Game Changers in the SAG Playbook?

27 Jan

Here without a lot of fuss are the winners of this evening’s Screen Actors Guild Awards in the motion picture categories:

  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role:  Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture: Argo (Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Rory Cochrane, Bryan Cranston, Christopher Denham, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, John Goodman, Scott McNairy, and Chris Messina)
tlj as thad stevens

^ Tommy Lee Jones, as the wig-wearing Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln, was not present at the SAG awards, No reason was given though a number of celebs were reportedly absent due to the flu.

Is any of this a game changer in relation to the Oscars? I think there are some noteworthy developments. Even before Texas native Tommy Lee Jones won in his category I had begun to suspect he would emerge the frontrunner for the Oscar in the same field. The reason is hard to explain, exactly, but I think it comes down to which actor has the greatest likability factor; after all, we know that Jones, already an Oscar winner for 1993’s The Fugitive, is competing against four previous winners: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained). These are all talented guys; there is no question about that. Indeed, De Niro is already a two-time Oscar winner: (Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather Part II, 1974; Best Actor for Raging Bull, 1980).  The point is that for Academy members, a choice this maddeningly close among equals will likely come down to which man voters like best, and there can hardly be any doubt that people like Tommy Lee Jones. He’s solid. Oh sure, he has a reputation as something akin to an ornery old cuss—actually, he reportedly chooses his words wisely and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Yes, there’s that, but I also think that’s just part of his charm. Plus, his vehicle reeks of prestige. That’s something else worth considering though he’s at least matched in that regard by Arkin, whose Argo continues to generate positive vibes.

Affleck Argo Poster

^ How about that Argo? Not only did Ben Affleck’s film take the top SAG award–for ensemble acting–it also snared the Producers Guild of America award on Saturday night. History shows that movies without nominated directors rarely win Oscars for Best Picture. The last exception was 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy (directed by Bruce Beresford); that noted: the last five PGA champs have also gone on to the top Oscar–as did Driving Miss Daisy back in the day.  On the other hand, the SAG award for Best Cast does not always translate into a Best Picture victory on Oscar night though that’s often the perception. Still, such recent Oscar winners as No Country for Old Men (2007) Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and The King’s Speech (2010) picked up the big SAG prize enroute to the Academy ceremony.

I also think the tide might be turning in favor of Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence.  Silver Linings Playbook has not turned out to be a huge blockbuster or anything, which is not to say it won’t, but this …what? quirky?…domestic comedy-drama  represents “safe” middle-of-the-road filmmaking, and that might give Lawrence a leg-up on the competition, and by that I specifically mean Jessica Chastain, the star of the controversial Zero Dark Thirty.  Even though Chastain’s character, based on the real CIA agent who played a pivotal  role in the ultimately successful hunt for Osama bin Laden, actually stands for the spirit of America (or at least an audience surrogate) as she doggedly pursues the one promising lead in the case, her single-mindedness can be a bit off-putting as she teeters toward the brink. Simply, the case overwhelms her (naturally), and eventually takes over her life. It’s almost frightening. Actually, I love, love, love, Chastain’s fierce portrayal, but I’m not sure it has the same audience appeal as Lawrence’s performance–which carries shades of Renee Zellweger’s early pluckiness.  Plus, Chastain’s film just might be too controversial for its own good in the minds of many Academy members.

Of course, there are still a few things to remember. Yes, the actors branch of the Academy is its largest, and, yes, there is overlapping membership between the Academy and the Screen Actors Guild. As such, it’s hard not to think that the SAG awards offer some sort of crystal ball into Oscar outcome; however, the SAG voting body is much much larger, much more inclusive, than the Academy bunch. Plus, and this refers to the previous point, the final line-up in any of these SAG categories does not precisely mirror the rosters of the Academy’s equivalent categories, so there is still plenty of room for surprises–with the possible exception of Daniel Day Lewis whose lead in the Best Actor race seems so solid as to be insurmountable.

Dick Van Dyke

Thank you, Dick Van Dyke, for your many years of entertaining us in films (Bye Bye Birdie, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Comic, Divorce American Style, What a Way to Go, and Night at the Museum, among others) as well as your classic TV show, which still rates as my all-time favorite sitcom. Per the IMDb, he won three Emmy statuettes for playing TV writer Rob Petrie in the classic 1960s comedy. He also earned Emmy nominations for playing a struggling alcoholic in telefilm The Morning After and for a guest starring role in The Golden Girls. He reinvented himself as a small screen sleuth on Diagnosis Murder, which ran from 1993 to 2002, and he’s even made a new series of mysteries entitled Murder 101. He also reunited with his equally iconic sitcom wife Mary Tyler Moore (a 2012 SAG honoree) in the 2003 TV adaptation of The Gin Game. Oh yeah, look at him: he turned 87 late last year, and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Thanks, Dick.

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