SAG Awards: Some Oscar Mysteries Seem Solved, Others More Perplexing Than Ever

Rami Malek wins SAG Award - Getty - H 2018
Kevin Winter/Getty

Four weeks to the day before the 91st Academy Awards, Sunday night's 25th SAG Awards provided some hints about how a number of high-profile Oscar contests may be shaking out.

The choices of SAG-AFTRA — the world's largest union of actors, with 160,000 members — are observed closely by Oscar-watchers because most members of the Academy's 1,305-member actors branch, the organization's largest by far, are also members of SAG-AFTRA. In other words, the SAG Awards function as a survey with a larger sample size of Academy members than any other event prior to the Oscars itself.

For this reason, it is highly notable that, for the first time this season, Bohemian Rhapsody's Rami Malek beat Vice's Christian Bale in the best actor category. Both men won Golden Globes — Malek for drama, Bale for musical or comedy — and then Bale beat Malek to win the Critics' Choice award. But neither of those earlier honors were decided by people who actually make movies, unlike the SAG Awards or Oscars. Malek, who also topped fellow Oscar nominees Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) and Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), must now be considered the new Oscar frontrunner — particularly in light of the fact that only five of the 24 prior winners of the best actor SAG Award did not go on to win the best actor Oscar. (One of them simply was nominated and won in the best supporting actor category, and three others already had Oscars at home, unlike Malek.)

The best actress SAG Award result, however, merely confirmed what this season's earlier awards shows had already indicated: that The Wife's Glenn Close, who has more Oscar nominations without a win than any other living performer (she lost on her six previous noms), is on track to take home her first. The 71-year-old beat out fellow Oscar nominees Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), a first-time film actress; Olivia Colman (The Favourite), a first-time leading actress in a major film; and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), a first-time leading actress in a largely dramatic film. She is now poised to join all but six of the 24 previous best actress SAG Award winners in going to on to snag an Oscar, too. (Three of those six had previously won Oscars, unlike Close.)

In the best supporting actor race, the winner for the second time in three years, was Mahershala Ali, who followed his Moonlight win with one for Green Book, holding off, among others, fellow Oscar nominees Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) and Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) — both veterans — and Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman). Having swept the major awards season prizes, it now seems hard to imagine Ali not winning the Oscar, too, as all but nine of the 24 prior best supporting actor SAG Award winners went on to do.

The one category in which things remain truly unpredictable is best supporting actress. At the SAG Awards, the winner, over three Oscar nominees — Amy Adams (Vice), Emma Stone (The Favourite) and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) — was, in a shocker, Oscar-snubbed Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place, meaning this will become the ninth year in which the SAG Awards and Oscars picked different winners in the category. It was supposed to be Adams' night to shine, since the woman who topped her at the Critics' Choice and Golden Globe awards, If Beale Street Could Talk's Regina King, was not even SAG-nominated — something that still gives me pause about predicting her for the Oscar, since, in 24 years, only two performances that weren't even nominated for a SAG Award in any category were subsequently recognized with an Oscar, Marcia Gay Harden’s in Pollock (2000) and Christoph Waltz's in Django Unchained (2012). But with no clear alternative emerging to King, perhaps she will become the third.

And now for best ensemble, or, as it is officially known, "outstanding performance by a cast." Some take the category's title literally and seek to honor the best assemblage of actors; others gravitate toward the largest group of actors in a good movie; and others simply treat it as a best picture category, which the SAG Awards do not have. Perhaps because of confusion over what it actually means, this category's winner has gone on to win the best picture Oscar in only 11 of 23 years, a stat which might put a slight damper on the win for Black Panther — until one remembers that the best ensemble SAG Award was one of very few things that presaged the best picture Oscar upsets pulled off by 1998's Shakespeare in Love, 2005's Crash and 2015's Spotlight.

So, in the best picture Oscar race, is the new frontrunner Black Panther? Or is it, as most thought going into today, a dead-heat between Roma (the winner of the best picture Critics' Choice award) and Green Book (the winner of the best musical or comedy Golden Globe and PGA awards), even though neither was nominated for the best ensemble SAG Award? (Without a best ensemble SAG Award nomination, only two films in 23 years have won the best picture Oscar, 1995's Braveheart and 2017's The Shape of Water.) Or are we underestimating best ensemble SAG runners-up BlacKkKlansman (which, like The Favourite and Vice, but no other films, has picture, directing, writing, acting and film editing Oscar noms), Bohemian Rhapsody or A Star Is Born? Or the other two nominees, The Favourite (which tied Roma for the most Oscar noms of the year) and Vice?

Who the hell knows?! When one remembers that the Academy is far more of an international organization than any of the other awards groups that vote before it, and that the best picture Oscar race is determined by a preferential ballot on which members are asked to rank their top five nominees (which are then weighted accordingly), things only become even harder to predict. What is for sure is that the final round of Oscar voting begins Feb. 12 and runs all the way through Feb. 19. In other words, there's still plenty of time for the winds to change yet again.