The world of film might be gearing up for a phenomenon about as rare as a Halley’s Comet sighting or an encounter with a giant squid: complete synchronicity between the Screen Actors Guild Awards results and their corresponding Oscar categories. On Sunday, the SAG proclaimed its big victors for the cinematic year of 2014, choosing four independent actors who are projected with healthy confidence to win with the Academy as well, not to mention an ensemble that has a fairer shot than most at the Best Picture trophy.
This year’s SAG winners include Julianne Moore as an Alzheimer’s disease-afflicted academic professor in Still Alice (Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role), Eddie Redmayne as astrophysics legend Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role), J.K. Simmons as a sociopathic jazz conductor and music teacher in Whiplash (Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role), and Patricia Arquette as a mother of two on the perpetual hunt for emotional fulfillment in Boyhood (Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role), plus the collective ensemble of Birdman for the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture award.
While there is room for divergence come Oscar time (Michael Keaton could edge Redmayne out of the Best Actor win, and Birdman’s chances at the top slot aren’t quite on point with those of Boyhood), we could conceivably be looking at the giant squid of the vast sea of film competition. Moore has been favored to win since the earliest screenings of her heartbreaking drama at the Toronto Film Festival. Simmons edged his way to the front of the Supporting Actor race as the good reputation of Whiplash carried through to the end of 2014. And Arquette gradually became the most celebrated element of one of the most celebrated movies of the year. And, if the Oscars do echo the SAGs, it’ll mark only the second instance in history of such agreement.
Yes, in the 21 years since the inception of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, total harmony between the two organizations’ picks in representation of a given year has occurred only once.
The year was 2010. The top honored actress was Natalie Portman, who wowed with her chilling psychological degradation in Black Swan. The doubly awarded actor was Colin Firth, recognized for his portrayal of the anxiety-ridden Prince Albert, a.k.a. King George VI, in The King’s Speech. The supporting winners: The Fighter stars Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. And the Best Picture/Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture winner was none other than The King’s Speech. Never before had, nor since has, the SAG marked the same total prescience of the Academy’s ultimate cinematic options. Rare as the occurrence may be, it can’t be ruled out in the prediction of this year’s Academy Awards, which makes you wonder what the cinematic slates of the two years in question had in common.
Redmayne and Firth
Word of mouth has stamped Redmayne as a likely Best Actor winner since critics first saw his turn as the ALS-stricken Hawking in the otherwise mediocre movie. Parallels are easily drawn between Redmayne’s Theory of Everything turn and Firth’s The King’s Speech role: both play figures of cultural renown, both within and beyond their native United Kingdom homeland, struggling with (and, most importantly, prevailing against) a physically manifesting ailment.
Moore and Portman
While such similarities cannot be drawn between Julianne Moore’s Still Alice and Natalie Portman’s Black Swan, their off screen narratives bear a bit more in common. The conversation surrounding Moore’s imminent Still Alice Oscar win is principally concerned with the branding thereof as a long overdue recognition of her many years of terrific service to the art of motion pictures.
Likewise, Black Swan gave Portman her first Oscar after a good few years of repute. Granted, Moore has been in show business a good deal longer than Portman had by 2010, but a similarly awaited appreciation for the actress on the whole can be found in each woman’s story.
The Supporting Players
The superficial commonalities between Arquette’s and Leo’s stories stop at, “They both play mothers.” Simmons shares even less with Bale. But we must consider their characters, as supporting roles, in the company of their respective leads. For Arquette, it’s Ellar Coltrane as all American boy Mason. For Simmons, it’s Miles Teller as the psychotically driven drumming prodigy Andrew Nieman. And for both Leo and Bale, it's Mark Wahlberg as put-upon boxing champ Micky Ward.
Drawing the emotion out of salt-of-the-Earth alpha male types like Mason, Andrew, and Micky seems to be what the SAGs and the Oscars most value in a supporting actor or actress. In her final scene, Arquette derives the most palpable empathy from Mason that we see all throughout Boyhood, while Leo mines Wahlberg for ire from start to finish. Simmons' bombastic character escorts Teller to the brink of sanity and frustration, very much in step with Bale's effect on Wahlberg.
The Best Picture?
Birdman is the biggest question mark of the SAG winners with regard to the Academy Awards. It's not quite along the lines of The King's Speech's stuffy traditionalism or light-weight empowerment. It's instead a quirky, bleak, innovative film that wows with showmanship and cunning.
Some might even say that it doesn't stand much of a chance against Boyhood, or even The Imitation Game (though few would champion anything else above the Alejandro González Iñárritu picture for the Best Picture award). But the second ever five-point unanimity at the SAGs and the Oscars? That'd be something to behold.
Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures (2); Sony Pictures Classics (2); Focus Features/Universal Pictures; IFC Films