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Talk about all over the place!
This year’s SAG Awards film nominating committee, comprised of 2,500 people chosen at random from SAG-AFTRA’s overall membership, revealed its nominations on Wednesday morning — they voted between Dec. 6 and Jan. 9 — and offered a lot of conflicting signs.
In the highest-profile category, best ensemble (which many voters treat as an equivalent of best picture), the nom-com selected the mostly Irish cast of Belfast, the largely deaf cast of CODA, the very diverse cast of King Richard and the overflowing-with-A-listers casts of Don’t Look Up and House of Gucci. A best ensemble nomination is a nice way of recognizing all of the performers who worked on a film, which might explain why the nom-com then elected to recognize, in its individual acting categories, performers other than the men of Belfast (lead actor Jude Hill and supporting actors Jamie Dornan and Ciaran Hinds), the women of CODA (lead actress Emilia Jones and supporting actress Marlee Matlin), King Richard’s scene-stealing supporting actress Aunjanue Ellis and anyone associated with Don’t Look Up. Except that they did nominate Belfast’s supporting actress Caitriona Balfe, King Richard’s lead actor Will Smith and both lead actress Lady Gaga and supporting actor Jared Leto for House of Gucci, which makes those other omissions harder to understand.
Meanwhile, the nom-com excluded from the best ensemble category The Power of the Dog, even though members liked it enough to nominate it in three individual acting categories, for lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch, supporting actor Kodi Smith-McPhee and supporting actress Kirsten Dunst; Being the Ricardos, even though lead actor Javier Bardem and lead actress Nicole Kidman both made the cut; and West Side Story, a large and strong ensemble if ever there was one, nominating only its supporting actress Ariana DeBose. Go figure.
These days, though, a best ensemble nom is far more notable than a best ensemble miss. For years, it seemed like a best ensemble miss was the kiss of death for a film’s prospects of winning a best picture Oscar; indeed, only Braveheart managed to overcome the former to win the latter — until, that is, the last four years, within which three other films (The Shape of Water, Green Book and Nomadland) did the same. So my main takeaway from the category this morning is that King Richard, CODA, Don’t Look Up and House of Gucci have considerable support and should not be underestimated — we already knew that about Belfast — in a year in which there will be 10 nominees for the best picture Oscar.
The truth is that this morning’s most glaring absence was that of the long-presumed frontrunner for the lead actress award, Spencer’s Kristen Stewart, who finished in her category behind not only Kidman and Gaga, but also The Lost Daughter’s Olivia Colman and two stars of films which came and went from the conversation relatively early — or so it seemed — Respect’s Jennifer Hudson and The Eyes of Tammy Faye’s Jessica Chastain. Perhaps the perception that Stewart was out front was somewhat exacerbated by the echo chamber of Twitter, on which she is enormously popular. But whatever happened, this is a bad blow to her standing — in the 27 years in which the SAG Awards have preceded the Oscars, no performance which wasn’t even nominated for a SAG Award went on to win a best actress Oscar. And being MIA today is also less than encouraging news for Parallel Mothers’s Penelope Cruz, West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler, Licorice Pizza’s Alana Haim, The Tragedy of Macbeth’s Frances McDormand, The Last Duel’s Jodie Comer or Passing’s Tessa Thompson.
The lead actor category, however, went more or less as expected, with Smith, Cumberbatch and Bardem joined by Tick, Tick… Boom!’s Andrew Garfield and The Tragedy of Macbeth’s Denzel Washington. I suspect that Nightmare Alley’s Bradley Cooper and C’mon, C’mon’s Joaquin Phoenix didn’t miss by much (Cooper in particular, given that his co-star Cate Blanchett made the cut in the supporting actress category), so they can’t be counted out the rest of the way. But today probably represented the last best hope for several longer-shots to start gathering enough momentum to carry them all the way to an Oscar nom — among them Cyrano’s Peter Dinklage, Pig’s Nicolas Cage, Jockey’s Clifton Collins Jr., Licorice Pizza’s Cooper Hoffman and No Time to Die’s Daniel Craig. (Worth noting: Red Rocket’s Simon Rex was ineligible because his film was made outside of SAG-AFTRA’s Low Budget Feature Agreement.)
Over in the supporting actress category, the usual suspects — Balfe, Dunst, DeBose and Blanchett — were joined by Passing’s Ruth Negga, who, interestingly enough, was not nominated by SAG en route to her best actress Oscar nom for Loving five years ago. She does fine work in this film, too, but is far from a slam-dunk moving forward, given the high regard for the work — in higher-profile films — of Ellis, Matlin, The Lost Daughter’s Jessie Buckley, C’mon C’mon’s Gaby Hoffmann, Being the Ricardos’s Nina Arianda and two beloved veterans, DeBose’s co-star Rita Moreno and Balfe’s costar Judi Dench, both of whom are past Oscar winners. Plus, one can never count out Meryl Streep (Don’t Look Up). Sadly, for longer shots like Mass‘ Ann Dowd and Martha Plimpton and The Tragedy of Macbeth‘s Kathryn Hunter, this is probably the end of the line.
Supporting actor is fascinating, with Smit-McPhee, Kotsur and Leto joined by two A-listers who took on smaller-than-usual parts, The Tender Bar’s Ben Affleck (this is his first-ever individual SAG Award nom) and the aforementioned Cooper, this time for Licorice Pizza — again, instead of the Belfast guys or, for that matter, Smit-McPhee’s co-star Jesse Plemons, Don’t Look Up’s Jonah Hill, Being the Ricardos’s J.K. Simmons or any of several worthy options from the large ensembles of West Side Story and King Richard. Smit-McPhee and Kotsur have been nominated for every significant award for which they have been eligible thus far and seem like locks moving forward. And Cooper seems like an increasingly good bet for his hilarious off-the-wall send-up of an only-in-Hollywood character who many Academy members remember well, and a nom for him in this category might also be seen as a way of recognizing his Nightmare Alley performance, as well. Looking ahead, I’m less confident about Affleck, whose movie is at just 53% on Rotten Tomatoes, and Leto, whose Gucci performance is incredibly divisive, as was his performance in The Little Things, for which he received a SAG nom but not an Oscar nom in this same category. Those two strike me as very vulnerable given the likely Academy coattails of Belfast, The Power of the Dog and West Side Story.
Finally, I will just compliment the SAG Awards’ TV nom-com on some wonderful selections. Perhaps they could have spread their noms amongst a larger pool of shows, given how much great programming there is these days, but the shows they did recognize are almost all eminently worthy. The Korean drama Squid Game, which is the most-watched show in the history of Netflix, is now the first non-English-language show to receive a best ensemble nom — SAG-AFTRA, we should note, was also the first major group to get behind the Korean film Parasite en route to its best picture Oscar win — and was also nominated in each of the individual acting categories (Lee Jung-Jae for male actor and Jung Ho-Yeon for female actor). Paramount Network’s ratings hit Yellowstone, for its fourth season, has finally received its first, long-overdue major nomination, in the drama ensemble category. And who can argue with Hulu’s Dopesick, The Great, Only Murders in the Building and The Handmaid’s Tale; HBO Max’s Hacks; Apple’s Ted Lasso (which claimed four of the 10 comedy acting noms); and HBO’s Succession (which nabbed four of the 10 drama acting noms), The White Lotus and Mare of Easttown?!
Final voting for the SAG Awards begins Jan. 19 and closes Feb. 25, the Friday before the ceremony. Let the games begin!
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