The Screen Actors Guild voted Three Billboards. The Producers Guild voted The Shape of Water. The Globes voted Three Billboards. The Critics’ Choice voted The Shape of Water.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a race on our hands and amazingly, it’s for two films with the same studio – Fox Searchlight. After a disastrous season last year with The Birth of a Nation and its fallout over director Nate Parker’s past, the Oscar-winning studio (Birdman, 12 Years a Slave) has roared back with not one but two Oscar frontrunners. But, who will they choose to push harder? Both films come in with important wins, have distinct pedigrees and even a few issues to iron out.
After an entire season of playing ‘Who’s on first?’ in the Oscar race…we still sort of are? Maybe, but it’s now easier to call Three Billboards out in front than it was a week ago.
Some fun history: Three Billboards is the 6th Fox Searchlight film to win Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the SAG awards; the most by any studio. The others being The Full Monty, Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire and Birdman. Of those, only the last two won the Best Picture Oscar. Little Miss Sunshine also managed to win PGA but was stopped at the Oscars so they could anoint Martin Scorsese with Best Picture and a long overdue Best Director win. Birdman came in and swooped the race out from under Boyhood right as the industry awards started.
Three Billboards is the lowest-grossing film to win three SAG awards at the time of its win. (The Help – $169M, Chicago – $114M, American Beauty – $98M, Three Billboards – $32M). Interestingly enough, each of those films didn’t transfer at least one of those wins to Oscar and all of them lost their Best Actress bids. A huge benefit for Frances McDormand here is that she broke tradition and became the first actress ever to win two lead SAGs for motion pictures.
The Shape of Water, despite that PGA win (the last two PGA winners have lost the Oscar) comes in hobbled without a SAG Cast nomination. We just saw Frances McDormand break the streak of no actress winning two lead SAG awards last night so maybe the stat of no film without a SAG Cast nom winning Best Picture can fall too. It also has to overcome its December release, something else that hasn’t happened since 2005. Those are two big hurdles to overcome. Three Billboards hasn’t missed anything on its path to win. What it must contend with now, and what is already underway, is frontrunner backlash and a mounting and increasing level of grievance against the film’s perception and treatment of race in America. Think and hit pieces are coming at us almost daily now and that is enough to sink a film’s chances for a win as they peak during the voting period. And make no mistake, Weinstein may be out of the picture but his brand of campaign sabotage is still very much alive.
We still have DGA and BAFTA to decide their winners and I don’t know anyone who isn’t picking Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) to win the former. It’s BAFTA that seems up for grabs. Both The Shape of Water and Three Billboards hit big there and both stand an equal shot of winning. But will the winner of the February 18th inform (direct) Oscar voters? Oscar nominations are out tomorrow (January 23rd) but voting on winners doesn’t even start until February 20th. Things may seem locked up but a lot of these awards have been voted on before controversies or backlash could kick in. Just saying things could look different on March 4th.
Now, both films should do very well with nominations tomorrow. The Shape of Water is inevitably going to lead by virtue of having more tech categories to compete in. For Three Billboards, it need to hit where it’s expected to and can’t really afford to miss out on anything major. If it doesn’t hit Editing or Directing (as I’m boldly, if foolishly, predicting) then it’s in trouble. I think most people, myself included, are curious to see if the film can earn dual Supporting Actor nominations (for Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson) and become the first film to do so since 1991’s Bugsy. That would be a fun stat to put to rest.
The thing that has me flummoxed these last few weeks is Call Me By Your Name, Get Out and Lady Bird continuing to get shut out. These three are the highest rated films of the year, dominated critics wins early on (Get Out is still the Best Picture critics leader) yet only Lady Bird has managed a Golden Globe Picture win. Call Me By Your Name and Get Out had to settle for screenplay prizes at Critics’ Choice. As the season progressed and 2nd and 3rd tier regional critics started giving out their nominations and awards, the tide turned. Acting frontrunners Timothée Chalamet, Sally Hawkins, Willem Dafoe and Laurie Metcalf hit the majors but then had to make way for Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney – a group with zero top critics wins but somehow all managed to win Critics’ Choice. If that group of four continues through BAFTA and then onto Oscar it will be the first time in history the quartet of winners did so without a major critics’ win (NBR, LA, NY or NSFC). Willem Dafoe won ALL of them and is now on track to join Michelle Pfeiffer (The Fabulous Baker Boys) as the only other person to do so and then lose the Oscar. Even if you remove NBR, you’d have to go back to 1997 to find a group of Oscar winners who didn’t win one of these.
NYFCC: Peter Fonda – Ulee’s Gold
LAFCA: Robert Duvall – The Apostle
NSFC: Robert Duvall – The Apostle
Oscar: Jack Nicholson – As Good as It Gets
NYFCC: Julie Christie – Afterglow
LAFCA: Helena Bonham Carter – The Wings of the Dove
NSFC: Julie Christie – Afterglow
Oscar: Helen Hunt – As Good as It Gets
Best Supporting Actor
NYFCC: Burt Reynolds – Boogie Nights
LAFCA: Burt Reynolds – Boogie Nights
NSFC: Burt Reynolds – Boogie Nights
Oscar: Robin Williams – Good Will Hunting
Best Supporting Actress
NYFCC: Joan Cusack – In & Out
LAFCA: Julianne Moore – Boogie Nights
NSFC: Julianne Moore – Boogie Nights
Oscar: Kim Basinger – L.A. Confidential
So what happened between then and now? One thing is clear; when you look at the four early winners they all give more understated, and one even non-verbal, performances that hit with critics. Then you look at the four that are winning now and it’s the scenery-chewing, plate-smashing hamfests that often used to signal easy Oscars. That doesn’t mean that those performances aren’t good or awards-worthy, just that such a complete 180 doesn’t often happen. Most of the time, if there is a huge critics’ favorite like a J.K. Simmons, Mo’Nique or Patricia Arquette, they are able to translate those wins to the televised awards, through the industry awards and then land at Oscar’s door. That won’t be the case this year.