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The four major Hollywood guilds have now made their choices for the best work of 2016. All that’s left is for the last group of late-voting Academy members to cast their ballots before the end of the day on Tuesday, when Oscars polls close.
And since the Producers Guild Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Directors Guild Awards and Writers Guild Awards are the shows whose voters have a significant overlap with the Academy, they’re the ones to watch if you want to figure out what film will emerge victorious at the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 26.
So here’s the breakdown:
“La La Land” won the Producers Guild and Directors Guild Awards.
“Hidden Figures” won the Screen Actors Guild’s ensemble-cast award, the closest thing that guild has to a best picture honor. (“Fences,” “La La Land” and “Moonlight” won individual SAG honors as well.)
“Moonlight” won the Writers Guild Award for original screenplay.
And “Arrival” won the Writers Guild Award for adapted screenplay.
But what does that mean for the Oscar race? What does history tell us about the situation each of the contenders is in? Let’s break it down, film by film.
“La La Land”
It won the two guilds, the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild, that most closely correspond to a Best Picture win at the Oscars. Since the SAG Ensemble Award was created in 1995, 13 films have won those two awards: “American Beauty,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Argo” won those two plus the other two major guilds; “Chicago,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Birdman” and “Brokeback Mountain” won those two plus one additional guild; and “The Artist,” “The English Patient” and “Titanic” won the same two guild prizes as “La La Land.”
Of the 13 films that won PGA and DGA, 12 won Best Picture. The only film to win with the producers and directors and not win Best Picture was “Brokeback Mountain,” which was upset by “Crash” in 2006. But “Crash” won two guild awards, the SAG ensemble and the WGA, and anecdotal evidence suggested that some Academy voters were uncomfortable with a film in which two men fall in love. (If “Moonlight” pulls off an upset this year, consider it the revenge of “Brokeback.”)
Coming into the close of voting, Barry Jenkins’ film might have more momentum than any of the rivals to “La La Land.” But its only guild victory was at the Writers Guild Awards, where it pulled off the formidable achievement of beating both “La La Land” and “Manchester by the Sea.” (It won’t be going up against those films at the Oscars, where it’s competing in the adapted-screenplay category rather than the original-screenplay one.)
In the last 21 years – which is to say, since the SAG ensemble award was introduced – four films have won Best Picture at the Oscars with only a single guild win: “Braveheart,” “Gladiator,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “12 Years a Slave.” Of those, only “Braveheart” had just a WGA win; “Gladiator” and “12 Years” had PGA wins (in the case of the latter film, a tie), while “Million Dollar Baby” had a DGA victory.
That last film, though, was a late-breaking contender that wasn’t really on voters’ radar until late in the game; while “Moonlight” has been around since the fall festivals, it too is coming on strong at the end. That late momentum is its best hope to pull off a feat that has only been done once before, and not for more than two decades.
The good news for Theodore Melfi’s period drama: The SAG ensemble award it won was seen as a sign that “Shakespeare in Love” and “Crash” were poised for their upset Oscars victories over “Saving Private Ryan” and “Brokeback Mountain.”
The bad news: “Shakespeare” and “Crash” both went on to win the WGA Award, which “Hidden Figures” failed to do.
If it could have beaten “Arrival” at the WGA, it might have gotten a little boost. The fact that it didn’t puts it in a tough situation; it may be the most audience-friendly of the rivals to “La La Land,” but no film has ever taken the top Oscar with a SAG ensemble award as its sole major-guild prize.
Denis Villeneuve’s emotional sci-fi flick is facing the same task as “Moonlight,” trying to duplicate the feat of “Braveheart” and win Best Picture with only a WGA win among the major guilds. But while “Moonlight” has a spate of late-breaking critical raves and endorsements from the likes of Mark Duplass, “Arrival” has been quieter for much of awards season. Its appeal to voters may well be underestimated by most pundits, but an 11th-hour WGA win in a category weakened by the absence of “Moonlight” does not make a strong case that it can seriously contend for Best Picture.
The bottom line: Despite a surge in attention for “Moonlight,” which was buoyed by the Writers Guild win, all signs still point to “La La Land” triumphing at the Oscars.