SAG Awards Noms Analysis: What 'Parasite' Cast Nod and Other Notable Inclusions, Omissions Mean for Oscar Race

Parasite - Telluride Film Festival - Publicity - H 2019
Telluride Film Festival

Here are the main takeaways from Wednesday morning's announcement of the film nominees for the 26th SAG Awards: Parasite became only the second non-English-language film — and first since Life Is Beautiful 21 years ago — to land a best ensemble nom. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood held serve, and is the only title that has been nominated by every guild that has announced so far. Bombshell did better than expected, picking up ensemble and three acting noms. And Little Women and The Two Popes did worse than expected, landing no noms at all.

So... what does it all mean?

SAG-AFTRA is America's largest union of actors, comprising roughly 160,000 screen and radio performers. They all get to pick the winners of the SAG Awards, but a committee of only 2,500, randomly selected by a computer system, get to decide the film nominees. (A different nominating committee, of the same size, picks the TV noms.) Oscar-watchers pay close attention to the SAG Awards — nominees and winners — because they often offer clues about what to expect from the Academy, the largest branch of which comprises actors (15 percent of the overall membership), who solely determine the acting Oscar nominees (and the vast majority of whom also belong to SAG-AFTRA).

The SAG Awards has no best picture category. Some nom-com members regard its best cast category as the same thing, whereas others use it to highlight the largest casts from strong movies. Because of this dynamic, the ensemble award is sometimes reflective of overall popularity, but not always — indeed, the last two best picture Oscar winners, The Shape of Water and Green Book, were not even nominated for it, but prior to that, the same could be said for only one other best picture Oscar winner, Braveheart.

In other words, the campaigns for Oscar hopefuls that are essentially two-handers, like 1917, The Two Popes and Marriage Story, should not worry that they were not nominated for best ensemble — La La Land wasn't, either. The campaigns for Oscar hopefuls that boast large ensembles but were not nominated, like Little Women, Knives Out and Downton Abbey, should be a little worried. And the campaigns for the five Oscar hopefuls that were nominated — Bombshell, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Parasite — should be very pleased, but not take anything else for granted — just ask the people who worked on recent best ensemble nominees The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Butler, Beasts of No Nation, Straight Outta Compton, Mudbound and Crazy Rich Asians.

That being said, it is a very big deal that Parasite landed a best ensemble nomination, considering SAG-AFTRA's longtime aversion to subtitled films. That suggests a level of support greater than almost anyone anticipated, and makes this pundit really believe, for the first time, that the movie can make a very serious run at becoming the first non-English-language film to ever win the best picture Oscar. (The Academy, incidentally, is a much more international group than SAG-AFTRA, meaning subtitles are even less of a deterrent for its membership.)

As for the individual acting races? Joker's Joaquin Phoenix, Marriage Story's Adam Driver and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Leonardo DiCaprio showed up on the list of best actor finalists, just as they did with the recently announced Critics' Choice and Golden Globe nominations. Two days after being passed over for a nom by the Globes, The Irishman's Robert De Niro was again left out — but it is possible that the nom-com factored into its calculations that he has long been slated to receive the SAG Life Achievement Award at the show, and opted to instead shine a light on others.

If so, the beneficiaries were Ford v Ferrari's Christian Bale (chosen over co-star Matt Damon) and Rocketman's Taron Egerton, who really needed a shot of adrenaline. A miss here hurts for The Two Popes' Jonathan Pryce; Pain and Glory's Antonio Banderas (though, again, subtitles may have been an issue); Dolemite Is My Name's Eddie Murphy; Uncut Gems' Adam Sandler; and Richard Jewell's Paul Walter Hauser.

In the best actress category, there were another three slam-dunk nominees — Judy's Renee Zellweger, Bombshell's Charlize Theron and Marriage Story's Scarlett Johansson — who were joined by Harriet breakout Cynthia Erivo and Us' Lupita Nyong'o. Missing surely stings for Little Women's Saoirse Ronan and The Farewell's Awkwafina (not to be a broken record but — subtitles), plus, to a lesser extent, longer shots like Clemency's Alfre Woodard, Her Smell's Elisabeth Moss and A Hidden Life's Valerie Pachner.

Best supporting actor filled out more or less as expected, save for a snub of The Two Popes' Anthony Hopkins (who had better start campaigning a bit more if he doesn't want to fall off the Academy's radar, too) in favor of Just Mercy's Jamie Foxx. The other four noms went to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Brad PittThe Irishman's Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood's Tom Hanks. This was a category in which I thought actors might rally behind Honey Boy's Shia LaBeouf, whose comeback story is rather remarkable, but that did not come to pass. A host of veteran actors' actors — The Lighthouse's Willem Dafoe, Richard Jewell's Sam Rockwell, Marriage Story's Alan Alda and Bombshell's John Lithgow — were also left out in the cold.

And then there's the supporting actress race, which, unsurprisingly, includes Marriage Story's Laura Dern, Hustlers' Jennifer Lopez, Jojo Rabbit's Scarlett Johansson, Bombshell's Margot Robbie — but also Bombshell's Nicole Kidman, who had, until now, received less awards attention for a part that is less flashy than Theron's or Robbie's. Kidman may have been helped by the fact that Richard Jewell's Kathy Bates, who was nominated for a best supporting actress Golden Globe two days ago, was accidentally submitted for SAG Awards consideration in the best actress (drama) category, according to reports. But Kidman still had to fend off Downton Abbey's Maggie Smith, a longtime SAG-AFTRA favorite, as well as The Farewell's Zhao Shuzhen, The Report's Annette Bening, Little Women's Florence Pugh, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Julia Butters and Dolemite Is My Name's Da'Vine Joy Randolph.

One other thing to consider: For reasons that have never made sense to me, SAG Awards nom-com voting opens very early (on Nov. 14 this year) and runs for a very long time (through Dec. 8 this year), meaning that the nominations may reflect less a snapshot of the present moment than of where buzz and momentum were over the past month. In other words, late-breaking films that were totally shut out on Monday, such as 1917, Richard Jewell, Dark Waters and Little Women, may have been hindered by the calendar. As for others that were totally MIA — among them The Two Popes, The Farewell, Dolemite Is My Name, Downton Abbey, Honey Boy, Pain and Glory, A Hidden Life, Uncut Gems, Waves and The Peanut Butter Falcon — they have no such excuse.

SAG Awards final voting starts next Tuesday and will run through Jan. 17.