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Nomineering, Week 5: Understanding the SAG and DGA Awards

Guilds on film

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Welcome to Nomineering, where we take a weekly look at the news and stories behind the most lavish, high-budget spectacle the film industry has to offer: Oscar season. No matter how you feel about them, awards are one of the key ways to gut check what Hollywood itself thinks is important, with winning films often opening doors and setting the agenda for which kind of movies will be made in the coming years — and which ones won’t. From the surprise nominations that foretell an upset, to the last minute surges that see the most unlikely of films, um, crash into a Best Picture win, Nomineering tells the story from the beginning of the year all the way until the ceremony itself. This week we look at the result of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and what the upcoming races from the DGA and WGA will tell us about the Oscars.

While much of Hollywood’s awards season has been dominated thus far by the diversity conversation, last weekend the industry was able to get back to its favorite game: celebrating itself. The Screen Actors Guild held its annual awards show on Saturday, honoring thespians, ensemble casts, and even stunt performers across both film and television. It ended up being a big night for what seem to be the two big acting Oscar frontrunners: Leonardo DiCaprio won for his role in The Revenant, and Brie Larson took home the SAG award for her performance in Room. Rounding out the supporting film awards were Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation (a performance that, once again, the Academy didn’t think was worth recognizing), and Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl, while the cast of Spotlight won for Outstanding Performance by a Cast.

But other than watching the hilarious fallout from DiCaprio’s vaping marathon, what good are things like the SAG Awards — or their upcoming industry brethren, the Writers Guild Awards and Directors Guild Awards? If you’re hoping to get an angle on who’s actually going to win when the Oscars come around, it turns out they’re worth quite a lot.

The DGA and SAG Awards go back to the 1940s

To get a sense of what these shows are about, it’s worth taking a quick step back. All three are laudatory events put on by the three big unions in the industry, covering actors, writers, and directors, respectively. The DGA has been giving out its annual awards since 1948 (Joseph Mankiewicz beat out Howard Hawks with his film A Letter To Three Wives), while the Writers Guild started just a year later (John Huston won the "Best Written Western" award for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre). It was an attempt to honor the areas of the business that guild members felt weren’t necessarily serviced by the actor-focused Oscars, and given that dynamic it probably shouldn’t come as a shock that the Screen Actors Guild didn’t feel the need to start up its own awards show until much, much later. We’re talking 1995. (And, of course, it’s the only guild show that’s actually televised.)

But they’re still shows where the people that do the jobs are honoring their colleagues, and more importantly, most of the individuals in the Academy are also in their respective guilds, causing the results of one group to hew closely to another. How closely? Try this on: over the past decade, the winner of the SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role nabbed the Best Actor Oscar every single time. The winner of the Directors Guild award was named Best Director at the Oscars nine times; the same goes for Best Adapted Screenplay and the WGA Awards. The other categories fall off from there — the SAG Awards predicted Best Supporting Actress eight times, and Best Actress seven — but if the Golden Globes are the beginning of the awards season conversation, with the ability to set the tone, then the various guild awards shows become the 11th hour canaries in the coal mine.

The 11th hour canaries in the coal mine

The Oscars are just over three weeks away at this point, and DGA voting doesn’t end until today (the show is Sunday). Given the timing alone, there will never be a better reflection of what filmmakers have momentum than who wins at the DGA Awards this Sunday. The WGA Awards are a little more wobbly; while the show isn’t until February 13th, voting closed on January 29th, and Original Screenplay category is the category that guild awards have had the hardest time predicting over the past 10 years. But by Sunday we should have a clear sense of who will be picking up the Best Director statue, and they’ll likely be posing for pictures next to DiCaprio, Vikander, and Larson.

Just not Idris Elba.

Catch up with awards season news from the week:

Spotlight, Idris Elba, diversity dominate SAG Awards
"‘Welcome to diverse TV,’ Idris Elba said in his acceptance speech." (Variety)

Leonardo DiCaprio’s vaping is ‘deeply troubling,’ says American Lung Association
"The health organization has slammed DiCaprio after pictures of the actor huffing on an e-cigarette at last weekend’s Screen Actors Guild awards came to light."

Revenant, Mad Max, Game of Thrones win Art Directors Guild Awards
"Mad Max won over Cinderella, Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Tomorrowland in the fantasy field." (Variety)

Star Wars, Revenant rain on Mad Max parade at Visual Effects Society Awards
"If indeed Mad Max: Fury Road is set to win the visual effects Oscar later this month, it hit a bit of a speed bump." (Variety)

Oscar voter rips diversity plan: "Try telling the NBA to hire more white, Latino, Chinese or Eskimo players"
The Hollywood Reporter is running a series of articles in which Academy members complain about the new rule changes. While some have valid concerns, this piece was so arrogantly, ignorantly tone deaf and offensive that I had to point it out — and the decision to publish it in the first place.