SAG Awards Crown ‘Parasite,’ Give the Oscar Race a Shot of Uncertainty

With “1917” winning the Producers Guild Award on Saturday night, we might be looking at a year in which the two leading Oscar contenders don’t have a single acting nomination between them

More than most years, the film races at Sunday night’s Screen Actors Guild Awards were all about the SAG Ensemble Award that was won by “Parasite,” giving yet another awards-season boost to the twisted Korean-language film.

The big takeaway from the show was that actors love Bong Joon Ho’s movie even if they don’t know the names of the actors — so much so that the movie can win the ensemble award without getting a single individual acting nomination.

And now the question that will hang in the air for the next three weeks is a related one: Can a movie that isn’t in English and didn’t get a single Oscar nomination for acting be popular enough with the Academy’s huge Actors Branch to actually win Best Picture?

We don’t know the answer. But after the SAG Awards, we know that it’s a real possibility — and with “1917” winning the Producers Guild Award on Saturday night, we just might be looking at a year in which the two leading Oscar contenders don’t have a single acting nomination between them.

The SAG ensemble award doesn’t go to the Oscar Best Picture winner more often than it does, but people remember the times when it showed a film had real strength with voters: “Shakespeare in Love,” “Crash,” “Spotlight” …

We might also be looking at a year in which the two films that seemed to be frontrunners for much of the season, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” and “The Irishman,” are suddenly falling by the wayside.

The SAG Awards was an important contest for both of those films. Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time” won the comedy Golden Globe on Jan. 5 but in recent days lost to “1917” at the Producers Guild Awards, while Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” has been landing lots of nominations but winning almost nothing except critics’ awards.

But with “1917” not nominated for any SAG Awards, the ceremony provided an opportunity for one of its competitors to snag a high-profile award and grab a bit of momentum in a shortened awards season. That the competitor who did that was “Parasite,” a black Korean comedy about class divisions, is a further sign that this is one odd, unsettled awards season.

But in the individual acting categories, SAG only proved that the season isn’t unsettled at all. Instead, the four film-acting winners — Joaquin Phoenix for “Joker,” Renee Zellweger for “Judy,” Brad Pitt for “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” and Laura Dern for “Marriage Story” — have been on a roll through one awards show after another, and seem all but assured to win at the Oscars on Feb. 9.

Of course, you could have said that about Glenn Close in “The Wife” last year at this time, until Olivia Colman was surprised to learn that Oscar voters had a different idea. But even if an upset is still possible in one of the individual categories, it’s unlikely — even less so, perhaps, after Sunday night.

For Phoenix and Zellweger and Pitt and Dern, there’s not much risk in these shows — if they can get up onstage and be relatively gracious, passionate, heartfelt and/or charming, they’ll probably give Oscar voters who are already leaning in their direction permission to remain that way.

That’s an easy task for Zellweger, Pitt and Dern. Zellweger is always passionate about Judy Garland, the woman she plays in “Judy.” Pitt is effortlessly charming and amusing every time he sets foot on a stage. Dern is the very definition of heartfelt.

And while Phoenix is obviously the least comfortable in an awards spotlight, his obviously unfeigned graciousness toward his fellow nominees made this the most touching and the funniest of his awards speeches. He’s getting better at this, and his performance in “Joker” does the rest.

In the television categories, the big surprise was that “Fleabag” actually lost an award for which it was nominated, a true rarity during the last five months of awards shows. And actress Alex Borstein, who attempted to accept the award on behalf of “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” acknowledged as much when she began her speech by saying, “I voted for ‘Fleabag.’ This makes no sense.”

Elsewhere, it came as something of a surprise that Peter Dinklage had never before won a SAG Award for “Game of Thrones,” and that it took the voters three seasons to finally recognize “The Crown,” and that they loved “Fosse/Verdon” enough to reward both of its lead actors, Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams.

But really, the Emmy Awards are four months in the rearview mirror or eight months in the future, depending on the direction you’re looking. This time of year, the focus is on movies. And on Sunday night, that meant the focus was on “Parasite.”

And if it’s now down to “Parasite” v. “1917” at the Oscars, where neither of those films has a nominated actor, does that mean the Screen Actors Guild just helped prove that acting nominations don’t really matter?

Maybe they did. Maybe it’s that kind of year.

Steve Pond

Steve Pond

Awards Editor • • Twitter: @stevepond


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