So, the night was clicking along as expected. The television side of things had few surprises, with the exception of the Stranger Things upset. Viola and Mahershala won as expected, and despite some confusion among the precursors, Emma Stone solidified her front runner status in the Best Actress race (with a BAFTA win she will seal her fate). Everything was clicking along as planned. Then within about ten minutes SAG voters delivered two major upsets that has potentially changed the outcome of both Best Picture and Best Actor. First, let's clarify something. Yes the two wins (which I will get to) were upsets, but they were not that shocking. Denzel was definitely in the running, and the only win that would have really dropped my jaw was Captain Fantastic. But both of these wins were definitely upsets to the previous held Oscar narrative.
Denzel Washington is one of those actors that will eventually win three Oscars. I am as sure of this as I am that eventually Meryl Streep will tie Katherine Hepburn with four. Casey Affleck had been winning all season, but SAG is where the contenders really come out. Affleck will still probably win BAFTA, as Washington is not nominated. This makes for a much more competitive race than the precursors have suggested, and proves the hunches of a lot of us watching this race that Denzel was in the mix. Plus, he is much better at this game than Affleck is, who seems to be wholly uncomfortable with the idea of campaigning, making speeches, and working the room. This race will continue to be interesting through BAFTA. But if anyone other than Casey Affleck wins BAFTA, then Denzel has this in the bag.
Then came the SAG Ensemble, I knew that both Fences and Hidden Figures were a threat, and I even predicted that Fences would triumph (and was feeling good about my prediction when Denzel won). But in the end, I honestly expected Moonlight to win, setting it up as the potential film to challenge La La Land at the Oscars. Well then Hidden Figures won. Hidden Figures is a film to watch for. With the preferential ballot, the broad sweep of categories that was once required doesn't matter as much anymore. If on Oscar night it upsets in Best Adapted Screenplay, then watch out, because I smell an upset coming. This is a film that people really love. It's only major criticism are that it is a bit conventional. But in the year that we have had, I think a lot of voters might find the idea of an uplifting story about minority women who triumph over stereotypes and become American heroes a nice way for Hollywood to take a stand. And Taraji's speech last night certainly struck a chord with a lot of people.
While this certainly throws Hidden Figures into the thick of things, this might also end up boosting La La Land in an unexpected way. When Moonlight, with its eight nominations across a broad array of branches was the clear number two, it made it a horse race. If voters are now splitting between Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and possibly Arrival and Fences (both of whom had a good weekend with the ACE Eddies and SAG), it sort of muddies the water. Now you have all these different films trying to vie for a chance to take down the La La Land juggernaut. And while the Academy certainly has made strides in diversity, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and Fences might end up having too many like voters for any one of them to emerge ahead of the other. All of these different possibilities only help La La Land, which will most likely win the DGA and sweep the BAFTA's in the next two weeks. Also, if Hidden Figures was truly beloved by a wide range of voters, how did Taraji P. Henson miss out, and what about the score, or the costumes, or the production design? Its low number of nominations doesn't mean that it can't win anymore (as previously noted), but it does show a lack of broad support across the various branches of the Academy. Ultimately, without a clear number two, the voters have no option but to keep on the La La Land train all the way to the Oscar ceremony. Or of course, we just witnessed the first big step taken by the real threat to La La Land's impending Oscar sweep. Either way, this race has become a lot more interesting...