAG nominations do tell us where the wind may be blowing, caveat emptor: their usefulness as prognosticators is necessarily limited because actors and other branches may sometimes differ. SAG wins for American Hustle or The Help are notorious in how they missed with Oscar. Moreover, because SAG nominations occur the earliest, late-breaking movies have a hard time getting in. Recently, for example the Wolf of Wall Street, Django Unchained, and Zero Dark Thirty did poorly with SAG, only to land Best Picture nominations with the Academy. Conversely, early release movies can do well with SAG only to have faded entirely by the time the Oscar nomination votes are cast: witness The Butler’s complete disappearance between SAG and Oscar.

This should be, by the way, an obvious lesson to wily Oscar consultants: late-breaking movies have not won Best Picture since I believe Million Dollar Baby did it in 2004. Since then, the winner had already been seen by October at the latest. This makes sense: when the Oscars moved their date from late March to late February, it gave viewers and guilds less time to pop in screeners and get late movies into their ballots. It should thus be no surprise that late breakers like Selma and Unbroken are practically nowhere to be seen in the SAG nominations, dominated instead by festival movies like Boyhood, the Imitation Game, and Foxcatcher.


So what to make of the SAG nominations? The five contenders for the top prize are, in case you missed it, Birdman, Best Picture front-runner Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Theory of Everything, and The Imitation Game. At least four of those seem mortal locks for a Best Picture Oscar. The interesting thing is the inclusion of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Will that be another Butler, fading by the time January rolls around? I doubt it. The movie opened last winter - its inclusion here is more of a revival if anything. The Butler, by contrast, was an August release. I think its inclusion here gives it a real chance at a nomination, given how passionate support for the movie is. In fact, I am currently predicting The Grand Budapest Hotel for the SAG Ensemble win.

Boyhood, the presumptive Best Picture front runner, features only four actors, one of whom is the director’s daughter and another (the lead, Ellar Coltrane) who was unknown before this movie. If SAG really just wants to play with the cool kids (and a more rational Oscar prognosticator would think so), then surely they will go for Boyhood. But a rational SAG win would be for Hotel or Birdman. Even The Imitation Game features a more diverse and strong ensemble - it is an ensemble pic.

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