SAG and PGA Awards 2020: What the ‘Parasite’ and ‘1917’ Wins Mean for a Tight Oscar Race

After this weekend's SAG, PGA, and Eddie Awards, "Parasite" and "1917" each picked up momentum, while "The Irishman" lost it.
Park So-dam, Lee Sun Gyun, Choi Woo-shik, Lee Jeong-eun, Kang-Ho Song. Park So-dam, from left, Lee Sun Gyun, Choi Woo-shik, Lee Jeong-eun and Kang-Ho Song accept the award for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture for "Parasite" at the 26th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall, in Los Angeles26th Annual SAG Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Jan 2020
Park So-dam, Lee Sun Gyun, Choi Woo-shik, Lee Jeong-eun, Kang-Ho Song winning the 2020 SAG Award for Best Ensemble
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

With a surprise “Parasite” win for Cast in a Motion Picture, the SAG Awards forecast a dramatic and possibly historic race for the Best Picture Oscar.

Last year, “Black Panther” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” picked up momentum after key SAG Awards wins, while “Vice” and “A Star Is Born” lost it. This year, after their charming and make-nice speeches, the four SAG film acting winners, Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), Renee Zellweger (“Judy”), Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”) and Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) are on a straight course to win on Oscar night.

Other frontrunners are also starting to become clear as various guild votes come in. But winning your Oscar poll will not be easy thanks to the preferential ballot and a rapidly changing membership. The 120,000 SAG-AFTRA voters, who tend to be more mainstream than the Academy, enthusiastically backed “Parasite.” The die was cast early in the evening, when the cast led by a grinning Song Kang Ho took the stage to introduce their film — and were met with a standing ovation. So when they won the top prize at the end of the night as the crowd cheered on their feet, Oscar watchers started to ask if the same could repeat February 9.

Brad Pitt accepts the award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a supporting role for "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" at the 26th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall, in Los Angeles26th Annual SAG Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Jan 2020
Brad Pitt at the 2020 SAG AwardsChris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Goodwill and excitement around the movie is palpable. People who fight bitterly over Todd Phillips’ “Joker” (which leads the Oscar field with 11 nominations and may have to settle for wins for Actor and Score) and three movies with 10 nods each — Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” (which could wind up with nothing), Sam Mendes’ one-shot tech feat “1917,” and Quentin Tarantino’s elegiac show business fable “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” — are cheering every “Parasite” win.

“Parasite” could make Academy history as the first international feature film to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar. The first foreign-language film to win the Best Cast SAG Award is impeccably mounted, accessible, universal, hilarious, and tragic. 

SAG nominations are often seen as an Oscar bellwether; actors are the Academy’s largest branch, and dominate the votes. However, in recent years SAG nominations haven’t overlapped with the Oscar race that much. Only 11 of the 24 previous SAG ensembles won Best Picture. Last year “A Star Is Born,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “BlacKkKlansman” could have used some forward momentum for their bids by winning SAG Ensemble. But the winner was the 12-member cast of “Black Panther” who, like “Parasite,” were denied acting Oscar nods. “Black Panther” wound up winning three tech Oscars, for Costume Design, Production Design and Score, while the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner “Green Book” took home the SAG Supporting Actor award for Mahershala Ali, the eventual Oscar-winner; the movie wasn’t nominated for Ensemble.

Last year, eventual Supporting Actress Oscar winner Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) wasn’t even in the running for a SAG Award, while SAG-winner Emily Blunt (“A Quiet Place”) wasn’t nominated for the Oscar at all. Golden Globe winner Olivia Colman lost the SAG Actress award, as she did at the Critics’ Choice Awards, to Glenn Close for “The Wife.” But Colman prevailed at BAFTA and the Oscars.

The SAG Stunt Ensemble prize won by “Avengers: Endgame” could presage some tech wins on Oscar night.

George MacKay as Schofield in "1917," the new epic from Oscar®-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes.
“1917”Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Nevertheless, this big win gives momentum to “Parasite” while “The Irishman” loses steam. It saw losses for both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci (SAG tributee Robert De Niro was overlooked by both SAG and the Academy actors branch), and may have to settle for an Oscar editing win. Both “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” are hampered by Netflix’s lack of theatrical distribution muscle; they had short-term, limited arthouse releases.

Friday night’s ACE Eddie awards also marked a big win for “Parasite,” which took drama, while “Jojo Rabbit” won comedy. ACE has long forecast the Academy Award for editing: “Parasite” editor Jinmo Yang now becomes the Oscar favorite, beating three-time Oscar winner Thelma Schoonmaker’s work on “The Irishman.” Neither Best Picture Oscar contenders “1917” nor “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” scored Oscar editing nods.

“Parasite” offers another statistical advantage: no film has ever won Best Picture without an editing or an acting nomination. “1917,” like Best-Picture winner “Birdman,” lacks an editing nod because it is a one-take movie. And the late-breaking drama Globe-winner’s young, unknown leads were also not included in the SAG or Oscar acting races. “1917” will look to build its Oscar momentum after Saturday’s key PGA win with more wins at BAFTA — Mendes’ home turf — and the DGA next weekend.

The PGA winner lines up with the Best Picture Oscar most consistently. The last time a movie won both the PGA and Golden Globe Drama, and didn’t win Best Picture, was “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005. While some compare “Parasite” with “Slumdog Millionaire,” Ang Lee’s gay romance had all the signs of a Best Picture winner. But too many of the Academy’s largely male voters were uncomfortable with making that their pick and went with “Crash.”

We have come a long way since then, and a more diverse Academy may be willing to go all the way with “Parasite.” But it may be denied Best Picture for the same reason all the foreign-language Best Picture nominees have been denied in the past: They win their own category. My bet is that, like Ang Lee in 2005, Bong Joon Ho takes Best Director and not Picture, which could go to “1917.”

Or, it could go the other way around. Remember, the Best Picture Oscar is about Hollywood putting its best foot forward, and representing itself to the world with the best possible combination of popular zeitgeist hit and high-minded art. Tarantino’s comedy “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” needed more acting support to be a robust Best Picture contender. The Academy loves to send a self-congratulatory message, from “Moonlight” and “Hurt Locker” to “12 Years a Slave,” and both “1917” and “Parasite” fit the bill.

Unlike Netflix’s foreign-language contender “Roma,” which lost the top Oscar prize to “Green Book,” “Parasite” is a robust, mainstream box-office hit with $132 million and counting worldwide. Given that the Academy estimates that its international members are up to 20 percent — and they are likely to have seen the movie, no matter where they live — expect more surprises on Oscar night.

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