Well, tonight’s the night for the second leg in the triple crown of the movie awards’ season: the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) Awards. These awards are given to – and voted on by – those actors who are members of SAG-AFTRA acting union. Awards are issued in both movie and television categories, with Best Ensemble Cast prizes given in films as well as Television-Drama and Television-Comedy.
The SAG Best Ensemble in a Film prize has dovetailed with the film that ultimately won the Best Picture Oscar several times. There are three notable instances when the SAG Ensemble prize predicted a Best Picture winner that had not previously been front-and-center on the Oscar radar that season: “Shakespeare in Love,” “The King’s Speech,” and “Crash.” The SAG ensemble prize tends to be given to the film that is the most “acty.” Rarely does the prize go to an action or effects-heavy pic, although “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” did pick up the prize for 2003 and would go on to nail the Best Picture Oscar. To be fair, though, LOTR did have a cast of roughly 12 million (so if everybody voted for themselves…), so it was not entirely outside the bounds of logic to think it might win. When “Shakespeare” won for 1998, though, it was a true surprise. The Monday morning quarterbacking at the time proffered that, since it had a large cast - including lots of Brits - and a female-centric story, it stood a better chance with SAG than “Saving Private Ryan,” the Spielberg testosterone-fest that was the Best Pic shoo-in. But “Shakespeare” carried its momentum all the way home. In one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history, “Shakespeare in Love” stole the Best Picture prize from “Ryan.” People then started paying attention to the SAG Awards not merely as additional trophy candy but as true harbingers of the Oscar results to come.
When the Best Ensemble SAG went to “Gosford Park” for 2000 and to “Traffic” the following year, but the Best Picture Oscars went to favorites “Gladiator” and “A Beautiful Mind,” the talk of SAG as prognosticator extraordinaire died down a bit. Such chatter was resuscitated exponentially, though, when “Crash” won the Best Ensemble at the SAGs and went on, in another of Oscar’s great upsets, to snag the Best Picture Oscar away from the heavily favored “Brokeback Mountain.” This “Crash Factor” still shadows the SAG Awards; four years ago, “The Social Network” was at least modestly favored to win both the Best Ensemble and the Best Picture Oscar, but it garnered neither. “The King’s Speech” picked up both prizes. Crash Factor, some speculated.
In recent years, the SAG Award for Best Ensemble has gone to films such as “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Help,” “Inglourious Basterds,” and last year’s “American Hustle.” In the case of both ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Hustle,’ the wins sparked buzz that those films were gaining significant ground in Oscar’s Best Pic race. However close they may – or may not – have come, neither nailed down that elusive top Oscar. Such will be the case this year, as well.
My pick for Best Ensemble Cast in a Film goes to the 9-time Oscar nominated “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” First, it’s a quirky, Wes Anderson-directed confection containing winning work from a last cast of well-knowns, including Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Adrian Brody, Willem Dafoe, F. Murray Abraham, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, and Jude Law. Second, it’s the kind of strange, well-received, come-from-behind boutique project that everyone wishes they’d have been a part of. Third, it’s a truly great ensemble and, although Fiennes is the decided “lead,” there is plenty for everybody to chew on. Finally, it is a worthy recipient.
It’s not an easy call; the other four nominees in the Ensemble category this year are valid contenders (“Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything”). Further, each of them has two or more individuals nominated in the acting categories, while “Budapest” has no one singled out. Still, while “Boyhood” or “Birdman” or “The Imitation Game” is the likely Oscar victor (with the non-SAG-nominated “American Sniper” replacing “Budapest” in the role of current spoiler), look for the cast of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” to be the last ones to leave the stage tonight at the Shrine Exposition Center.
In the Best Acting film prizes, I see no surprises this year. I think Michael Keaton, Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons, and Patricia Arquette will bring down the trophies one-two-three-four just like they did at The Golden Globes, just like they did at most critics’ groups soirees this year, and just like they will do at the Oscars next month.
As for television, the SAG folks - just like their counterparts at the Emmys – often are stuck in a year-after-year rut when it comes to the TV awards. In the Best TV Ensemble – Drama category, “House of Cards” is the only new member to the crew, replacing last year’s winner, “Breaking Bad.” “Game of Thrones,” “Homeland,” and “Downton Abbey” are each on Nomination #3, with the PBS drama the only past winner; it took the prize two years ago. HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” is enjoying nomination #5; the two-time winner of the prize has wrapped up its run, so a goodbye prize is possible. Still, I’m torn between “Homeland” and “Downton.” I think they’ll give it to “Homeland,” which is why I’m guessing a win for “Downton.” So I’m pretty sure it will wind up with “Boardwalk.”
On the comedy side, “Modern Family” has taken home the prize four years in a row. The last sitcom to win an Ensemble SAG Award was “Glee.” This year marks the sixth nomination for “Family” and it is up against returning noms “The Big Bang Theory” (Nomination #4) and “Veep” (Nomination #2) alongside newcomers “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Orange is the New Black.” As much buzz as “Orange” has, I’m going with the theory that there is nothing more consistent than consistency; “Modern Family” picks up #5.
For the individual television performers, I’m liking a Kevin Spacey/Maggie Smith pairing on the Drama Side, with William H. Macy and Uzo Aduba shaking up Comedy World. And, in the TV movie or miniseries categories, I’m saying ‘yes’ to Billy Bob Thornton and Frances McDormand. As for the Stunt Ensembles, I’m picking “Fury” on the film side and “Sons of Anarchy” on the TV side; they both sound very angry and in need of a lot of stunts.
So there they are…the SAG picks. Tune in to TBS and TNT at 8:00pm Eastern tonight (January 25) to check the winners and watch Debbie Reynolds pick up her Life Achievement Award.Share on Twitter Share on Facebook