If you’re still banking on an Oscar acting upset, only 1 person has lost after sweeping the precursors

Another weekend, another sweep for our four acting frontrunners. Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), Renee Zellweger (“Judy”), an absent Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) and Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”) all took home BAFTAs on Sunday, putting them four Oscars shy of becoming the second class of acting champs to complete a full sweep of the televised awards. And if you’re wishing/praying for an upset at the Oscars, well, don’t hold your breath.

Since BAFTA became an Oscar precursor starting with the 2000-01 season, just one person has lost the Oscar after snagging the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA Awards: Russell Crowe in Best Actor for “A Beautiful Mind” (2001). And his loss has long been credited to two factors: his attack on a BAFTA producer for editing his speech and the fact that he had won the previous year for “Gladiator” (2000). It goes without saying that none of this year’s quartet has these issues; Zellweger is the only former acting champ, but her supporting victory for “Cold Mountain” (2003) was 16 years ago.

Conversely, only three people have pulled off Oscar upsets without winning any of the four precursors: Denzel Washington (2001’s “Training Day”), Adrien Brody (2002’s “The Pianist”) and Marcia Gay Harden (2000’s “Pollock”). Washington was the beneficiary of Crowe’s downfall, so to speak, triumphing on a night that also saw Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”) make history as the first black Best Actress champ. Plus, he’s a well-liked star who at that point did not have a lead Oscar.

SEE Oscar favorites Renee Zellweger, Joaquin Phoenix, Laura Dern and Brad Pitt poised to pull off the second acting sweep ever

Brody’s win was one of the few shocking acting upsets this century as those have become increasingly rarer. Jack Nicholson (“About Schmidt”) and Daniel Day-Lewis (“Gangs of New York”) had split the precursors (they tied at Critics’ Choice), and Brody was a first-time nominee in a field of previous winners, Nicolas Cage (“Adaptation”) and Michael Caine (“The Quiet American”) being the others. But he stunned us all (and Berry with that kiss) by becoming the youngest Best Actor winner ever at 29. His was one of three awards for “The Pianist,” including an upset for Roman Polanski in Best Director, making it clear that the World War II biopic was a lot stronger than anyone had thought.

Harden emerged victorious in a split Best Supporting Actress field — four people won the four precursors: Frances McDormand nabbed Critics’ Choice for her dual performances in “Almost Famous” and “Wonder Boys”; her “Almost Famous” co-star Kate Hudson received the Globe; Judi Dench (“Chocolat”) bagged SAG; and Julie Walters (“Billy Elliot”) took BAFTA. Harden, who had earned the New York Film Critics Circle Award, is the only person to win the Oscar without Globe and SAG nominations. She, of course, surprised three years later by making the supporting actress cut without Globe and SAG bids again with “Mystic River” (2003), but lost to Zellweger. (Harden still has never received Globe or individual SAG nominations.)

SEE SAG Awards vs. Oscars: How often do the 4 acting winners match?

What all of these upsets have in common is that they happened in the early aughts when the Oscars were still held in late March — Brody’s year was the final March ceremony. The longer season allows more time for opinions to change and momentum to shift. Since the Oscars moved to the end of February, we’ve gotten more and more rubber-stamping of the acting frontrunners, culminating in the first 20/20 sweep two years ago with Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”), Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards”) (ironically, that ceremony was held in early March to accommodate the Winter Olympics, but still, the die had already been cast).

Even when quartets didn’t go 20/20, since the date change, there has been at least one individual sweeper — usually more than one — every year (if/when Zellweger wins for “Judy,” she’ll join Daniel Day-Lewis as the only people to sweep twice). In the three March upset years combined, only one person swept: Julia Roberts in Best Actress for “Erin Brockovich” (2000). Yes, there are category weirdness and BAFTA eligibility issues at play (e.g. Jennifer Connelly was submitted in and nominated in lead for “A Beautiful Mind” at SAG and lost, preventing her sweep), but those three years had a matching rate of 70 percent. The last 16 years: 80 percent.

With the season even shorter this year, it would be a Brody-esque shocker if any of these four lose on Sunday (Olivia Colman had at least won the comedy Globe and BAFTA last year for “The Favourite”). But the ceremony is moving back to the end of February next year and in 2022, so there is the ever so slight possibility of those acting races not being so ho-hum predictable.


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