Oscars: Can a SAG Awards or Golden Globes Nomination Give a Bubble Film a Boost?

ONE TIME USE ONLY - SAG Awards final -Illustration by Andy Ward-H 2019
Andy Ward

What do independent films such as The Farewell (A24), The Peanut Butter Falcon (Roadside), Downton Abbey (Focus), Honey Boy (Amazon), Waves (A24), Hustlers (STX), Uncut Gems (A24), Judy (Roadside), A Hidden Life (Fox Searchlight), The Lighthouse (A24), Booksmart (Annapurna) and The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24), and big studio films like Joker (Warner Bros.), Little Women (Sony), Ford v Ferrari (Fox), Just Mercy (Warner Bros.), Queen & Slim (Universal), A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony), Us (Universal) and Avengers: Endgame (Disney) share in common?

They all have passionate champions, but — either because they have divided viewers or have not yet been seen by enough Academy members — they currently do not appear to be assured of Oscar recognition. Their fates are likely to be sealed over the next month.

The Oscar season begins in September with the fall film fests — prospective contenders start screening in Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York. October into the beginning of November is the preening period, when people associated with these films start showing up at things like the Governors Awards and Hollywood Film Awards (even though very few Academy members have seen their films yet) and, of course, at screenings and Q&As, where that problem begins to be remedied. It is in that same period that hard-copy screeners and, as of this year, digital screeners begin going out, so that Academy members truly have no excuse not to see a film if they wish to.

But nothing motivates Academy members to strongly consider a prospective contender more — to prioritize a viewing of it and to contemplate a vote for it — than other awards groups shining a spotlight on it with a nomination or award. And that's what makes the second week of November through the second week of December so pivotal.

Thus far, the Gotham Awards, which consider only indie films, are the only major precursor awards group to have announced nominations. On Oct. 24, the IFP, which puts on that event, revealed that its small juries of journalists and filmmakers had highlighted in its top category not only Marriage Story, which appears to be a slam dunk for major Oscar noms, but also The Farewell, Hustlers, Uncut Gems and Waves. Those films were joined in acting categories by The Lighthouse, Clemency, Her Smell, Diane, Midsommar, Honey Boy, Give Me Liberty and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and The Mustang and Booksmart also got directing noms.

The fact that only a handful of people determined these noms is noticed less by Academy members than the actual noms themselves. And you can bet that, as a result, those films will become higher priorities for many members.

Expect the same sort of bounce from the Nov. 21 announcements of Spirit Awards nominations (the ceremony is not until Feb. 8), National Board of Review Awards winners Dec. 3 (Jan. 8), New York Film Critics Circle Awards winners Dec. 4 (Jan. 7) and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards winners Dec. 8 (Jan. 11).

For a movie that is on the bubble with the Academy, recognition from some or all of these precursor awards groups certainly does not guarantee Academy recognition down the road — but failure to attain recognition from any of these — which make it their mission to see a lot of films, and which generally like to support those that can use a boost over those that seem like they are in good shape — almost certainly guarantees that the Academy won't be paying attention either.

The higher-profile nomination announcements start coming down in mid-December — Golden Globe Awards noms (Dec. 9), SAG Awards noms (Dec. 11) and Critics' Choice Awards noms (on a date to be determined) — and they, too, can make a difference. Indeed, over the past decade, SAG Awards noms, for instance, were the first hint that several long-shot contenders were en route to acting Oscar noms — among them, John Hawkes for Winter's Bone (2010), Demián Bichir for A Better Life (2011), Jonah Hill for Moneyball (2012), Nick Nolte for Warrior (2012), Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids (2012), June Squibb for Nebraska (2013), Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out (2017), Richard Jenkins for The Shape of Water (2017) and Mary J. Blige for Mudbound (2017).

But make no mistake about it: Much of the race for Oscar nominations is already solidifying before then.

This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.