With just three weeks to go until the Oscars, this year’s unpredictable awards season took another surprising twist at Sunday evening’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, as Hollywood’s actors gave their highest honor to Bong Joon Ho’s genre-scrambling class satire “Parasite.”
Beating out a diverse field including “Bombshell,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit” and “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” the critically acclaimed South Korean film about two families, one rich and one poor, whose lives become entangled became the first foreign-language film ever to win the SAG ensemble prize, the guild’s closest analogue to a best picture award. (The only other previous foreign-language film to score a SAG ensemble nod was 1997’s Holocaust dramedy “Life Is Beautiful.”)
“Although the title is ‘Parasite,’ I think the story is about co-existence and how we can all live together,” actor Song Kang Ho, who plays the patriarch of the poor family, said as he accepted the award. “To be honored with a best ensemble award, it occurs to me that maybe we haven’t created such a bad movie.”
Coming into the night, many were predicting that either Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic “The Irishman” or Quentin Tarantino’s 1960s fantasia “Once Upon a Time” — both anchored by star-packed casts — would take the ensemble prize. But when the “Parasite” cast, none of whom received individual nominations, earned a warm standing ovation early in the night from the audience of actors at the Shrine Auditorium, while introducing the film, it was clear where the crowd’s affections resided.
With the actors representing the largest branch of the motion picture academy by far, the SAG Awards are generally considered a significant bellwether indicating which way Oscar voters may be leaning. Over the last 25 years, roughly half of the winners of the ensemble prize have gone on to win best picture at the Oscars. That said, last year’s victor, “Black Panther,” ultimately lost out to “Green Book” (which was not nominated for the SAG ensemble prize).
This year’s wide-open awards horse race has seen different films appear to surge into the lead at varying times, with the accelerated schedule only heightening the sense of uncertainty. The win for “Parasite” — which has earned six Oscar nominations, including the first ever best-picture nod for a Korean film — could be a good omen for its Academy Awards chances.
No foreign-language film has ever won the best picture prize in the academy’s 92 years, however, and “Parasite” will have to overcome stiff competition from more conventional Oscars fare like the World War I drama “1917,” Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time.” Both the comic-book smash “Joker” and “1917” — which are in the thick of the leaders’ pack with 11 and 10 Oscar nominations, respectively, with the latter hot off its Producers Guild Award for best picture win on Saturday — failed to score ensemble nods from SAG.
Joaquin Phoenix won his first-ever SAG Award for his lead turn as a mentally disturbed aspiring stand-up comic turned supervillain in “Joker,” while Renée Zellweger took home the lead actress prize for playing Hollywood icon Judy Garland in her difficult final years in the biopic “Judy.” Both Zellweger and Phoenix took home Golden Globe Awards earlier this month and are considered front-runners in their respective categories for the Oscars.
After giving a somewhat rambling and jaded speech at the Globes, Phoenix seemed in better humor. He extolled the talents of his fellow nominees and saluted the late Heath Ledger — who won a posthumous Oscar for playing the Joker in “The Dark Knight” — calling him his favorite actor and saying, “I’m here tonight standing on [his] shoulders.”
Laura Dern won the supporting actress prize for her turn as a cutthroat divorce lawyer in “Marriage Story,” while Brad Pitt took home the supporting prize for playing a grizzled 1960s stuntman in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” “I’ve got to add this to my Tinder profile,” Pitt cracked in one of the night’s most memorable speeches “Let’s be honest, it was a difficult part: a guy who gets high, takes his shirt off and doesn’t get along with his wife. It was a big stretch.”
In the television categories, Amazon stuck to the template it set at the Emmys and rode an early wave of comedy wins to lead the night with three awards. “Fleabag” star Phoebe Waller-Bridge completed the trifecta, adding a SAG Award to her Emmy and Golden Globe trophies, while Tony Shalhoub won for his role in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which also took home the comedy ensemble prize.
As if to underscore Amazon’s recent comedy dominance, “Maisel” co-star Alex Borstein seemed shocked to win — mainly because of the in-house competition. “I voted for ‘Fleabag,'” she said upon accepting the series’ ensemble award, “This makes no sense.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Fosse/Verdon,” FX’s limited series about the romantic and creative partnership of performers Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, was catnip to actors, earning matching awards for stars Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams.
No other network or TV series nabbed more than a single SAG Award, with “The Morning Show’s” Jennifer Aniston (Apple TV+), “Game of Thrones'” Peter Dinklage (HBO) and the ensemble of “The Crown” (Netflix) taking home one apiece.
Robert De Niro earned a SAG Life Achievement Award — and a reverent standing ovation — in recognition of his illustrious nearly 50-year career, from his early breakout in 1973’s “Mean Streets” up through his roles in two of this year’s best-picture nominees, “The Irishman” and “Joker.”
After two previous SAG Awards that were dominated by issues surrounding gender in Hollywood, Sunday’s ceremony was a relatively light and apolitical affair. But accepting his award, De Niro — who hasn’t exactly been shy when it comes to his feelings about the current president — made an impassioned case for his fellow actors to use their platforms in these turbulent times to speak up for what they believe in.
“I can imagine some of you are saying, ‘Alright, alright, let’s not get into politics,’ but we are in such a dire situation, so deeply concerning to me and to so many others, I have to say something,” De Niro said. “There’s right and there’s wrong and there’s common sense and there’s abuse of power, and as a citizen I have as much right as anybody — an actor, an athlete, a musician, anybody else — to voice my opinion.”
Times TV editor Matt Brennan contributed to this report.
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