For the past several years I have written a variation of this column that almost always pairs an analysis of potential SAG Awards and Golden Globe nominees, as well as throwing in some speculation about the way winds are blowing with the often very predictive Critics Choice Awards (I am a member). All three of these groups traffic in movie and television categories and can be right more often than they are wrong. They also serve as kind of a roadmap for Oscar voters, whose chance to fill out their ballots comes much later down the line in the seemingly endless awards season.
Well, things are going to be a little different this year because the Golden Globes are a non-starter, their NBC telecast and show were canceled in light of scandals within the organization and a dictum to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to get its act together. In what looks like an unsportsmanlike move, the group announced — after first indicating they were going to focus on getting their house in order rather than handing out statuettes, that they will indeed somehow name winners of the Golden Globes on January 9. That’s the same night Critics Choice announced back in May for its glitzy televised show (on The CW and TBS this year). And all of this comes after many publicists and studios publicly rebuked Globes organizers. We’ll see how all that goes down, and in what form, but it is clear the Globes will likely be far less influential in this race as potential nominees and winners might want to look the other way rather than be seen endorsing a group still struggling to right its own ship. In other words, embracing a win or nomination for a Golden Globe, usually a must-stop on the circuit, can be a much more slippery slope than usual. Uncharted territory.
All this means is that the Screen Actors Guild Awards and Critics Choice loom even larger than they ever have in terms of being a genuine Oscar bellwether, even though the pandemic-affected 2021 virtual ceremonies for both did not deliver their usual strong correlation with eventual Oscar winners. SAG’s film awards only matched Oscar in the supporting categories (Yuh Jung Youn, Daniel Kaluuya) and missed the Academy’s choices of Anthony Hopkins, Frances McDormand and Nomadland by anointing Netflix with wins for Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis and the cast of The Trial of the Chicago 7 (SAG’s version of Best Picture). SAG will be looking for a comeback in line with 2019, when it went 5-for-5 with Oscar. SAG nominees are chosen by separate randomly selected committees of 2,500 members for movies and TV.
So what can we expect in terms of front-runners at the all-important SAG Film nominations when they are announced on January 12? Count on King Richard’s Will Smith as a certainty in the Lead Actor category for his towering portrayal of Richard Williams, the man behind the tennis dynasty of his daughters Venus and Serena. His closest competition is likely to come from Benedict Cumberbatch as the mean-spirited but fascinating and complex cowboy in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog. Immediately after its AFI fest premiere, Andrew Garfield in tick, tick…Boom! (named today for the Actor award at Palm Springs International Film Festival) shot up the list and seems certain for a nomination. He has real momentum.
They are the top three at press time, but Leonardo DiCaprio in Don’t Look Up can’t be counted out, and Bradley Cooper’s performance in Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley could be a late-breaking factor as it was first seen last night and is generating lots of noise as possibly his best ever. Below that tier, don’t forget Denzel Washington, especially doing Shakespeare in The Tragedy of Macbeth. Actors love the Bard. If MGM mounts a big campaign, I would say Cyrano’s Peter Dinklage is one to watch in a role that won Jose Ferrer an Oscar in 1950 and later earned Gerard Depardieu his only Oscar nomination. Javier Bardem’s dead-on portrayal of Desi Arnaz in Being the Ricardos is a certain contender, especially since actors seem to love it when actors play other actors. Depending on the campaign, there could be some real love for Nicolas Cage in his critically acclaimed turn in the indie Pig, or for Adam Driver, who is turning up everywhere this year but especially in his role as the doomed husband in House of Gucci. Simon Rex came out of nowhere to wow in Red Rocket, and he could be lifted by attention from SAG and/or Critics Choice for his unhinged comic performance, though comedy always has a hard time impressing voters and is one category that benefits from the usual Globes hoopla where drama and comedy/musical is separated.
Also, in the indie vein, Clifton Collins Jr. broke out of the gate early at Sundance in Jockey and will get renewed attention as the film finally opens at the very end of the year. It is the kind of portrayal from an overdue indie veteran that actors might want to recognize. Matt Damon in Stillwater is a summer performance that SAG could bring back into contention or, if the love continues to build, 11-year-old Jude Hill as the irresistible Buddy in Belfast could melt enough hearts to win that rare nod for a kid. The well-liked Joaquin Phoenix in C’mon C’mon, Oscar Isaac in The Card Counter, and Mahershala Ali in the upcoming Swan Song also are popping up here and there but probably are dark horses this time around as those movies are smaller and don’t have the big campaigns yet, or so it seems.
On the female lead side, the competition is fierce with Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball, Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana, Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Baker and Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin all angling to gain attention playing real-life celebrities. Throw in Lady Gaga for playing a real-life murderous Italian socialite in House of Gucci, and you have quite a reality list. Holding the flag for playing fictional characters are Oscar winners Olivia Colman — so great in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter — and Penelope Cruz, who is excellent in Parallel Mothers even if SAG in particular rarely acknowledges foreign-language performances (that Cast award for Parasite aside).
