Oscars Best Picture battle: ‘Hidden Figures’ threatens ‘La La Land’ after SAG Awards upset

Oscar Best Picture frontrunner “La La Land” just got a serious new rival in “Hidden Figures” following that film’s surprise Best SAG Ensemble win on Sunday. Theodore Melfi‘s well-received biopic tells the story of three African American women (Taraji P. HensonOctavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae) who provided NASA with the data necessary to launch their first successful space missions. It opened at Christmas to stellar reviews and was #1 at the box office for two weeks running, unseating “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

Watch ‘Hidden Figures’ and other SAG winners backstage

“La La Land” is essentially a two-hander between SAG Best Actress champ Emma Stone and nominee Ryan Gosling and did not contend for the Best Ensemble award. It would be the only film since “Braveheart” (1995) to win Best Picture winner at the Oscars without first vying for this top SAG prize. “Braveheart” was snubbed by the guild in the first year of this race but prevailed at the Oscars over SAG champ “Apollo 13” (see below for the other nine years when there was a disconnect between these two awards.)

Many may write off the “Hidden Figures” SAG victory at their peril. They’ll say it only won at SAG because it had the largest, most diverse cast, because it’s made over $110 million to date, and, most importantly, because “La La Land” wasn’t nominated. Yet given it’s emotional storyline about triumph over adversity, it’s timing after two years of #OscarSoWhite, and, of course, that SAG Ensemble win, we have a real Oscar race on our hands.

True, only 11 of the 21 SAG Best Ensemble winners have gone on to claim the Best Picture Oscar (a success rate of 52%). So the Screen Actors Guild is about as good an Academy Awards predictor as a coin flip. Compare that to the Directors Guild of America, which has honored the helmer of the eventual Oscar Best Picture 53 times in 68 years (78%), and the Producers Guild of America, which has previewed 19 of the most recent 27 Oscar champs (70%).

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But both of those guilds got it wrong last year. The DGA opted for “The Revenant” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu while the PGA picked “The Big Short.” Only SAG went with eventual Oscar Best Picture champ “Spotlight.”

With those rave reviews and boffo box office, the heartwarming “Hidden Figures” is likely to be ranked very high on the ballots of many academy members. Remember, when the Oscars expanded the Best Picture race in 2009 it brought back the preferential ballot, a complicated system of counting that “best allows the collective judgment of all voting members to be most accurately represented.”

“La La Land” did just win Best Picture from the PGA over, among others, “Hidden Figures.” That guild also uses the preferential method of vote tallying and has about the same number (7,000) of members as the academy. And “La La Land” reaped a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations while “Hidden Figures” contends in just two other races — Best Supporting Actress (Spencer), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Melfi and Allison Schroeder) — besides the top one.

So, while that SAG win may not mean that “Hidden Figures” dethrones “La La Land” at the Oscars, it may help clinch a victory for Melfi and Schroeder’s script. Voters looking to reward the film someplace may see that as an appropriate category to do so, especially as  one of its main rivals, “Moonlight,” was classified as an original screenplay by the WGA.

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Besides that first year, the other nine times that the SAG Awards did not preview the Oscar winner for Best Picture were:

1996: “The Birdcage;” Oscar went to “The English Patient” (“The Birdcage” didn’t compete at the Oscars)

1997: “The Full Monty;” Oscar went to “Titanic”

2000: “Traffic;” Oscar went to “Gladiator”

2001: “Gosford Park;” Oscar went to “A Beautiful Mind”

2004: “Sideways;” Oscar went to “Million Dollar Baby”

2006: “Little Miss Sunshine;” Oscar went to “The Departed”

2009: “Inglourious Basterds;” Oscar went to “The Hurt Locker”

2011: “The Help;” Oscar went to “The Artist”

2013: “American Hustle;” Oscar went to “12 Years a Slave”

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