With tight races for Best Ensemble and Lead Actress, suspense was running high before the pre-taped hourlong SAG Awards show Sunday night — at least for those insiders who did not hear leaks of Thursday’s real-time winners.
As it turns out, the SAG Awards and Oscars may not sync up as easily as last year, when all the Ensemble nominees went on to win Oscars, along with all the SAG acting winners — Renée Zellweger (“Judy”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), and Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”). This time, SAG was full of surprises that will shake up the Oscar race.
The evening’s big shocker was the double-whammy SAG Awards for not only the expected Best Male in a Leading Role winner Chadwick Boseman — but also his costar Viola Davis in the bigger-than-life, dazzling title role in Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Boseman gave the performance of his life, his last, as a driven musician in the film adaptation of August Wilson’s classic play. Boseman will likely go on to win the second posthumous Best Actor Oscar, after Peter Finch in “Network.” Both Davis and Supporting Actor winner Daniel Kaluuya honored Boseman in their thank you speeches.
After Davis’ sixth individual SAG Award win, what will happen at the Oscar Best Actress race is anyone’s guess. Davis, a hugely popular television, stage, and film star, beat out British chameleon Carey Mulligan for “Promising Young Woman” — which won the Critics Choice Award but missed out on a BAFTA nomination — as well as triumphing over two-time Best Actress SAG Award and Oscar-winner Frances McDormand in “Nomadland.” “Promising Young Woman” had been on a winning streak, as writer-director Emerald Fennell scored a DGA slot over Aaron Sorkin (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) and beat the Oscar-winning scribe at the WGAs for Original Screenplay.
Not in contention at the SAG Awards was Golden Globe winner Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) who could give Davis competition in the Oscar race to become the second African-American Best Actress winner after Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”).
Winning the coveted Best Ensemble award (Netflix’s third film win of the night), Sorkin’s agit-prop ’60s courtroom drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7″ beat Lee Isaac Chung’s challenger “Minari.” Both needed to recover lost ground from surging “Nomadland” and “Promising Young Woman.” “Trial” relies on Francine Maisler’s ensemble casting, from SAG-nominated Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, to vets Mark Rylance and Frank Langella, who accepted the prize, thanking Sorkin. “His loving direction turned a group of disparate actors into an ensemble,” he said. “We owe a vote of thanks to the voices of the Chicago 7 and most especially Aaron Sorkin, our leader, whose voice is the soul of this movie.”
The SAG Ensemble winner goes forward into Oscar voting April 15-20 with some much needed forward momentum to catch up with Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland.” The Oscar Best Picture frontrunner, filmed with a mainly non-pro cast, did not score the SAG Ensemble nomination that often comes before a Best Picture win, but could follow “The Shape of Water,” which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2018 without an Ensemble nod from SAG.
After “Minari” scored surprise SAG Award nods for Best Actor (Steven Yeun) and Supporting Actress (Youn Yuh-jung) that were validated by the Academy actors branch, it was no surprise that veteran Korean movie star Youn won the award for her comedic and moving performance as the grandmother in “Minari,” which should repeat at the Oscars. Young discoveries Maria Bakalova in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” and Helena Zengel (“News of the World”) had to settle for nominations.
Unlike the Oscars, Kaluuya — who knew he won the SAG Award by the time he did the “SNL” hosting gig this week — did not have to compete with his “Judas and the Black Messiah” co-star LaKeith Stanfield as the man who betrayed Fred Hampton to the FBI in 1968. Kaluuya’s channeling of the slain Illinois Black Panther chairman beat out Baron Cohen’s entertaining Abbie Hoffman and “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr. as ’60s music legend Sam Cooke. Kaluuya follows up his SAG and Oscar nominations for “Get Out” and goes into the BAFTAs next week and the Oscar voting period with a full head of steam.
For the first time, all of the SAG Awards acting categories went to people of color. If Davis, Boseman, Kaluuya, and Youn repeat at the Oscars, it would be the most diverse group of acting winners in history.
Hollywood treats SAG Award winners as Oscar-race bellwethers — after all, the Academy did rubber stamp last year’s popular SAG Ensemble winner “Parasite.” This trimmed-back awards show gave us a peek into actors’ homes with no theater, hosts, or red carpet, as some of the nominees submitted to interviews (which Oscar producers are also asking of their nominees) and presented awards. Now we know that Cynthia Erivo can ride a horse and Helen Mirren cannot, that Jimmy Fallon plays the harmonica, Sterling K. Brown can juggle, and that Mary Steenburgen drives husband Ted Danson crazy with her accordion.
SAG voters tend to be more mainstream than Oscar voters, but we now have a better idea which way the winds are blowing.
Best Film Ensemble
“The Trial of the Chicago 7”
Best Female in a Leading Role
Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
Best Male in a Leading Role
Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
Best Film Supporting Actress
Youn Yuh-Jung (“Minari”)
Best Film Supporting Actor
Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)