There were some big surprises and (perceived) upsets at the 28th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. The instinctive impulse by many in the Oscar blogosphere and Twitterverse was that it left the race wide open while also establishing new frontrunners.
The first part is true. The second part…not so much.
When a small indie like CODA ends up winning anything over bigger, more “Oscar-y” movies and more established stars, that’ll get everyone’s attention — and that’s exactly what CODA did twice when it took two SAG awards including the top “Outstanding Cast” prize (their “Best Picture” equivalent).
Beating out big studio ensemble efforts like Don’t Look Up and House of Gucci or the crowd-pleasing arthouse entry Belfast from director Kenneth Branagh, CODA won on the feel-good vibes of an appealing mostly-deaf leading cast and a moving story of family conflict and reconciliation.
The first shocker was when unknown deaf actor Troy Kotsur won the Supporting Actor for the turn as the deaf father of the clan, beating out A-listers like Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, and Jared Leto, as well as perceived Oscar front-runner from The Power of the Dog, Kodi Smit-McPhee. Then the Cast award win proved a thrilling bookend.
In between, the other major surprise was in the Female Actor in a Leading Role award, which went to Jessica Chastain for her titular turn in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, beating out previous Oscar-winners Nicole Kidman and Olivia Colman as well as megastar Lady Gaga. The Eyes of Tammy Faye is arguably the least seen film of the nominees, too, based on box office and distribution, further elevating its underdog status.
Winners in the Male Actor (Will Smith, King Richard) and Female Supporting Actor (Ariana DeBose, West Side Story) were less surprising, even expected (DeBose especially). Smith faced stiffer, marquee competition (and will again at the Oscars), so his win here may suggest that the industry finally see this as “his time.”
DeBose is getting close to being a lock in her Oscar category, not only for the merits of her own bravura performance but also given the sentiment attached to the role and the musical, both of which garnered Rita Moreno a Supporting Oscar sixty years ago.
But when it comes to Chastain, Kotsur, and CODA, people shouldn’t be so quick to assume that these are now the frontrunners for their respective Oscar categories.
CODA has the biggest obstacle to repeat with a Picture win. The Apple TV+ entry doesn’t have broad Academy support, for one, plus the SAG Cast Award is far from a reliable Picture harbinger. If anything, the guild never tries to make their cast award an Oscar precursor, and that’s to their credit. In the previous 27 years, the Cast winner has only gone on to win Best Picture 12 times, or less than half.
Kotsur will still have to contend with Smit-McPhee for Supporting Actor, whose performance may be the most critically celebrated of the year (supporting or lead). Chastain’s competition will most likely be Olivia Colman, who is absolutely superb in The Lost Daughter. Colman is a threat because she remains among the most admired and respected talents in the industry, although her fairly recent Best Actress win for The Favourite may end up boosting Chastain’s chances.
The BAFTAs (i.e. the British Oscars) should help bring some clarification to these categories as there’s quite a bit of overlap in their membership and the Academy’s. That said, the one big exception to that rule this year is the Best Actress race. In a first-ever anomaly, none of the five BAFTA Best Actress nominees are up for the Best Actress Oscar.
The Producers Guild Awards (one of the better Best Picture indicators) will also bring clarity. CODA winning there would also be much more of a shocker than its win was with SAG.
SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARD WINNERS
Films of 2021
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Winner: Will Smith, King Richard
– Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
– Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
– Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick…Boom!
– Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Winner: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
– Olivia Colman, The Lost Mother
– Lady Gaga, House of Gucci
– Jennifer Hudson, Respect
– Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Winner: Troy Kotsur, CODA
– Ben Affleck, The Tender Bar
– Bradley Cooper, Licorice Pizza
– Jared Leto, House of Gucci
– Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Winner: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
– Caitríona Balfe, Belfast
– Cate Blanchett, Nightmare Alley
– Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
– Ruth Negga, Passing
55th Life Achievement Recipient
Click on links below for other major Critics Group Awards and Guild Nominees that have been announced so far for the 2021 / 22 season:
Writers Guild of America Nominees 2021
Producers Guild of America Nominees 2021
American Film Institute Top Ten 2021
Los Angeles Film Critics Assocation 2021
New York Film Critics Circle 2021
National Board of Review 2021