Casey Affleck vs. Denzel Washington – The Race in Best Actor Just Got Interesting

Denzel washington
Denzel Washington accepts the award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role for "Fences" at the 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Up until last Sunday, the race for Best Actor seemed, if not locked up, then something close to it. “Manchester by the Sea” star Casey Affleck won virtually every critic award – including the Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe – leading up to Sunday’s Screen Actors Guild Awards. There, he was favorited to win again, due in no small part to the fact that the film itself was the most nominated on the film side. Instead, the film was completely shut out and “Fences” star and director Denzel Washington walked away (much to his own surprise) with the Actor. So what happened, and what does it mean for the Oscars?

While we’ll never know for certain why someone does or does not win, there are some interesting factors to consider. For starters, Washington had never won a SAG despite being nominated six times when Best Ensembles are added in. As a very beloved actor across the industry, perhaps people felt it was time to give him his due. Another thing to consider, of course, is the role itself. Washington’s role in “Fences” is a masterclass in acting. It’s a role he previously won a Tony for. It’s the sort of stuff actors eat up – a big, powerhouse performance. By contrast, Affleck’s performance is more on the muted side. A third factor to consider (and one that I personally don’t put too much stock into), is the controversy surrounding Affleck. Could his years-old sexual harassment allegations (which were settled out of court between the parties) be somewhat to blame? There’s been some backlash, but nowhere near the fever pitch levels that surrounded “The Birth of a Nation” director/star/writer Nate Parker. Right or wrong, unless or until said backlash reaches those levels, I wouldn’t expect for it to have much of an impact on the race. It’s far more likely that this year is a prime example of how much critics and industry folks can differ on their film preferences.

So, what does Washington’s SAG win mean for the Oscars? Let’s look at the history:

  1. Only four times in SAG’s 22-year history has the Best Actor winner at SAG NOT repeated at the Oscars.
  2. The last time a SAG Best Actor winner didn’t repeat at the Oscars was 13 years ago.

History tells us Washington’s odds of winning, at least compared to where they were a few days ago, are now through the roof. There might even be a new frontrunner. Of course, with more precursors under his belt so far, Affleck still should not be counted out and can absolutely still win. After all, only six times in SAG history have all four SAG winners repeated at Oscars, although that’s happened a lot more in recent years. Look at 1997, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014 for the examples. While all four SAG winners could repeat this year, it’s probably more likely that one of them does not. Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis seem like sure bets, so that leaves Emma Stone and Washington more likely to be vulnerable. Take your pick.

Affleck’s best shot at regaining his momentum is the BAFTA Awards on Feb. 12, where Washington isn’t even nominated. However, should Affleck lose there to someone like “La La Land” leading man Ryan Gosling, I’d say you might want to consider changing your bets (if you haven’t done so already) to Washington or even Gosling in a complete shocker. The race would then get even more interesting. After all, people have won for a lot less – Adrien Brody won the Oscar for “The Pianist” after losing the Globe, Critics’ Choice, BAFTA and SAG. And, let’s not forget, Russell Crowe managed a Best Actor Oscar win (for “Gladiator”) after losing BAFTA, SAG and the Globe, although he did win the Critics’ Choice. Crazy things can and do happen.

More than likely though, Affleck takes the BAFTA and we’re still faced with a very close race between him and Washington. For now, in a year where many are crying out about a “boring” race, it seems there’s finally an interesting one to latch onto, and one that a lot of people didn’t see coming at that. Ultimately, rules and precedents were made to be broken, but they are also rules and precedents for a reason. We’ll have to wait until Feb. 26 to see which is which this year in Best Actor.

Tell us: What do you think of Denzel Washington’s Best Actor chances? Or Casey Affleck’s chances?
Who do you think will win on Oscar Sunday? Let us know in the comments below!



What do you think?

Written by Lauren Huff

Lauren Huff is a film and awards geek. When she's not writing about film and the industry, she's drinking coffee, reading mystery novels or hanging out with her husband and stinking-cute puppy. She's reported from the red carpets of Austin Film Festival, SXSW and various film premieres. Her work has appeared in several outlets, including Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, Us Weekly and more.


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