Adam Sandler and Ana de Armas Get a SAG Boost, But Oscar Voters Might Disagree

While the Screen Actors Guild can be a reliable awards precursor at times, its track record at Oscar predictions has been spotty in recent years

Hustle - Blonde
Adam Sandler in "Hustle," Ana de Armas in "Blonde" (Netflix)

Adam Sandler nudged out Tom Cruise, Ana de Armas and Eddie Redmayne got in while “The Fabelmans” stars Michelle Williams and Judd Hirsh did not and “Babylon” and “Women Talking” were nominated as the year’s best ensemble even though neither film received a single individual acting nomination.  

Such were the vagaries of the 29th annual Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, which were announced on Wednesday morning in a ramshackle Instagram Live presentation by Ashley Park and Haley Lu Richardson.

In most cases, the 2,000-plus randomly-selected SAG members who made up the film and television nominating committees stuck to the favorites: Austin Butler, Colin Farrell, Brendan Fraser, Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh in the lead categories, Brendan Gleeson, Ke Huy Quan, Angela Bassett, Kerry Condon, Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu in supporting and “Babylon,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Fabelmans” and “Women Talking” in the ensemble category.

If there were surprises in the film categories, they were that a pair of Netflix stars, Sandler and de Armas, crashed the top five. Sandler was up against Cruise and the “Top Gun: Maverick” juggernaut (though that was hardly considered an actors’ movie), while de Armas gave a well-received performance as Marilyn Monroe in a movie, “Blonde,” that was widely panned.

Then again, so was “Babylon,” which now has the look of a true awards contender after its ensemble nomination, its negative reviews notwithstanding.

SAG is the first of the four major Hollywood guilds to chime in with its film nominations, with the Directors Guild due later on Wednesday, the Producers Guild coming on Thursday, Jan. 12, and the Writers Guild announcing on Jan. 25. As such, it marks the key moment when we stop hearing about critics’ picks for the best of the year and begin to learn the favorites of the film professionals who will eventually make their picks for the Oscars.

Still, the SAG voters are not always a reliable indicator of later awards success, even though about 80% of their nominees typically go on to receive Oscar noms. Last year, SAG and the Oscars matched exactly only in the Best Actor category, with the other three individual acting categories having significant differences. In both supporting categories, only two SAG Award nominees went on to receive Oscar nominations, while in Best Actress only three did.

(On the other hand, the four SAG winners – Will Smith, Jessica Chastain, Troy Kotsur and Ariana DeBose – all went on to repeat at the Oscars.)

And while every Best Picture winner between 1996 and 2016 had previously been nominated in the SAG ensemble category, the last five years have seen only two Oscar winners nominated by SAG. “The Shape of Water,” “Green Book” and “Nomadland” all won the top Academy Award without receiving the ensemble nom that for 21 years had seemed to be a virtual requirement for Oscars success.

Then there was last year’s winner, “CODA,” which scored its surprise Oscar win after first winning SAG ensemble, the latest of several times when the SAG winner provided a valuable tip as to the dark-horse Oscar winner. (Previous examples had included “Shakespeare in Love,” “Crash” and “Parasite.”)

In other words: SAG might have given us a couple of valuable clues as to the rest of awards season, or it might have thrown in some misdirection. It’s time for the other guilds to turn this initial snapshot into a fuller picture.