Alana Haim made such a dazzling debut in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza that she could gain traction against this murderer’s row of female contenders. Three-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand playing Lady Macbeth sounds irresistible, but the role really belongs in supporting. West Side Story,finally which just premiered after a yearlong Covid delay, has newcomer Rachel Zegler as Maria, the role that didn’t land Natalie Wood a nomination in 1961, but Zegler does her own singing, so there. She has impressed critics in the early reaction. The long list of contenders also includes the just-unveiled Sandra Bullock in a strong dramatic turn in The Unforgivable, Tessa Thompson in Passing, Halle Berry directing herself in the MMA drama Bruised and the divine Emilia Jones in CODA.
Supporting categories are equally crowded. Count on Ciarán Hinds and Jamie Dornan in Belfast, Jared Leto’s out-there turn in House of Gucci as well as Al Pacino’s, J.K. Simmons as William Frawley in Being the Ricardos, and Troy Kotsur in CODA. Ben Affleck could be a front-runner for his wonderful turn in George Clooney’s The Tender Bar, as could veteran Richard Jenkins in The Humans or either Jason Isaacs and Reed Birney in the intense Mass. And don’t discount the haunting Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog, Jonah Hill or Mark Rylance in Don’t Look Up or David Strathairn in Nightmare Alley. If Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch can make a dent, Jeffrey Wright would be the beneficiary. West Side Story offers up David Alvarez as Bernardo, the role that won George Chakiris an Oscar, but I would bet equally or even more on the Riff of Mike Faist, who really explodes in this version.
On the female supporting side, Kirsten Dunst has her first real shot at a nomination for The Power of the Dog and has killer competition from both Caitríona Balfe and Judi Dench in Belfast, and Marlee Matlin in CODA. Cate Blanchett proves she was born for noir in Nightmare Alley, so put her high on the list of possibilities. Count in also Ruth Negga in Passing, Aunjanue Ellis in King Richard, Ann Dowd and Martha Plimpton in Mass, and Ariana DeBose as Anita in West Side Story — the same role that won Rita Moreno an Oscar in this category 60 years ago. Can lightning strike twice there? SAG Awards weren’t around in 1961, but we will look to SAG to give us a clue about this Anita. Interestingly, Moreno herself this week became an instant contender for her new role of Valentina in the 2021 remake, with immediate buzz about her performance where she even gets to sing one of the show’s signature songs, “Somewhere.”
There is an intriguing second tier of contenders here too, including Meryl Streep in Don’t Look Up. I would also add the magnificent Nina Arianda for her brilliant Vivian Vance in Being the Ricardos and Lily Rabe in The Tender Bar. And of course, McDormand if voters deem her Lady Macbeth more supporting than leading.
Some regard the SAG Cast category honoring ensembles as their version of Best Picture, but it isn’t always so. My guess is CODA, Belfast, West Side Story, Being the Ricardos, The Power of the Dog, tick, tick…BOOM!, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Harder They Fall, and House of Gucci or even Dune could be strong contenders here, but we shall see. Hey SAG committee, have you seen The Humans?
After a slow awards season for movies last year, this one seems to be roaring back. As for the TV side of things. SAG often seems to be following, with Critics Choice (and the Globes, when they are a factor) leading in terms of Emmy influence. Last year, Emmy darling Ted Lasso scored at SAG with a Comedy Actor win for Jason Sudeikis, but otherwise it was a big night for Schitt’s Creek and The Crown. I am predicting, however, that SAG will follow the pattern of taking the Emmys’ lead with Ted Lasso, Hacks, The Flight Attendant and Mare of Easttown all scoring major love in nominations, with the former three scoring strong in the cast ensemble comedy category as well.
The one new show too late for Emmys that could really find attention is The White Lotus, the breakout limited series on HBO. The series seems destined to finally land Jennifer Coolidge in a number of winner’s circles, certainly at SAG and Critics Choice for starters, all leading eventually to Emmys. Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building with Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez, is well-liked, and I think after a year off, Apple TV+’s The Morning Show will be back in a big way at SAG, where Jennifer Aniston pulled off a surprise win two years ago. She, Reese Witherspoon, Juliana Margulies, Steve Carell and Billy Crudup look to land major attention. Reaction to Netflix’s runaway sensation Squid Game could be something to watch in these noms as well.
The same will be true for the third season of HBO’s Succession, which should spell success for Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong as well as its superb supporting cast (both are front-runners in the Drama Series Cast category too). SAG doesn’t draw a line between individual comedy, drama and limited series lead and supporting acting contenders, so lumping them all together can get very interesting. Whether FX’s limited series American Crime Story: Impeachment gets a look-see remains a big question as that show didn’t get the watercooler treatment initially thought, but, for starters, how do you deny Sarah Paulson’s Linda Tripp?
A variation of this story also appears in Deadline’s Oscar Preview digital edition, but has been heavily updated here as more contenders have been seen since press time for that publication.
The race, as they say, is on.
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