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The Oscars Race Just Got A Whole Lot More Interesting

This weekend, there were three marquee film award shows — the American Cinema Editors awards on Friday, the Producers Guild of America awards on Saturday and the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday — that gave us a ton of insight into the state of the Oscars race.

To track who’s likely to win an Oscar, we devised a points-based model in which the winners of pre-Oscars awards, like the Golden Globes, that have been predictive of the Academy Awards in the past get a commensurate number of points. Over the weekend, we saw two acting races get cinched up, two others open up, and a whole lot of love for the best picture field.

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First up: the Oscar races that look pretty much sealed up. Viola Davis (“Fences”) and Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) went into the weekend as front-runners in the supporting acting fields. With wins from the Screen Actors Guild, they’re both locks as favorites for the Academy Awards.


And with prizes at the editors and producers awards, “Zootopia” and “O.J.: Made in America” bolstered their leads in the animated feature and documentary categories. The win for “O.J.” at the Eddie Awards could be most decisive; that’s the only guild award that “O.J.” and rival film “13th” were both up for.1


In the best picture race, the weekend was the best-case scenario for “La La Land” partisans. The film won at the Producers Guild Awards, and, more importantly, its primary rivals, “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight,” did not win at SAG or the American Cinema Editors. The editors hand out awards for both drama and comedy, and “La La Land” won in the latter category. But it’s the drama prize that gets the points, and “Arrival” beat out other contenders for that best picture corollary. “La La Land,” which is not what we’d consider a film reliant on a large cast, wasn’t nominated for the top prize at SAG, best cast. “Hidden Figures,” a film that thrives because of an outstanding ensemble cast, took that honor.

I realize that Meryl Streep loathes the idea that her craft might bear any similarity to football, but for “La La Land,” this weekend was the Oscar equivalent of the NFL adage “defense wins championships.”


The best part of the weekend was a shakeup in both the best actress and best actor categories. Denzel Washington (“Fences”) won his first SAG Award, throwing a major wrench into any notion that Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”) had of an easy campaign.


And most interestingly of all, Emma Stone (“La La Land”) won the SAG award over Natalie Portman (“Jackie”), pushing her ahead of Portman and Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”), who are tied. It’s now up to the British Academy to set us straight in two weeks.



  1. FiveThirtyEight is owned by ESPN, which produced “O.J.: Made in America,” and The Walt Disney Co., which made “Zootopia.”

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.