By Glenn Whipp
and Matt Brennan
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES -- The Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations landed Wednesday morning, news that could be viewed as the kickoff to this year's awards season, provided you weren't following the Golden Globes' Twitter account Sunday night. In that case, you'd know that Kenneth Branagh has the "write stuff," it takes 43 muscles to smile and that, murdered teenagers aside, the laugh riot "West Side Story" has the "cure for what ails you." (That tweet was, as you might guess, eventually deleted.)
So, OK, let's just say awards season actually starts now. The SAG Awards nominations, voted on by two panels of 2,500 randomly selected SAG-AFTRA members (one for film, another for TV), offer a reliable indication of how the Oscar acting races will take shape.
And the honors themselves often mirror the Academy Awards, though last year Oscar voters went their own way in the lead acting categories, choosing Frances McDormand ("Nomadland") and Anthony Hopkins ("The Father") over the SAG Award-winning "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" duo of Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman.
On the TV side, the notion of one's awards futures being "up" or "down" is less central to the SAG discussion -- the Emmy Awards calendar, still set to the rhythms of the broadcast TV year, doesn't follow the Oscar circuit's momentum-building rhythm. Still, with the Golden Globes under a cloud this year, the SAG Awards are the first time fall 2021 titles are eligible for awards consideration.
Unfortunately, beyond Netflix's viral juggernaut "Squid Game" -- the first non-English language series to nab an ensemble cast prize, and actors Jung Ho-Yeon and and Lee Jung-Jae, the first individual performers to be nominated for non-English language TV roles -- this year's crop followed tradition -- if not always taste.
Who's exercising those 43 smiling muscles now? And who's not? Let's take a look.
Up: "House of Gucci"
Actor voters rewarding an all-star cast featuring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Jared Leto and Salma Hayek hamming it up? You don't say. The movie's abbondanza haul, an ensemble nod and individual noms for its biggest scenery chewers -- Gaga and Leto -- rates as something of a surprise for the critically drubbed drama.
Down: "The Power of the Dog"
Individual nods for Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Check, check and check. Strike up the banjos. But the lack of an ensemble nod dents the best picture chances of Jane Campion's staggering Western-thriller.
Up: "Don't Look Up"
Critics scorched Adam McKay's broad environmental disaster farce, but it found an audience on Netflix over the holidays. The A-list cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep, didn't earn individual honors, but its collective wattage proved irresistible even if the film largely wastes their talents.
Down: "West Side Story"
No one's dancing in the streets after voters snubbed Steven Spielberg's updated version of the classic musical, recognizing only Ariana DeBose for her supporting turn. It's the latest disappointment for a movie that has failed to capture audiences' attention.
Kenneth Branagh's personal coming-of-age story scored nods for film ensemble and an individual honor for Caitriona Balfe. We thought Jamie Dornan and Ciarán Hinds would have showed up too in supporting actor, but voters couldn't resist going with a couple of big names -- Bradley Cooper, for his brief turn in "Licorice Pizza" and Ben Affleck's mentor bartender in "The Tender Bar."
We didn't expect much love for Pablo Larraín's chamber horror take on Princess Diana's life, but ignoring Kristen Stewart's lead performance? That's as cold as a royal family Christmas Eve dinner.
Up: "King Richard"
The family sports drama pulled off an ensemble nomination, plus the expected individual honor for Oscar front-runner Will Smith. Ignoring his co-star, the great Aunjanue Ellis, was unfortunate. Otherwise, a good outing.
Sian Heder's sweet coming-of-age story of a child of deaf adults debuted at Sundance a year ago, and has been winning hearts and minds and producing torrents of tears ever since. Its ensemble, made up primarily of deaf actors, is aces, and its showing here will keep it on the radar for Oscar voters.
Down: "Being the Ricardos"
Voters loved Lucy, rewarding Nicole Kidman for her portrayal of Lucille Ball. And they couldn't resist Javier Bardem's take on Desi Arnaz. But SAG voters withheld an ensemble nomination for Aaron Sorkin's contrived drama. For Sorkin, they probably have some 'splaining to do.
And on the TV side ...
Up: "The Morning Show"
This is less a surprise than an audible sigh. With nominations for Billy Crudup, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and the ensemble, SAG went all-in on Season 2 of Apple's occasionally entertaining, always chaotic drama about #MeToo, the COVID-19 pandemic, racism, the media, workplace backbiting, and just about every other strand of spaghetti it could throw at the wall. I'm not ready to call for a boycott, but when it comes at the exclusion of, say, "Pose" (see below), rewarding megawatt stars for a middling season is definitely... a choice.
The final season of FX's sublime queer melodrama, set in New York's ballroom scene during the depths of the AIDS crisis, earned star Michaela Jae Rodriguez a well-deserved Emmy nomination and, more recently, a Golden Globe. Back in Season 1, Billy Porter won the Emmy for his portrayal as silver-tongued emcee Pray Tell. But you wouldn't know "Pose" had ended -- or even begun, for that matter -- by scanning the SAG nominations. It never landed a single one. Consider the decision not to rectify that this year a major opportunity missed.
Up: Murray Bartlett, "The White Lotus"
Fellow nominee and all-around icon Jennifer Coolidge has attracted all the awards attention for Mike White's buzzy limited series about the (horrible) guests at a high-end Hawaiian resort, so it's exciting to see Bartlett ("Looking," "Tales of the City") recognized for his thorny, manic, can't-look-away performance as said resort's unraveling manager. The star of both of the most unforgettable TV scenes involving butts in 2021 deserves recognition!
Down: Hailee Steinfeld, "Dickinson" and "Hawkeye"
I can't exactly say I'm shocked by Steinfeld's omission from the comedy series slate -- especially with surefire nominations for "Hacks'" and "Ted Lasso's" Emmy champs Jean Smart and Hannah Waddingham eating up two of five slots -- but I am disappointed. That Steinfeld's expressive, bright-eyed performances enliven both a rollicking family sitcom about a reclusive 19th century poet and a tongue-in-cheek metafiction from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the height of acting prowess, and it's a particular shame that "Dickinson," which concluded last month, see its opportunities for awards recognition dwindling.
"'The Sopranos' with horses," as presenter Rosario Dawson dubbed it, received its first major awards nomination this morning by slipping into the drama ensemble category alongside "The Handmaid's Tale," "The Morning Show," "Squid Game" and "Succession." It may be remembered as a crossover moment for the wildly popular Kevin Costner-led Paramount Network series, which has been building momentum for four seasons: Keep an eye on it come Emmy time.