How Will the SAG Awards Shape the Oscar Race? (Column)

Clayton Davis
·4 min read

The road to the Oscars is paved with good intentions, and one of those is for a film’s cast members to seek recognition at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Presented annually by SAG-AFTRA since 1995, the ceremony has become one of the most important precursors in the awards season machine. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to hinder the film industry, every awards body is discussing ways to move forward with celebration.

The 2021 SAG Awards will be held on March 14, with an extended eligibility to match AMPAS’ (all films need a release date on or before Feb. 28 to qualify). On Nov. 20, the submission period for the upcoming ceremony will close at 5 p.m. PT. In the past, not every film has made that deadline but has still found success with the Academy (Christoph Waltz won best supporting actor for “Django Unchained” in 2012 despite missing the SAG deadline).

On Jan. 11, 2021, the two committees of 2,100 randomly selected members, one for film and the other for television, will begin voting for nominees. One crucial factor in a film’s chances has been awards screeners. After suspending in-person events, the SAG Awards are allowing digital screeners for the pre-nomination phase for the first time on its own platform at $3,000 per title, compared with the Academy’s price tag of $12,500 for each film submitted. SAG has also added a new option for FYC extras, including links to trailers, featurettes and pre-recorded panels. AMPAS tacks on an additional $5,000 for a similar feature. Physical mailers are still allowed.

So how does this all affect this year’s contenders?

In terms of the best picture prize at the Oscars, the equivalent at the SAG Awards is best performance by a cast ensemble. From 1996’s “The English Patient” to 2016’s “Moonlight,” all best picture winners had a SAG mention for its ensemble, win or lose. In 2017 and 2018, “The Shape of Water” and “Green Book” became the first since 1995’s “Braveheart” to win big at the Oscars without a nomination from their acting peers. Last year, “Parasite” became the first non-English-language film to win best cast ensemble.

This year, multiple films are seeking recognition for their group of actors.

David Fincher’s “Mank” and Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” are in terrific positions to make the shortlist; the latter, with its large cast of film and TV actors, looks to be the early front-runner. Interesting note: If it is nominated and wins the top category, “Chicago 7” will be the largest winning cast — at 21 eligible cast members — in SAG Awards history, surpassing 2001’s “Gosford Park” at 20.

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of “Life Is Beautiful” and “Parasite” (past foreign language nominees at SAG), Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” — with the likes of Steven Yeun and Will Patton among its cast — is the type of film that SAG may be easily attracted to.

Regina King’s “One Night in Miami” has a strong quartet of performances that could factor into its chances, while George C. Wolfe’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” has a smorgasbord of veterans, including the late Chadwick Boseman, that could appeal to voters.

The more celebrities, the better when it comes to SAG, and that should help robust collectives such as “The Prom” from Ryan Murphy and perhaps even “Tenet” from Christopher Nolan, which may be more in the conversation than previously suspected.

Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” may be one of the top front-runners for the Oscars, but it’ll be fascinating to see how the SAG committees respond to it outside of Frances McDormand’s and David Strathairn’s powerful turns. Encompassing a cast of unknowns, the movie can assert its standing by making the SAG cut.

Paul Greengrass’ “News of the World” and Shaka King’s “Judas and the Black Messiah” have been seen by very few journalists, but have been confirmed to be submitted.

Here are my first predictions for the best cast ensemble category at the SAG awards.

  1. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)

  2. “Mank” (Netflix)

  3. “Minari” (A24)

  4. “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)

  5. “The Prom” (Netflix)

Go to the SAG Predictions: Best Cast Ensemble page for the full ranking, list of eligible cast members and additional commentary.

Visit THE AWARDS HUB to see the full list of contenders by category.

2021 SAG Awards Predictions

2021 Golden Globes Predictions

2021 Academy Awards Predictions

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