E: Coming as they do mere days after the Oscar nominees are announced, the Screen Actors Guild Awards assume a particular significance. The Golden Globes let us know early who the favorites in a given race are; perhaps more than anything else, they shape the nominations. SAG, however, winnows those nominees down to winners. Sure there’ll be another 3 weeks before the Oscars, but it could be just time wasting (or time to see the nominees you’ve missed) in terms of the winners. If Oscar is a popularity contest, SAG really lets us know who the popular kids are (especially since actors are the biggest branch of the Academy). When it comes to the movie awards, there aren’t a lot of categories where there’s any doubt as to the winners. But those categories? Well, they’re pretty interesting ones, and they are very much worth a bit of discussion.
For the obvious, we have Christopher Plummer (supporting actor), George Clooney (lead actor) and Octavia Spencer (supporting actress). It’s not outside the realm of possibility that someone might insert themselves between those actors and SAG’s Actor award, but it’s not very likely. And that, of course, takes up most of the movie award time.
The biggest award, the one analogous with Oscar’s Best Picture, is SAG’s Best Ensemble award. Often this award matches up with best picture, but it’s not a precise equivalent; it favors smaller movies with showy casts rather the occasional epic which depends more on the story than the actors telling it. That explains the presence of Bridesmaids on their shortlist rather than, say War Horse. This year’s fight is between the two Golden Globe Best Picture winners – the comedy, The Artist, and the drama, The Descendants. Both film are lovely. But as Mr. E likes to say, The Artist is something clever; you appreciate the recreation, the little tweaks of the genre, the references to great old movies, the balls it took to pull the whole thing off. You appreciate it, but you don’t swoon. The Descendants, on the other hand, made me fall in love with its characters and its small moments, its humor and its reality. The Artist has been pegged as the frontrunner for months; if there’s any shot it can be beat, it will happen here. This is where The King’s Speech became inevitable last year, politely stepping over The Social Network‘s shocked and bloodied body.
Am I overstating that a bit? Sorry.
Now, Best Ensemble definitely interests me, but I’m not tremendously hopeful that The Descendants can pull the upset. Where I do get unreasonably hopeful, however, is Best Actress.
I like Viola Davis, don’t get me wrong. And I really liked The Help. But what Meryl Streep does in The Iron Lady? I can’t honestly imagine anyone watching both movies and failing to see the difference. Truthfully, the only actress that comes close to what Streep achieves here is Michelle Williams, who plays the easily imitated but difficult not to caricature Marilyn Monroe. How funny would it be if we were all so distracted by the Meryl/Viola showdown that Williams managed to sneak the win, like Adrian Brody did when everyone was expecting either Daniel Day Lewis or Jack Nicholson?. (NB – Day Lewis was in a Scorsese historical drama and Nicholson in a Payne tragicomedy. Huh.)
Flights of fancy aside, I’ve seen these performances, and Meryl Streep deserves this win. Davis (and Williams, for that matter) were wonderful; I enjoyed their performances and their movies. But for nearly thirty years, the Academy has been unwilling to award Meryl that third Oscar. Perhaps she’s just judged on a different level than everyone else. Perhaps no one wants her to tie Katherine Hepburn’s record of 3 wins. Perhaps no one remembers she hasn’t won since before Rooney Mara was a twinkle in her mother’s eye. I don’t know. I can’t explain it. And this year the disconnect is harder to explain than ever. Meryl Streep is just better than the rest of the field. She just is. Her Margaret Thatcher will leave you speechless; even for Meryl Streep, it’s an extraordinary achievement.
That said, Davis probably still wins. I’ve come to realize that whenever the prognosticators tell you “it’s Meryl Streep v. X” you can always count on X to win. And it’ll be nice to have that very popular movie, nicely made rewarded, it’ll be nice to have diversity among the winners, and it’ll be nice to see a terrific character actress rewarded. But because of Streep’s Golden Globe win, I can’t help hoping a little. More than her win, even, was the thunderous applause she received, and the standing ovation – a response not evoked by any other acting winner. Could it be that people are finally realizing how crazy it is to keep nominating and then ignoring her? The Red Sox fan in me can’t help but hope, even when I know there’s every reason against it.
If Davis wins, the Oscar will be almost inescapably hers. If Meryl or Michelle wins, it’ll continue to be a debate.
Now, if as expected, Clooney wins, expect humor in his speech, with a lot of good-natured ribbing of director Payne and pal Brad Pitt. Plummer will be modest and gracious and articulate (of course he will! he’s a Canadian!). Spencer will be emotional and sweet and possibly sassy. Should she win, Williams will gracefully thank her daughter. If she wins, Streep will blow you away with how funny and generous and smart she is, and she’ll talk about up and coming actors (who will probably weep copiously in the audience) and cinema’s ability to really affect people and be truthful. Viola Davis, on the other hand, is an unknown quantity. She did win the Broadcast Critics Best Actress this year, but if that event was televised, I missed it.
It’ll be really interesting to see how it turns out! I’m curious, too, about the TV awards; since Homeland (which won big at the Golden Globes) isn’t nominated, there could be some flexibility among the winners. Can Juliana Margulies take home another win? You know that’s what I’ll be hoping for!