What the SAG Awards tell us about the delightfully unpredictable Best Actress Oscar race

As Tammy Fay Bakker would croon, we are blest — specifically to be getting a second straight year of complete pandemonium in the Best Actress Oscar race. And even better, this is a rare case of the sequel being better than the original because it’s even more unpredictable.

Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”) took home the lead actress statuette at Sunday’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, a minor upset in terms of the odds as she was second behind Nicole Kidman (“Being the Ricardos”). With none of the Best Actress nominees nominated at BAFTA, this guarantees that no one will head into the Oscars with more than two major precursor wins, with the Critics Choice Awards still pending (to be held on the same day as BAFTA, Sunday, March 13). And Critics Choice still feels like it’s “Spencer” star Kristen Stewart‘s to lose, so it’s highly likely that, just like last year, no one will have more than one win under their belt pre-Oscars, except this time we also have the giant BAFTA void. Last year, Frances McDormand won the BAFTA en route to the Oscar, a win that in hindsight we should’ve seen coming since she headlined the eventual Best Picture winner, “Nomadland.” This year, none of the Best Actress nominees are in Best Picture nominees and no one’s film has more than three bids, so it’s still anyone’s game. So where do they all stand now?

Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
Regardless of whether Chastain goes all the way, she deserves props for coming this far. “Tammy Faye” was a September release that hardly set the box office on fire and was tepidly reviewed except for Chastain’s “can’t take your eyes off of her” performance. You may find people who don’t like the film itself, but it’s hard to find someone who did not like or at least appreciate how Chastain created a believable, relatable character out of a real person who could’ve easily come off as a caricature. SAG was always going to be her best bet for a precursor due to the transformative baitiness of the performance. She’s not a lone nominee at the Oscars, as “Tammy Faye” is up for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and the Best Actress and MUAH nomination combo has been fruitful for Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady,” which also won MUAH) and Renee Zellweger (“Judy”). Chastain is arguably top two now and she really lucked out that that none of her rivals can benefit from a a win at BAFTA, the only other top industry precursor, but the academy skews more highbrow than SAG-AFTRA, so she’s by no means a lock. But who is? Maybe it’s time for “The Help” ladies to resume their Oscar domination.

SEE Full list of SAG Awards winners

Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter
Colman is the SAG loser that came out looking the best. She was not expected to win SAG with her quietly simmering turn (although she was the fictional apple in a bag of biopic oranges in the lineup), so it’s not a huge deal that she lost. But Chastain, as opposed to Kidman, aka the only other two Best Actress nominees, winning allows Colman to remain a “happy medium” pick in a split race between two nominees from biopics and two critics-backed nominees who struggled with precursors. She’s still the odds-on favorite to win and it makes sense on paper. “The Lost Daughter” is the strongest film of the five and has the widest range of support, with a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Maggie Gyllenhaal and a surprise Best Supporting Actress bid for Jessie Buckley. Unlike “Tammy Faye,” “The Lost Daughter” aligns with the academy’s more highbrow taste, and Colman has been on a hot streak since her Best Actress upset three years ago for “The Favourite.” She could be the Glenda Jackson of our time. Her notable blip was missing at BAFTA when many of us assumed she’d be an automatic top two nominee, but again, when all of your rivals are also MIA, is it that big of a hindrance? The British bloc in the academy still has to vote for someone at the Oscars and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that most of them will support a homegrown contender who gave another stellar performance.

Penelope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers”
In any other year, the nomination would probably be the reward for someone like Cruz: a critical darling who won two-thirds of the top critics prizes (Los Angeles Film Critics Association and National Society of Film Critics) for a non-English language performance in a late-breaking arthouse film. She missed all of the major precursors and didn’t even make the BAFTA longlist, so she’d have to pull a Marcia Gay Harden to win, which, with the way the race is shaping up, is not entirely impossible. She is untested against everyone and there is probable scenario in which very few votes separate all five nominees in the end. Of the five, she is arguably the one who has not reached peak visibility yet with her film, so voters could be discovering it as we speak and hop on the Cruz train. What would’ve helped Cruz is had an Oscar snubbee — Lady Gaga (“House of Gucci”) or Jennifer Hudson (“Respect”) — won SAG. That would’ve suggested a lack of passion for Chastain, Colman and Kidman, opening the door for someone with passion within the academy like Cruz to take advantage. Think of three years ago when many thought Amy Adams would win SAG for “Vice” after Regina King‘s snub for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” but Oscar snubbee Emily Blunt surprised instead for “A Quiet Place,” which confirmed that Adams was not strong enough to take down Oscar frontrunner King. The difference here is that there is no frontrunner.

SEE Post-SAG Awards slugfest: Who’s winning the Best Actress Oscar now? Experts break down winners

Nicole Kidman, “Being the Ricardos”
Another SAG Awards ceremony, another year of Kidman being denied her first win for film. While Colman could afford a SAG loss, Kidman arguably could not — or at least she should’ve been able to win this. “Being the Ricardos” was strongest with actors, netting Javier Bardem a nom at SAG and three acting noms at the Oscars, which are its only Oscar bids. Was the mixed reception for the film and Kidman’s performance too much for her to overcome? Maybe. The loss reinforced that between her and Chastain, the latter has the edge with passion. “Being the Ricardos” and “Tammy Faye” are on par when it comes to reviews, but Chastain had flat-out raves for her performance, while some do not buy Kidman as Lucille Ball or can’t get past the fact that she does not physically resemble the “I Love Lucy” star. “Being the Ricardos” has also had a head-scratching run, being stronger with the guilds — PGA and WGA noms, two guild wins already for MUAH and set decoration — than with the Oscars. We’ll never know how close it was to cracking Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, but it’d be easier to write off Kidman had the film underperformed everywhere.

Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”
The two Best Actress favorites from the very start of the season were Stewart and Chastain, so have we come full circle with a wild roller-coaster ride in between? Stewart took a huge hit missing the SAG nomination, but she managed to grab the Oscar nom, thanks to No. 1 votes and the sheer love for her performance that has won over the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson and Jane Campion. However, she is the only lone nominee for her film in the lineup, and those who’ve won Best Actress tend to be sweepers, which she obviously cannot be. Her film is the most divisive of the quintet, getting shut out by the guilds, and was probably the furthest from a Best Picture bid. Like Cruz, she would’ve benefited from Gaga or JHud winning SAG to fortify her status as a passion-backed contender who can survive her movie’s overall weakness because everyone else is seemingly weak.

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