Let me get this out of the way: Octavia Spencer and Christopher Plummer will win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. They just won in their respective categories at the Screen Actors Guild Awards tonight, having also swept through the Critics Choice and Golden Globe Awards and each winning a packet of critics’ notices. The die has been cast, those races are officially over. Now let’s turn out attention to the three big winners and see if we can read the Oscar tea leaves from them.
Best Ensemble: The Help. Six years ago, a small independent film premiered at a major film festival, where it won top honours. It then played at major festivals in the fall, swept through the critics prizes, was named Best Picture at the Golden Globes and also won the Producers and Directors Guild of America awards. This was in spite of (or maybe because of) the film’s high concept that drew critics and very enthusiastic fans. Darkening the then clear-waters, however, was a SAG Ensemble win to its chief rival for the Best Picture Oscar, a racially-charged drama featuring a big cast, some good critical notices and some controversy about the film’s point of view and how accurate / enlightening / patronizing it allegedly is. The small independent darling was Brokeback Mountain, and the racial drama that was named Best Picture was Crash.
Flash-forward to today, and you’ll see a parallel if you substitute Brokeback Mountain for The Artist and Crash for The Help. Do you see a possible upset in the Best Picture Oscar race?
But then you point out: Crash had wider support due to its corresponding nominations for Best Director, Screenplay and Film Editing, none of which The Help has despite its many acting citations. This is true, but what The Help has is insane popularity among audiences and the guild. This is important because the Academy is 1) largely comprised of actors, and 2) love to honour a big box office hit. While I’m not saying that The Help will win Best Picture, it certainly made a very strong case by sweeping Best Ensemble and both Actress awards at SAG. The last film to do so was Chicago, which swept through the 2002 Oscars and danced away with six prizes including Best Picture. This is not to say that The Artist will not win Best Picture, either. This is simply to point out that if The Help is named the year’s best film, there is precedent for it.
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin in The Artist
This is not to say that the incredibly-reviewed silent French comedy will walk away without a major Oscar. It’s the front-runner for Best Director, with its helmer Michel Hazanavicius taking the Directors Guild of America prize just last night, and its star’s unexpected triumph at SAG over the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt just turned this category from a match-up between the two megastars into a genuine three-way race. Dujardin already has a Golden Globe and Cannes Best Actor notice, and a win here could forecast an upset in Best Actor. This was supposed to have been a slam-dunk for Clooney’s work in The Descendants, but this is no longer the case.