Gearing Up for the Rodeo: SAG Awards Preview 2016

E: Saturday night the Screen Actors Guild and it’s 160,000 members weigh in on the year’s best films.  Their choices are a little quirky, and this year unusually distinct from Oscar’s slate.

In some categories, the show will merely confirm what we know: Room‘s Brie Larson and The Revenant‘s Leonardo DiCaprio ought to lock in their frontrunner status by winning the lead acting races.  DiCaprio seems like the biggest lock in the bunch; most pundits agree that if Larson were to lose, it’d be to Brooklyn‘s glorious Saorise Ronan, but Larson just doesn’t seem to lose.  Critics Choice winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) will either cement herself as the frontrunner, It Girl and likely supporting actress Oscar winner, or fall victim to Carol‘s Rooney Mara or Steve Jobs‘ Globe winning Kate Winslet.  I think she’ll triumph, but it will certainly be interesting to find out.

Then on the other hand, there are the more confusing races, the first of which is supporting actor. Sylvester Stallone, who has so far accepted the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice to riotous applause, isn’t actually nominated in supporting actor.  Will respected theater and TV alum Mark Rylance take the prize?  SAG likes him so much they nominated him twice, both for supporting actor and for his role in the television drama Wolf Hall.  Or will the SAG membership seek to prove they’re no white Academy and choose the also twice-nominated Idris Elba (Luther) instead?  We know they liked his film Beast of No Nation, and since voting only closes Friday the 29th, the membership has had ample time to rally around Elba as a great opportunity to right a wrong.  Of course Elba was famously snubbed for the Oscar, so that’s probably still Stallone’s to lose, but with SAG, it’s up in the air.  Even Christian Bale could win for his oddball turn as a visionary fund manager in The Big Short; his film is in contention for the win, and many pundits guess that might put him over the edge.

It’s Ensemble (SAG’s Best Picture equivalent) where the real confusion comes in, however, and this is in part because there are only two films (The Big Short and Spotlight) which overlap between SAG and Oscar.  The thing about awards season in Hollywood that you have to know is that nobody likes backing a loser; that’s why the same films tend to be nominated everywhere.  That’s what people mean by “buzz” and “momentum” — they mean groupthink.  This year, for whatever reason (and some of it might be weird subverted racial bias stuff) the groupthink is just not being groupthunk, especially with this list. Neither of the two Golden Globe winning films, The Revenant and The Martian, are up for the big prize.  Critical and festival favorite Spotlight seemed to have the edge, especially when it was one of two overlapping films between SAG and the Hollywood Foreign Press list; it’s smart, its impeccably made and acted, and tells an inspiring story of ordinary people telling truth to power and making an enormous change in our world because of what they discovered.  And then it lost the Globe.  It did pick up the Critics Choice, but the Broadcast Film Critics don’t overlap much with Oscar; it’s the guilds turn to tell who the industry, and not the critics, prefer. Accordingly, the Producers Guild made their choice, and it was The Big Short.  So does that mean that The Big Short is the winner?  I’m not so sure it’s that satisfying a narrative.  After all, what it boils down to is white guys making money off the white guys who cheated America and almost destroyed the world economy.   Not crusading against the frauds, but profiting from their overweening pride and foolish avarice.  It’s relevant, and does a great job of breaking down the mortgage crisis into layman’s terms, but it’s not exactly either classic entertainment or inspirational.  Oh, yay, let’s watch these guys get rich because they saw in advanced that the average person was going to be royally screwed!  As far as I’m concerned, anyone who finds it inspirational is part of the problem, part of the entrenched system of privilege.

Most pundits discount African child soldier drama Beasts of No Nation, NWA music biopic Straight Outta Compton and Hollywood blacklist story Trumbo because they haven’t made any other precursor list and because none of them has been nominated for Oscar; I’m not so sure this is safe to do, especially in the year of #Oscarssowhite.  I think it’s entirely possible we could get a protest vote for Beasts or Compton.  If either Spotlight or The Big Short wins, however, they’ll certainly be annointed the favorite and frontrunner — at least until the BAFTA awards air on Valentine’s Day.  You can bet I’ll be tuning into the results here with particularly rapt attention.

So don’t forget to tune in at 8 Saturday night (Eastern Standard Time) on TBS or TNT, and find out who the Actor goes to.  There’ll be plenty of great dresses, probably a decent amount of strange facial hair, and no doubt a series of serious and funny anecdotes to start the show, all ending with SAG’s typical phrasing: I’m  ____, and I’m an actor.  And hey, maybe best of all, no Ricky Gervais!


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