There can be no question that diversity was the story of the night at the 22nd Annual SAG Awards, especially in terms of the television wins which were dominated by Idris Elba and a host of African American television stars.
Certainly in light of all the controversy surrounding Oscar’s second year in a row of an all-white acting lineup, the SAG results this year will draw headlines as a direct comparison to what we are going to be seeing on Oscar night, even though the comparison is somewhat unfair as nearly all of these diverse winners came from the far more inclusive television side of things, and many such as Uzo Aduba, her show Orange Is The New Black and Viola Davis repeated their same SAG victories from last year. As Elba, who won Best Male Actor in a movie or mini for his series Luther, as well as Male Actor In a Supporting Role for the film Beasts Of No Nation, said when he came out later to present a clip from Beasts, “Welcome to diverse TV.” That was just about the only reference to the big story of recent days, one in which Elba was often mentioned as having been unfairly passed over for an Oscar nod for Beasts. He got sweet revenge with a SAG victory for the film in a category that did not include the Golden Globe, NBR and Critics’ Choice-winning Oscar frontrunner Sylvester Stallone who was passed over by SAG, perhaps because Creed wasn’t widely screened or even open when the ridiculously early balloting for SAG nominations began on November 18 and had to be returned by noon on Dec 7, two days before nominees were announced. Really is there such a need for SAG, whose balloting is conducted among separate TV and movie committees of 2,250 randomly chosen members, to start their nomination voting so early, when many late season films are just getting going? Why can’t they be content to announce when the three other major guilds do, right after the first of the year instead of the second week in December? There have been growing complaints about this timetable but I noticed it got louder this year where movies like The Hateful Eight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 45 Years, and Creed seemed disadvantaged by their release dates.
In terms of how well SAG’s results tonight will reflect — or affect — the Oscar races there is a very good chance the Guild’s results will match up with Oscar in all but Supporting Actor where Elba can’t repeat. The expected wins for Leonardo DiCaprio as Male Actor in The Revanant and Brie Larson as Female Actor in Room came in just as predicted. DiCaprio is about as certain as it gets in these things. SAG nominees Johnny Depp and Michael Fassbender didn’t even show up tonight. And though The Danish Girl’s Alicia Vikander was a bit more of a question mark, the SAG win as Female Supporting Actor gives her a big boost coming on the heels of her recent Critics’ Choice Awards win. And by the way I am no fashion maven, by any standard but her dress was also the winner of the night.
The bigger question on everyone’s mind is what does Spotlight’s Ensemble Cast win mean for its Oscar Best Picture chances? This was a must win for that Open Road indie as it was losing big momentum after losses at the Golden Globes and last week at the predictive Producers Guild Awards which haven’t been wrong in eight years and chose rival The Big Short, which really could have picked up speed with this SAG win. It wasn’t to be and the race for the Best Picture Oscar remains about as wide open as it has ever been at this point in the game.
Right from the beginning it was felt that if there was one award Spotlight could easily win, it was SAG’s Cast honor. This group is a true acting ensemble and the real life people they play are a true journalistic ensemble. However it seemed with its large big name cast and growing big ‘Mo The Big Short was capable of pulling off a mild upset. Both films sent DVD screeners to the entire SAG-AFTRA membership, which is well into six figures. So check this statistic out: With six, often predictive, groups having selected their “Best Picture” choices, six different movies lay claim to them. The National Board Of Review kicked things off with Mad Max: Fury Road, the New York Film Critics went for Carol, the Globes split their two Best Pic categories between The Revenant and The Martian, Critics’ Choice Awards went for Spotlight, and PGA was in The Big Short camp.
Now SAG has thrown a lifeline to Spotlight with a win for its cast, even though the guild repeatedly says they don’t look at it as a “Best Picture” prize. Pundits do, and SAG despite their crazy voting dates (final balloting spanned from December 16 through yesterday) has a pretty decent track record in foretelling the ways the Oscar winds may be blowing. With last night’s ACE Eddie wins for Mad Max in drama and Big Short in comedy the race continues to get even more muddled. Next weekend’s DGA awards are taking on even greater importance than usual where any one of those five nominees (Revenant, Mad Max, Big Short, Spotlight and even Martian’s Oscar-snubbed Ridley Scott) could win. There is a legitimate scenario for each.
As for the TV side of things , in addition to a fine showing for diversity, SAG often likes to hand the same prize year after year to the same people (consider Alec Baldwin’s eight wins for 30 Rock) and that habit continues with Kevin Spacey, Aduba, Davis and the Ensemble Cast awards to Orange Is The New Black and Downton Abbey all for the second year in a row (Abbey has actually won three of the last four years). SAG also tends to be a beat behind other awards shows including the Globes, Critics Choice and even Emmys in bringing fresh blood to their nominations and wins. Only newcomer Jeffrey Tambor in his first year for his transgender role in Transparent was able to break through and start a new streak for Male Actor in a Comedy Series. So, though SAG can be applauded for its diverse choices this year (which also included Queen Latifah’s Bessie win for Female Actor in a movie or mini), it may also be the comfort level of picking a winner and sticking with them season after season. Until turning over the title to Orange Is The New Black, ABC’s Modern Family had won that ensemble prize five years running. You get the idea.
And speaking of ABC, they were the only mainstream commercial network to score anything against Cable and the streamers with that Davis win for How To Get Away With Murder. Of course, pubcaster PBS hangs in there with Downton Abbey. But with three TV wins and its first on the movie side for Elba in Beasts Of No Nation, Netflix was the big company winner of the night for either movies or TV. That may be why we heard Ted Sarandos’ name mentioned more than God, who usually is the one who gets the most thank yous at these things. Not tonight.