What’s Left to Learn in the Biggest Awards Weekend Before the Oscars?

The SAG, Indie Spirit and Producers Guild Awards may still have a few things to teach awards-watchers

SAG - Indie Spirit Awards - PGA
Screen Actors Guild Awards, Film Independent Spirit Awards, Producers Guild Awards (Getty Images)

As we head into the biggest awards weekend this side of the Oscars, what’s left to learn?

“Oppenheimer” is the most secure Best Picture winner since “Nomadland” because there’s simply no other film that has shown the ability to challenge it. Christopher Nolan seems to have Best Director locked up, and so do supporting actor and actress contenders Robert Downey Jr. and Da’Vine Joy Randolph.

But with the SAG Awards, the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the Producers Guild Awards all taking place within a span of about 29 hours on Saturday and Sunday, this weekend will be a huge one two weeks before the Oscars. (Next weekend will bring five more shows in two days, but none of them are as major as this weekend’s trio of shows.)

So there have to be some things yet to learn and some clues yet to drop in the middle of the Oscar voting period, which began on Thursday morning and ends next Tuesday evening.

For instance:  

Giamatti or Murphy? Stone or Gladstone?

The two lead acting races both remain question marks – and with Screen Actors Guild voters having about an 80% accuracy rate in predicting Oscar winners, Saturday evening’s SAG Awards will supply clues about the Best Actor race between Cillian Murphy (“Oppenheimer”) and Paul Giamatti (“The Holdovers”) and the Best Actress one between Emma Stone (“Poor Things”) and Lily Gladstone (“Killers of the Flower Moon”).

Murphy and Stone are the presumed favorites, but neither is anywhere near a lock – and if Giamatti or Gladstone wins and delivers a killer speech, it’s not out of the question that it could sway a small number of voters before Oscar balloting ends on Tuesday. (In general, though, we’re not talking about the SAG Awards influencing the Academy as much as revealing the leanings of some voters.)

And if, say, Annette Bening scores a SAG upset over Stone and Gladstone, all bets are off.  

Will the Indie Spirit Awards bring any clarity to the screenplay races?

“American Fiction” won at BAFTA and got a boost in its tough Oscar adapted-screenplay battle with “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer,” “Poor Things” and “The Zone of Interest,” while the original-screenplay category could be a tough three-way race between “Anatomy of a Fall,” “The Holdovers” and “Past Lives.” The Indie Spirit Awards’ screenplay category could indicate the depth of affection for “American Fiction,” “The Holdovers” or “Past Lives,” but it can’t do much beyond that because the other Oscar nominees aren’t in the running. And the Writers Guild, which won’t give out its awards until mid-April, is no help at all.

Could Ryan Gosling be Ken-ough for SAG voters?

Of course Robert Downey Jr. is the favorite in the supporting actor category. But SAG-AFTRA voters do show a populist streak on occasion: After all, this is the show where Johnny Depp won for “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and where Emily Blunt won for a horror movie, “A Quiet Place.”

So yeah, Ryan Gosling’s performance as Ken in “Barbie” seems like the kind of thing that could win at the People’s Choice Awards (it did) but lose to a more serious role at the more serious awards shows. But if it can deliver a big pink shock to any awards show, the SAG Awards might just be the one.  

How assiduously will Spirit Awards voters court the Oscars?

For a couple of decades beginning in the late 1980s, the phrase “win on Saturday, lose on Sunday” was commonly used to describe the Film Independent Spirit Awards. That show took place on the Saturday afternoon before the Oscars, and it always gave its top prize to a movie that wouldn’t win Best Picture the next day.

These days, you never hear that phrase. For one thing, the Spirit Awards have moved to a Sunday two weeks before the Oscars; for another, the Spirit win for “The Artist” in 2012 began a six-year stretch in which the Spirit Awards winner went on to take the top Oscar five times. (“The Artist,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Birdman,” “Spotlight” and “Moonlight” were the double winners.) There have been two more matches in the last three years, with “Nomadland” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” – but even when the two groups don’t agree, Indie Spirit voters tend to find and vote for the closest thing they can find to an Oscar winner.

This year, there are Oscar nominees in seven of the 13 Indie Spirit film categories, including two in Best Feature (“American Fiction” and “Past Lives”), one in Best Lead Performance (Jeffrey Wright) and two in Best Supporting Performance (Sterling K. Brown and Da’Vine Joy Randolph), among others. There aren’t likely to be many matches between the Spirit Awards and the Oscars this year (though Randolph will probably provide one), so the question could simply become how Oscary Spirit voters want to get.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” or “The Boy and the Heron?”

These two films, one the sequel to an Oscar-winning animated film and the other potentially the final work from the revered and Oscar-winning Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, have been divvying up the major animation awards so far. “Spider-Man” won the Critics Choice Award and dominated the Annie Awards, while “The Boy and the Heron” won the Golden Globe and BAFTA.

Of those four awards, BAFTA and the Critics Choice are tied as the best Oscar predictors with 82% success rates, so the fact that one went to “Spider-Man” and the other to “Boy and the Heron” is thoroughly unrevealing.

The Producers Guild Awards on Sunday is the only one of this weekend’s ceremonies that has an animation category, so it will at least give the appearance of helping one of the contenders.

Can “Oppenheimer” lock things up by Sunday night?

If it wins the SAG ensemble award and the Producers Guild Award, it’ll look that way. After the Academy expanded its Best Picture category to 10 nominees in 2009, the PGA did the same, and also followed the Academy in instituting ranked-choice voting in its top category. That led to six straight years of matching winners (if you count the PGA’s 2014 tie between Oscar winner “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity”), and a general feeling that the guild was the closest thing you could get to an infallible predictor. But then the PGA went for “The Big Short” instead of Oscar winner “Spotlight” in 2016, and “La La Land” instead of “Moonlight” in 2017, and “1917” instead of “Parasite” in 2020.

The two organizations got back on a three-year streak of matching winners in 2021, so an “Oppenheimer” win at the Producers Guild will make Oscar gold feel inevitable. (By the same token, an upset at the hands of “American Fiction,” “Barbie” or “The Holdovers” will seriously shake the “Oppy” air of invincibility.) But those three misses in that five year stretch will always create a little bit of doubt.

Are we tired of “Succession,” “The Bear” and “Beef” yet?

Moving to television for a minute, all three of the weekend’s awards show include TV categories. And all three offer new opportunities for the three programs that have dominated awards for the past few months to continue their rolls.

At the SAG Awards, “Succession” has five nominations, including three of the five in the Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series category; “The Bear” has four; and “Beef” has two, one for Steven Yeun and one for Ali Wong. At the Producers Guild Awards, “Succession” is favored in the drama category, “The Bear” is the frontrunner in the comedy category and “Beef” is the likely winner in the Limited Series category. But the Indie Spirit Awards’ TV categories are restricted to new shows, so “Succession” and “The Bear” aren’t eligible. (The latter show won last year.) Still, “Beef” is nominated for Best New Scripted Series and also has noms for Wong and Yeun, who are competing against each other in the gender-neutral Best Lead Performance in a New Scripted Series category.

If you’re weary of those three shows trooping to the podium, sorry about that: For the weekend, the over/under on wins for the three shows is probably about 10.

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