SAG Awards Could Impact Oscars More Than Ever This Year (Analysis)

SAG Awards Interior - H 2012
Getty Images

SAG Awards Interior - H 2012

Voting to determine the nominees for the 19th Screen Actors Guild Awards will begin Wednesday and run through Dec. 10. The resulting nominations will be announced two days later on Dec. 12. SAG nominations have always been highly coveted by Oscar hopefuls, but never more so than this year. That's because the Academy's recent decision to move up its voting timetable means that SAG nominees will be announced less than a week before the Academy begins selecting its own nominees on Dec. 17. It is widely believed that many members of the latter group refer to the choices of the former group when filling out their ballots. Consequently, studios are screening their films and organizing talent Q&As at a furious pace on both coasts.

SAG has been handing out end-of-the-year awards since 1995. Over the years since then, the SAG Awards' acting nominees and winners have predicted the Academy Awards' acting nominees and winners more consistently than any of the many other awards that collectively constitute the "Oscar season." Last year, for instance, the two groups agreed on 17 of their 20 acting nominees -- and that was a bad year; most years, they disagree on just one or two. (It should be noted, though, that the best ensemble SAG Award has not proven to be predictive of the best picture Oscar -- probably because some SAG voters take it literally and award the film that they feel features the best large cast, whereas others regard as it a surrogate best picture category).

STORY: Why 'Skyfall' Has the Best Chance to Break the Bond Oscar Curse

What makes SAG, which is composed of 120,000 actors from around the world, such a good predictor of the choices of the Academy, which is composed of roughly 5,515 people who work in virtually every facet of the film industry (animators, art directors, cinematographers, directors, documentarians, executives, film editors, makeup artists and hairstylists, musicians, producers, publicists, sound technicians, visual effects artists, and writers)?

Because out of the Academy's 15 branches, its acting branch is the largest by far: it includes roughly 1,183 members (the vast majority of whom are also SAG members, though some have lapsed memberships and/or are based overseas); more than twice the number of members in any other branch; and more than 20 percent of the Academy's entire membership. Consequently, the tastes of actors not only determine the Academy's acting nominations (for which the members of each branch can vote only for their own area and for best picture), but are also instrumental in determining the winners of every category (since all Academy members are invited to vote for the winners in every category).

In other words, the SAG Awards essentially serve as a giant survey of the same ilk of people who will also be instrumental in determining the outcome of the Academy Awards.