One of the last major awards shows before the Oscars, the Screen Actors Guild awards have placed themselves in a very interesting place with regards to awards season timing. Historically, this show is one of the best predictors of what the Oscar field will look like and who the eventual Academy Award winners will be.
The 2017 SAG Awards winners were announced on Sunday with Mahershala Ali (for Moonlight), Viola Davis (for Fences), Denzel Washington (also for Fences), and Emma Stone (for La La Land) winning the acting races and Hidden Figures winning for Ensemble. So now with the latest SAG Awards winners having been announced, what are the Oscar prospects of those same winners?
It's hard to think of someone "needing" to win but in all honestly, Mahershala Ali needed to win the SAG Award for Actor in a Supporting Role. After Aaron Taylor-Johnson won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals, Ali winning for Moonlight at the SAG Awards gives him a leg up on a lineup filled with most of his Oscar competition and allowed him to make a beautiful speech. One shouldn't underestimate how things play in a room in the industry amongst the group of peers who will be voting on the Oscars (actors branch). Not to mention: Taylor-Johnson isn't even in the running at the Oscars.
Though the branch and the SAG membership are vastly different in number, their tastes align quite a bit - meaning that Ali is likely going to be adding "Oscar-winner" to his name soon.
Before the season even started, people had Viola Davis penciled in to win the Oscar for Fences and with her win at SAG, it's all but locked. Some people may remember back when she won for The Help at the SAG Awards in 2012 and then lost the Oscar, but she's not competing against Meryl Streep this year and her overdue narrative is too strong.
Plus, you have to go back to 2008 (perhaps even 2007, back around the time that Kate Winslet won the Best Actress Oscar for The Reader) to find the last time the SAG Award winner in this category didn't repeat at the Oscasr. There's been a grand total of 6 actress in the 22 years, and one woman in the last 15 years, that have won this particular SAG have not ended up winning the Oscar.
All of this is to say that Davis has this in the bag, barring any big controversy.
It's hard to think of an actor as respected and awarded as Denzel Washington could still be hitting firsts, but this win marked the first SAG Award that the legendary actor has won (he's still never been nominated for a BAFTA).
This win was major for Oscar, more so than any of these other wins and categories because only 3 men who have won this award didn't end up winning an Oscar. The only category change was when Benicio del Toro won Lead here and then won the Supporting Actor Oscar in 2000 for his role in Traffic, clearing the way for Russell Crowe to win the Oscar for Gladiator.
Going even deeper, one of the most interesting things about the SAG Award for Actor is how it can be used to change the perception of the race. 5 years ago, it appeared that George Clooney was going to walk away with a lead Oscar for The Descendants. He'd just won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award for Best Actor, gave great speeches, and was the belle of the ball. But then came the SAG Awards and Jean Dujardin won, signalling a big change in the race. The Artist was steamrolling towards a Best Picture win, so combined with this win, Dujardin's Oscar history was right on time. Two years ago, it was Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne playing the roles of Clooney and Dujardin, respectively, and Redmayne ended up winning the Oscar.
What does this mean for Casey Affleck (the Clooney/Keaton camp) and Denzel (Dujardin/Redmayne camp) for Manchester by the Sea and Fences, respectively? Well this win plus the minor, but swirling controversy around Affleck means it's probably worth considering changing your predictions and penciling in Denzel to win Best Actor at the Oscars in a few weeks.
Normally, this is one of the more toss up translations of awards to Oscar success, but Emma Stone winning the SAG for Lead Actress for her performance in La La Land puts her far ahead of the competition. She now has the big actor award, her film just received 14 Academy Award nominations, and you’d have to go back to 2002 to find the last instance of an actress losing the Oscar after winning at the SAG Awards, when her film won Best Picture (that would be Renee Zellweger in Chicago). Also, in the last five years, Viola Davis is the only actress to not follow a SAG win with an Oscar win.
In short: this is one of the easiest races to call, Oscar-wise, this year (especially with Amy Adams not being in the running for the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Arrival, as was long expected to happen).
Hidden Figures taking the prize for Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture honestly seems right on brand as it’s big ensemble with name actors in a movie everyone likes, without the big Oscar nominee in the race.
This award recently has been referred to as the Screen Actors Guild's "Best Picture" prize, as recently many of the films that have won this award have gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It's worth noting this trend because actors make up the largest portion of the Academy. What they choose to honor at SAG is always a threat to repeat at Oscar. This is why most people were alarmed that La La Land didn't make the fold, despite the fact that the film's singular focus on the two main characters doesn't really lend it to an ensemble prize. As shown by the nominations, it appeared that the guild, for this year at least, decided to honor true ensemble films.
However, this year, the win for Hidden Figures doesn't signal a changing of the guard with regards to Best Picture. La La Land, which just received a record tying 14 Academy Award nominations, is going to win Best Picture and is a break or two away from beating the Oscar-winning record of 11 (Titanic, Ben-Hur, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King). Even without a SAG ensemble nod it managed that, so its Oscar fate is sealed. What is more interesting to pontificate about is how this affects a film like Moonlight. Most prognosticators would have said that Moonlight winning SAG Ensemble would have made it a more serious threat to La La Land, but without the win it won't be. This also calls into question Barry Jenkins' all-but-engraved Oscar for Adapted Screenplay.
Hidden Figures is a box office hit, just won SAG Ensemble, and is facing off against Moonlight in that category. Moonlight seems to have the upper hand, but in 2014 everyone thought that Richard Linklater would win Screenplay or Director (he ultimately lost both to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) to go along with Patricia Arquette's acting win for Boyhood. Strange things can happen in Oscar races, post-SAG Awards.
The 89th Annual Academy Awards ceremony is going to be telecast on Sunday, February 26th, 2017 on ABC, starting at 8:30 p.m. EST.