Ahead of the Oscars, Lessons Learned on a Big Awards Weekend

Last weekend was the biggest awards weekend in February, with three major ceremonies in just two days: the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday, the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Sunday afternoon and the Producers Guild Awards on Sunday evening. Before the weekend began, we asked what was left to learn about this year’s awards season — so now that those shows have taken place, let’s look at what we actually did learn.

As prelude, I’ll say that we learned you don’t need Waze or Google Maps to figure out the best way to get from the beach at Santa Monica (site of the Spirit Awards) to the Ray Dolby Ballroom (location of the Producers Guild Awards) on a late Sunday afternoon. All you have to do is follow those Escalades and other black SUVs ferrying talent east on the 10 freeway and up Fairfax and La Brea Avenues to Hollywood.

Here’s what else we learned:

“Oppenheimer” is pretty much unstoppable.

Christopher Nolan’s three-hour drama won everything it was supposed to win over the weekend, and it even won in some categories (SAG ensemble) in which it wasn’t a strong favorite. With SAG on Saturday and PGA on Sunday to go with its Directors Guild Award from two weeks ago, it has fashioned the kind of major-guild sweep that has resulted in a Best Picture win in nine of the 10 previous times it’s been done (The only film that won DGA, PGA and SAG but didn’t win the Oscar was “Apollo 13” way back in 1995).

If you throw in its wins at the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards, “Oppenheimer” has had the most dominant awards-season run since “Argo” in 2013, and before that “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2009, “No Country for Old Men” in 2008, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in 2004, “Chicago” in 2003 and “American Beauty” in 2000.

Of course, the Academy has changed too much to make precedent as binding as it once was. But after this past weekend, it’s almost impossible to imagine any other movie winning Best Picture on March 10.

The Writers Guild Awards are irrelevant to anybody not in the Writers Guild.

The interesting thing about the major-guild sweep for “Oppenheimer” is that one of the four main Hollywood guilds, the Writers Guild of America, essentially opted out of awards season this year — and the WGA Award for adapted screenplay is the big guild prize that “Oppenheimer” may well lose.

Because of the strike that stalled production for a big chunk of 2023, the WGA decided to delay its awards show until April 14, more than a month after the Oscars. By that point, though, a loss won’t mean a thing in the overall awards profile of Nolan’s film.  

The Writers Guild already restricts eligibility for its awards to productions written under its contract or the contract of an affiliated international guild, a rule that this year disqualified Oscar contenders “Anatomy of a Fall,” “Poor Things” and “The Zone of Interest,” among others. When you throw in a date that’s five weeks after the Oscars and seven weeks later than any other major guild, that makes the Writers Guild Award a nice prize for WGA members and an afterthought to everybody else in awards season.   

The Best Actress race just got really interesting.

There weren’t many categories that came into this past awards weekend with one frontrunner and came out of it with another. But that may have happened in Best Actress, where the consensus that had formed in favor of Emma Stone from “Poor Things” was shaken the moment the SAG Awards announced that their winner was Lily Gladstone from “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The race had been considered a tight one between Gladstone and Stone all season, but Stone’s wins at the Critics Choice Awards and BAFTAs had seemingly made her a favorite to win her second Oscar after her “La La Land” win in 2017.

Stone’s performance is bigger, wilder and wackier of the two, and it could still be irresistible to Oscar voters. But if SAG-AFTRA went for Gladstone’s quieter performance and created a historic first-ever victory for a Native American actor, will Oscar voters really want to miss that opportunity as well? Besides, the exuberance and glee with which Stone applauded her rival’s SAG victory essentially gave voters who were on the fence permission to cast their ballots for Gladstone.

Paul Giamatti is going to need some help from the “‘Oppenheimer’ is going to win, but … ” crowd.

The Best Actor race also seemed tight going into the SAG Awards, with Cillian Murphy’s work in “Oppenheimer” perhaps giving him a slight edge over Paul Giamatti for “The Holdovers.” Some momentum seemed to be with Giamatti until Murphy won SAG, securing his status as a narrow favorite in a very close category.

Anecdotal evidence, though, offers a pathway for Giamatti to pull this one out. Over the last couple of weeks, my conversations with voters have yielded the same line with surprising frequency: “‘Oppenheimer’ is going to win, but ‘The Holdovers’ is my favorite.” It’s crazy to think that there are enough of those “Oppenheimer” but voters to turn the Best Picture race, but if they all united behind Giamatti in Best Actor, it could make a difference.

“Past Lives” has joined some exclusive company.

Celine Song’s lovely and evocative meditation on identity ended up in a select group when it was named Best Feature at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Sunday. Back in November, the film had also won the top prize at the Gotham Awards, so its Spirit Award victory made it the eighth film to win both of the top indie awards in the 20 years that they’ve both been given out.

The first seven films to do so were “Sideways,” “Birdman,” “Spotlight,” “Moonlight,” “Nomadland,” “The Lost Daughter” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” five of which also went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. The chances of “Past Lives” scoring that particular trifecta are close to nil, but the Spirit Awards can stand as a fitting culmination for a richly deserving gem.

Cord Jefferson and Celine Song

“American Fiction” has found a category in which it may continue to triumph.

Back in September, Cord Jefferson’s film won the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, often a Best Picture precursor. But while “Oppenheimer” has continued its awards-season roll, Jefferson’s very funny and very serious film about race and family won its third screenwriting prize on Sunday at the Spirit Awards. He’s now taken that category at the Critics Choice Awards, BAFTAs and the Spirits, and he’s got another good chance to do it this weekend at the USC Libraries Scripter Awards (against “Oppenheimer,” no less).  

In the last decade, the Oscar Best Picture winner has typically also won a screenplay award. But “American Fiction” may well have found a category in which it can keep winning.

It’s a good thing a new season for TV eligibility is coming soon.

“Succession.” “The Bear.” “Beef.” Rinse, repeat.

Those three programs won a total of 11 awards over the weekend, triumphing in all but two of the categories where they were eligible and continuing a crazy streak that began in January. Essentially, “Succession” has won almost all the TV drama awards, “The Bear” has won all the comedy awards and “Beef” has won all the limited series awards.

Are they great shows? Of course. Is all this “Succession”/”Bear”/”Beef” stuff at every awards show getting tiring? Yep.

But at the SAG Awards, “Succession” actor Alan Ruck described the show’s ensemble award as its “last hurrah” — and as the 2023 awards season winds down and the 2024 one begins with this year’s Emmys (as opposed to last year’s Emmys, which got delayed until this year), it may come as a relief to find that “Succession” and “Beef” will no longer be eligible.

“The Bear” will be, though, at least at the Emmys. We’re not done with that one yet.   

Kenneth Branagh has a very formidable beard.

This has nothing to do with the awards race, except that Branagh appeared at the SAG Awards and the PGA on behalf of “Oppenheimer” and showed off some new facial hair that’s every bit the equal of his Hercule Poirot mustache.

Its exact purpose, be it professional or recreational, has yet to be revealed. But wow.  

SAG red carpet 2024

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