SAG Reactions: Whoa, There, Voters

E: I guess I have to figure out what Captain Fantastic is after all.  Now that it nudged La La Land – previously thought to be the frontrunner for Best Picture – out of a the Best Ensemble category, I can’t continue to ignore it.  (Of course, writing that I was ignoring it implies that I knew it existed before Monday, which isn’t exactly the case.  Rather sad, since it turns out that like Hell or High Water, another mysterious awards contender, it opened in August.)

Okay, so SAG was way off Oscar last year; it will be fascinating to see if the trend continues.  They’re certainly a good distance from the Golden Globes, with only 2 films overlapping the two lists.  2 films!  That’s crazy.  Frontrunners fall, sleepers push to the foreground. Let’s break it down.

Continuing last year’s highlighting of African American film-making, the SAG-AFTRA chose not only indie front runner Moonlight, but also pedigreed powerhouse Fences (a collaboration between playwright August Wilson and the Tony-winning cast from the recent Broadway production including director and star Denzel Washington) and the upbeat tale of unknown American heroes, Hidden Figures.  It’s practically a call to arms; Academy, there are great movies out there with minority casts.  Continue to ignore them at your peril!  Of course, that’s not to say that Hollywood will listen.

Rounding out the top five are Captain Fantastic – the aforementioned sleeper family dramedy that earned a best actor nod for Viggo Mortensen at the Globes – and Manchester By the Sea, the heart-breakingly beautiful Kenneth Lonergan film now poised to take it all.  SAG rewarded it not only with the Best Ensemble nomination, but with three acting nods as well.  If LaLa Land is down for the count (and, let’s face it, its probably too charming and light for the current mood), maybe Lonergan’s working class drama leaps into sole possession of first place.  A devastating story of a good guy who just can’t get it together could fit the zeitgiest, unless in reaction to that mood Hollywood turns to black female scientists and mathematicians in suppressed-history drama Hidden Figures, or to the gay black coming of age drama Moonlight.  I’m curious more than ever what the creative community (here embodied by more than a hundred thousand actors) will use awards season to say.

Interestingly, SAG nominated the top actors for La La Land and Florence Foster Jenkins individually, but not as an over all cast.  It makes you wonder if voters didn’t think they were actually ensemble pieces, or if they just didn’t like the films as much as those they nominated.  Obviously they also liked Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water and Lion well enough to parcel nominations their way.

In Best Actor, we have a pretty familiar grouping.  From the Golden Globes dramatic actors we have Casey Affleck for Manchester, Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge, Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic, and Denzel Washington for Fences.  In place of Loving‘s Joel Edgerton, we have Ryan Gosling, pulled from the Globe’s musical/comedy section for his work in La La Land.  It’s a pretty unexceptional group.  It continues the surprising trend of rewarding Viggo Mortensen and ignoring Tom Hanks (again) for his work in Sully.  (I started to write that Sully premiered too early in the year, but Captain Fantastic was even earlier, so that excuse is missing.  I guess people are just over Tom Hanks, or expect too much of him to bother nominating him for just another acclaimed performance.)  My gut still tells me that Andrew Garfield is the weakest link, probably followed by Gosling; they’re both young and handsome, qualities Hollywood loves in general, but has trouble awarding in men. Garfield has the added detriment of being in a Mel Gibson movie, which the Golden Globes honored with Best Picture but SAG clearly did not.

Obviously the biggest surprise in Best Actress is the inclusion of Emily Blunt for her role in the thriller Girl on a Train over more expected (thought less famous) names like Ruth Negga as one half of an interracial couple in Loving, or French actress Isabelle Huppert for her searing turn as a rape victim in Elle.  And let’s talk about Annette Benning, who was a front runner for the win for her work as a bitter single mom in 20th Century Women, being left entirely off the list!  All the Oscar watchers have been talking about for months has been an Annette/Emma showdown along the lines of the Annette/Hillary showdowns of the past.  (Poor Annette.  Why does she never become a front runner on her own?  But now even that contention is not assured.) It’s less unexpected to see Meryl Streep on the list for her brave, bravura performance in Florence Foster Henderson, because you can’t ever really be surprised to see Meryl get nominated, can you?  It’s been a few years.  She’s due.  No, her luck isn’t guaranteed to continue to Oscar, but it’s not outside the realm of possibilities.

Three out of four expected names did make the list: Amy Adams as a grieving linguist in Arrival, Natalie Portman as grieving First Lady Jackie, and an incandescent Emma Stone as an aspiring actress in La La Land.  We’ll have to wait for these shows to start airing to see if Stone dominates the way prognosticators expected (especially without Benning’s competition here) or if the softer interest in La La Land means that perhaps it’s finally Amy Adams’ time.  One thing is blazingly obvious: while most years there are six lead performances vying for the five lead actress slots, this year there are many fine performances with the requisite buzz, a development that’s quite refreshing.

In Supporting Actor, Mahershala Ali continues to make all short lists for his work in Moonlight.  Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) and Dev Patel (Lion) also continue their streak.  That’s as far as the Globe nominees go, however. SAG replaces Florence‘s Simon Helberg with his costar Hugh Grant, as I suspected.  Newcomer Lukas Hedges of Manchester rides his film’s coattails to unseat fellow unknown Aaron Taylor Johnson from Nocturnal Animals.  The SAG list feels to me more like what we’re going to see on Oscar nomination morning.

Supporting actress, on the other hand, presents the same cohesive list as the Golden Globes, and so I’m starting to feel assured that that is, in fact the list.  Fences‘ Viola Davis, Moonlight‘s Naomie Harris, Lion‘s Nicole Kidman, Hidden Figures‘ Octavia Spencer, and Manchester‘s Michelle Williams.  If this list holds, it will not only blast last year’s #Oscarssowhite shame to bits, it will easily prove the first time that three black actresses were nominated in the same category.  It’s not impossible that Spencer’s costar Janelle Monae could enter the fray as well – she’s shown up on some smaller critics lists – but this consistency between the big precursors bodes well for other five women.  I’m provisionally optimistic that this category will be not only diverse but filled with wonderfully deserving performances and actresses you can really root for, including Michelle Williams’ four hankie, absolutely gut-wrenching turn in Manchester.

All in all, it’s a messy and confusing year.  What’s new?  I’ll be watching, and telling what I know.  See you in January, if not before!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s