Honestly, with the snubbing of Albert Brooks and Tilda Swinton for two of 2011's most exciting films -- Drive and We Need To Talk About Kevin -- it's hard to get excited about the Oscars this year. The overwhelmingly unadventurous slew of nominations for Spielberg's War Horse and Scorsese's Hugo makes the Academy look like a toddler reaching for the comfort of its old, moth-chewed blankie in a year when most mainstream movies underwhelmed critically and commercially. At this point, given The Artist's sheer delightfulness, you kind of want to scream to the Academy, "Just give it to Harvey already!" And maybe I'll check in for Billy Crystal's monologue to see if the old pro can still swing that Catskill charm. Still, try as I might to be above it all, Oscar prognosticating is a hard habit to break. Sure enough, I stumbled across the SAG and DGA awards results this morning, and much like finding that emergency cigarette stashed in your winter coat's breast pocket, I couldn't help lighting up. What do the SAG and DGA results mean for the Oscars? Give me a second to let that nicotine rush flood my bloodstream.
First off, I'm grateful to last night's SAG ceremony for adding spontaneity to a near moribund Oscar race, as well as introducing me to the joys of "Scorsese," my new favorite drinking game. However, the SAG-gies, as I obstinately refer to them, aren't particularly good indicators of the Oscar: the Best Ensemble award tracks Best Picture with the regularity of a coin toss, although the winners can prove to be rumblings of upsets in the making, if only because actors are the largest voting block in the Academy. For example, I remember the year that Crash won the ensemble award, which, had I heeded the warning, might have saved me from buying a new television after I hurled a champagne bottle at it when Crash won Best Picture. But I needed to upgrade to a flat screen anyway.
This year, the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress wins for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer respectively indicate that the racism-conquering, chick-lit blockbuster drama The Help -- how is that not an oxymoron!?! -- has real steam behind it. Despite winning Best Ensemble, it probably can't steal Best Picture from The Artist or The Descendants, but Octavia Spencer is my odds-on favorite for Best Supporting Actress. And, I wouldn't be surprised if Viola Davis gave Meryl Streep a run for her money. Academy love for The Iron Lady as a whole is a little soft, and even though Streep blew me away, I'm sure even she wouldn't know where to put a third Oscar -- entry hall table? Guest bathroom? Under the kitchen sink? Dujardin's surprise Best Actor win, however, probably indicates that Harvey Weinstein's ruthless behind-the-scenes Oscar campaigning for The Artist is doing the job -- you half expect him to announce he's now a regular contributor to Deadline.com just for awards season. Still, come Oscar time, I'd still peg this as a head-to-head contest of Pitt vs. Clooney. The one for-sure bet that the SAG-gies lock down for me, however, is that Christopher Plummer will at last receive his life-time achievement Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Beginners.
However, for the hardcore gamblers, the more indicative ceremony was the DGA awards: only six times since 1948 has the DGA winner not gone on to win Best Director at the Oscars. So, Michel Hazanavicius should feel pretty secure with his Best Director win this weekend. Still, a totally unsubstantiated gut instinct tells me that a surprise could be in the offing: Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen already have their directing Oscars, but Alexander Payne and Terrence Malick do not. Both seem overdue, and even Academy members have to wonder if Malick would show up to accept his award. I can imagine the Academy Elders setting an elaborate trap where Malick walks up to receive his award and a Mouse Trap-style cage falls on him, caging him so the Hollywood press corps can have adequate time to capture enough photos to forever banish the horrific decades-old photo of him and his fedora! All in all, though the DGA win for The Artist is further proof that Harvey Weinstein might be the greatest Oscar-winning genius known to man.
Think about it: we're all talking about a black-and-white French silent film as the inevitable winner of this year's Best Picture Oscar. To paraphrase Darth Vader, "Impressive, Harvey. Most impressive."