MCN Commentary & Analysis

The State of Oscars. The One About The Actors Awards.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, The SAG Nominations.

This award season is a corkscrew. Maybe it’s because of the relative brevity. The timetable, except for Oscar, isn’t all that different. Yet, it feels more compact and each group voting for awards seems less influenced by the others.

On the other hand, the shape of the season is incredibly influenced by the process of narrowing that happened this season, as it has happened in every season over the last 20 years or so. There were, maybe, 25 movies in serious play back just as the Festival Run started with Venice’s opening. By the end of the New York Film Festival, it was about 15. And realistically, there were only another dozen movies or so being seriously considered for acting or writing awards that were not serious players in the Best Picture race.

For perspective, there are 15 films with awards ambitions opening in theaters in the 20 days from now until the end of the year. There were 13 in November. Six in October. Five in September. But only a couple titles, with thin prospects, were not shown to the voting world by the end of November.

In any case, SAG.

My personal tastes are irrelevant to the quality of the nominations, but I like this list, even when I don’t completely agree with it. It’s refreshing. It’s not right on the boilerplate. And as a result, it will likely — as usual — not be a close correlative to the ultimate choices of The Academy membership. 80% or so.

For instance, the only other foreign language film to get an Ensemble nomination before was Life is Beautiful in 1998.

I have been a believer in Scarlett Johansson being nominated in Lead and Supporting Actress. It may not happen again with The Academy, but I think it should. I don’t get a vote.

I love the unexpected set of nominations for all three actresses from Bombshell, a film that is really seeing its first deep breath of awards recognition from this group. (On the other hand, one of the great performances of this year or any other, John Lithgow bringing horror and sympathy to Roger Ailes, got kicked to the curb. It’s made even worse by the nomination for Russell Crowe’s excellent, but inferior take on Ailes from the Showtime series. Boo.)

There are small surprises all over the list. Christian Bale and Taron Egerton in Lead Actor, keeping hope alive for both with Oscar after critics’ general disinterest. Both Cynthia Erivo and Lupita Nyong’o in Lead Actress, supplanting twice-before-nominated-by-SAG Saoirse Ronan. (Not to mention a complete void of Little Women noms.) A total reset in Supporting Actress.

SAG, for all the things we agree or disagree with, is one of the cleanest awards, with a large nominating committee that is randomly changed out every year. Between Film and TV, the SAG Nominating Committee has 2,500 members out of the 160,000 or so members of SAG/AFTRA. And those selected can only serve once every eight years.

As a point of reference, a U.S. national survey of 15,000 is considered to be a high-quality survey that accurately represents the whole country to within 4% or less. Deeper dives, like the sweeps surveys by Nielsen over the decades, has been 10,000-deep for a nation of over 200 million TV viewers. So the SAG Nom-Comm process is pretty reasonable. And all members vote for the final awards.

Historically, SAG Nom-Comm members take their job quite seriously. I would not argue if it was proposed that the average SNC voter sees a wider swath of movies than the average Academy nominating voter.

Of course, this group of actors also have their biases and favorites. To start with, they are actors and they lean into that perspective. (For instance, did 1917 really get any serious consideration for Best Ensemble? Probably not. And given the nature of the movie, understandably. But that doesn’t define the quality of the movie overall, in this group or others.) The issue of international films remains a millstone around the group’s neck, but maybe the Parasite inclusion is a good sign that things are changing.

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