The Oscar race may be missing in-person glitz this year, but it doesn't lack for star power. Will Smith, Lady Gaga and Ben Affleck landed individual nominations for the 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards on Wednesday, while the casts of Belfast and CODA were among those nominated for the guild's top award, best ensemble.
The nominees were announced Wednesday by actors Vanessa Hudgens and Rosario Dawson on Instagram Live. While the nominations were conducted virtually due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, the streamed announcement still represented one of the most meaningful mornings in an awards season largely snuffed out by the pandemic.
Joining Kenneth Branagh's semi-autobiographical Belfast and the coming-of-age drama CODA for best ensemble were the casts for Ridley Scott's true-tale, high-camp House of Gucci, Adam McKay's apocalypse comedy Don't Look Up and the family tennis drama King Richard.
Notably left out were the casts of Steven Spielberg's lavish West Side Story revival (which landed a supporting nod for Ariana DeBose) and Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog. Campion's gothic drama, though, landed individual SAG nominations for Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
The SAG Awards have more of the awards season spotlight this year since the Golden Globes — usually the kickoff party to final Oscar stretch — made barely a peep. The Globes were unceremoniously announced Sunday on Twitter in a private ceremony due to Hollywood's boycott of the beleaguered Hollywood Foreign Press Association over diversity and ethical issues.
The omicron surge also prompted the Critics Choice Awards to postpone its Jan. 9 in-person gala. For the second straight year, Oscar season has gone virtual — and struggled to make much noise.
But the SAG nominations suggest that plenty of famous faces are in the hunt this year. Along with Will Smith (King Richard) and Cumberbatch, the nominees for best male lead actor are: Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth), Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick ... Boom!) and Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos).
Up for best female lead are: Lady Gaga (House of Gucci), Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos) and Jennifer Hudson (Respect).
Joining Dunst and DeBose in the best female supporting category are Caitriona Balfe (Belfast), Cate Blanchett (Nightmare Alley) and Ruth Negga (Passing). The best male supporting nominees are: Affleck (The Tender Bar), Bradley Cooper (Licorice Pizza), Troy Kotsur (CODA), Jared Leto (House of Gucci) and Smit-McPhee.
Kotsur is the first deaf actor to land an individual SAG nomination.
The SAG Awards, presented by the actors guild SAG-AFTRA, are among the most reliable Oscar bellwethers. Seldom does a movie or performance not nominated by the screen actors end up winning at the Academy Awards. Actors make up the biggest percentage of the film academy, so their choices have the largest sway.
But last year, SAG and the academy diverged more than usual. Only one of its acting winners — Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah) — repeated at the Oscars. (The other SAG winners were Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and Yuh-Jung Youn in Minari.) The Aaron Sorkin courtroom drama The Trial of the Chicago 7 won best ensemble at a virtual SAG Awards while Chloe Zhao's Nomadland — which included many nonprofessional actors and went unnominated for SAG's ensemble award — triumphed at the Oscars.
That history will give hope to supporters of Kristen Stewart (Spencer), maybe the most notable performer overlooked Wednesday. Others that missed out include Peter Dinklage (Cyrano), Ciaran Hinds (Belfast) and Rachel Zegler (West Side Story).
While some have rooted for some of the year's most popular blockbusters to give the flagging Oscars a populist jolt, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dune and No Time To Die received no major nominations from the actors guild. Dune and No Time to Die did, though, join Black Widow, The Matrix Resurrections and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in the stunt ensemble category.
Yet possibly the most popular TV series of 2021 did haul in plenty of recognition. Netflix's much-watched Squid Game was nominated for four SAG awards including best drama series.
Series creator Hwang Dong-hyuk on Wednesday recalled watching the hoopla at awards ceremonies held at the Shrine Auditorium across the street from the University of Southern California when he was studying there.
"At the time, I told myself I'd like to feature my work at American film awards one day," he said in an interview. "Now, I think back to those memories."
The series' star Lee Jung-jae said he felt an "electrical shock" when his name was announced among the nominees. A veteran of Korean TV and film, he's laughed off U.S. media questions about overnight success.
"I've decided I'm now a newbie actor!" he said Wednesday, clutching a bottle of wine.
The television nominations were also led by HBO's Succession (four nods including best drama series and best actor for Jeremy Strong and Brian Cox); Ted Lasso (five nods including best comedy series); and The Morning Show (four nods including best drama series).
The 28th annual SAG Awards are to be held Feb. 27 and will be broadcast on TNT and TBS. The Oscars are scheduled for March 27.