Did anyone really see it coming? Despite winning Best Actor at both Cannes and the Golden Globes, "The Artist" star Jean Dujardin never factored too heavily in Oscar pundits' predictions until Sunday, when he tap danced his way to the top actors' prize at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. When he headed to the podium, Dujardin gave the kind of speech awards viewers usually like to see -- to the point, but still with the right amount of sentiment and charm.
"I didn't listen in class, I was always dreaming, my teachers always called me 'Jean of the Moon,' and I realized now I never stopped dreaming," Dujardin said. "Thank you for this dream."
With his surprise victory, Dujardin -- virtually unknown to U.S. filmgoers until this year -- can start dreaming of Oscar gold as awards season inches closer to the Academy Awards on Feb. 26.
Getting the Votes
How much does Dujardin's SAG victory really matter? Well, much like it is for presidential candidates, an actor's ultimate victory means appealing to key voting constituents. When looking at the fact that there are 1,183 members of the Academy's acting branch, a SAG win is a pretty big indicator of Oscar success. The past seven lead actor winners at the SAGs all eventually triumphed at the Kodak Theatre, while the actress race has been less certain, with recent victors like Meryl Streep ("Doubt") and Julie Christie ("Away From Her") failing to repeat their wins at the Oscars.
Film historian Joseph McBride spends little time looking at these precursor awards. No stranger to awards races, McBride used to cover the awards season for Variety in the 1970s, and was one of the founders of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
"I have found in my experience that it's hard predicting the above-the-line Oscars," McBride wrote in an email. "Too much sentiment is involved for anyone to be 'objective.'"
The World's Second-Oldest Profession
The first SAG Awards were held in 1995, when all but one of the four acting winners repeated their success at the Oscars. Since then, the ceremony has been a cross between the Oscars and the Golden Globes. While it combines television and film categories in one telecast and has the same relaxed energy of the Globes, the SAG ceremony possesses some of the Academy's prestige in that awards are bestowed to actors by their peers.
Best Supporting Actor winner Christopher Plummer ("Beginners") said it best.
"I just can't tell you what fun I've had being a member of the world's second oldest profession," the veteran performer said over audience laughter. "Actors are gregarious and wacky, are they not? And I love them dearly -- when they honor you it's like being lighted by the holy grail."
Just Enjoy the Show
Unlike many of the other awards shows, the SAGs do not honor a Best Picture. Instead, the top award is Best Ensemble, recently won by "The Help." According to The Wrap, this award does not necessarily correspond to the top prize at the Oscars. Since first included in the 1996 SAG telecast, the ensemble category has only correctly foretold the Academy's Best Picture eight out of 16 times.
While it is easy for awards watchers to get caught up in the races leading to the Oscars, for others, none of it really matters. McBride said the awards race has become too bloated over the years.
"I think the awards season has metastasized beyond belief," he wrote. "Far too much time, attention, and money is lavished on them. Why not just enjoy the show?"
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