Usually the SAG Awards are good for one or two out-of-left-field nominees in its movie competition, and you could say Emily Blunt’s double score for Lead Actress in Mary Poppins Returns and Supporting Actress in A Quiet Place might qualify.
Both are well-deserved, but few were predicting the latter, especially in a category that omitted more obvious choices such as Nicole Kidman; Claire Foy; and especially If Beale Street Could Talk’s Regina King, who has been cleaning up on the critics circuit. She was shut out along with her movie today, perhaps in favor of another, less-speculated contender, Margot Robbie in Mary Queen of Scots, along with Blunt’s brilliant near-silent turn in A Quiet Place. Two years ago, Blunt also scored a stunner with SAG by gaining a Best Actress nomination for The Girl on the Train, which was the only major recognition she got for that role awards-wise.
Beyond the shakeup in the uber-competitive Supporting Actress race, the big news from SAG was the continuing strong move toward diversity in the Outstanding Cast category, which in the past few years has honored movies including The Help and Hidden Figures with big wins (last year it went to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). This time around SAG not only welcomed the largely all-black cast of Black Panther but also Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and the first all Asian-American cast from a studio film in 25 years, Crazy Rich Asians. Add in the unexpected entrant here, Bohemian Rhapsody — which, in addition to its expected Best Actor nom for Rami Malek as Queen singer Freddie Mercury, also brought along its whole cast in a significant move that could portend a bigger showing at the Oscars than some might have thought. After all, actors are the biggest voting bloc in the Academy by far, and they have certainly embraced the musical biopic here, and movies with a heavy musical component in general, if you throw in A Star Is Born and Mary Poppins Returns.
A Star Is Born’s inclusion for Cast was a no-brainer, and with four nominations overallm it predictably led all films this year and might be a nominal front-runner in what is still continuing to be a wide-open race this awards season. Panther’s nom, its only mention other than for Stunt Ensemble, reps a breakthrough for superhero movies and wouldn’t be a shocker to see its landmark cast onstage January 27th at the Shrine, when the winners are announced. Here’s an interesting point to make – and you can bet pundits will because we always do: Only two movies have gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar without at least being nominated for SAG Outstanding Cast: Braveheart in 1995 and last year’s The Shape of Water, which many thought at the time spelled doom for Guillermo del Toro’s unique love story but obviously didn’t. For a few minutes the year before, we also thought La La Land had broken the SAG un-nominated Cast curse, but you know what happened there. Consider the fact that such presumed Oscar favorites as Green Book, The Favourite, Vice, Mary Poppins Returns, Roma and If Beale Street Could Talk are among those missing in action in the Cast category, and it certainly adds intrigue to the race.
The first four mentioned all got expected nominations in the individual acting categories (and Green Book is essentially a two-hander, so its Cast omission is not a shock), but the latter two were completely shut out by the actors, not a great sign. In Roma’s case, it had two strikes against it as it was foreign language and those films never do well with SAG, and it has a largely non-professional cast which is likely another drawback for a union of actors who have struggled for years to hone their craft. I am not sure how the Netflix factor figured into this, as the streamer didn’t score any significant mentions for its movies other than Stunt Ensemble for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Predictably Netflix scored big on the TV side of things.
Among other omissions, First Man’s Ryan Gosling and his co-star Foy were lost in space on the SAG list, as was another first, First Reformed. Its star Ethan Hawke — winner at Gothams, NYFCC, LAFC and a Critic Choice nominee — failed to register in the first big test with his peers. Willem Dafoe’s Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate was another overlooked performance that should have been a contender. John David Washington, whose father Denzel was a nominee last year and a first-time SAG winner the previous year for Fences, is emerging as a strong possibility to make the Oscar cut as well for BlacKkKlansman, now adding SAG noms to his Golden Globe nomination last week.
The list of MIAs for Lead Actresses is too long to get into, but there is only so much room. The same is true for Supporting Actor, which has all the expected names — Mahershala Ali, Timothée Chalamet, Adam Driver, Sam Elliott, Richard E. Grant — in contention. Overall, this is one of the toughest SAG movie years that I have ever seen. Usually you can spot a solid can’t-miss front-runner in most of the categories, but I would say the suspense will be higher than usual this year. No one is a slam dunk. Perhaps the picture will be clearer by the time we get to the actual show at the end of next month, but don’t count on it.
The SAG nominations are voted on by roughly 2,200 randomly chosen members, but the finals are open to the entire SAG-AFTRA union. For those who didn’t make the cut on the movie side, take heart: There usually is at least one difference in each category between SAG and eventual Oscar nominees. Last year two of the five Cast nominees (The Big Sick, Mudbound) did not go on to Best Picture nominations, and 25% of SAG nominees failed to make the cut in Oscar’s corresponding acting categories. The previous year three SAG nominees missed the cut with Oscar. Still it is, as they say, nicer to be nominated than not. Congrats to all who were today.