2019 SAG Awards Viewing Guide: Part 4 – Film Awards

Not that you shouldn’t watch all the performances, but it’s difficult, at best, to find the time. As a rule, I don’t sleep, so…here are my observations of the nominated performances. I have also reviewed many of these films separately on this blog. Simply type in the name of the film in the search bar above, if interested….

So…without the inclusion of any performances or the ensembles from “Widows” or “If Beale Street Could Talk”, this feels like a hopelessly incomplete list…but here we are…

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SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE IN A FILM

Women  (but no Elizabeth Debicki or Regina King! Ugh.)

Amy Adams, “Vice”

Adam McKay, interesting and thought-provoking as his live-action opinion pieces may be, doesn’t write scenes so much as comments about how history should judge moments and their players. As a result, Amy Adams’ Lynne Cheney is a largely one note exercise. There are moments of humanity, to be sure, but just not enough to warrant a win…or really even be in the discussion given the two titans NOT nominated.
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Emily Blunt, “A Quiet Place”

Not easy carrying a film without saying a word. More importantly, she was much better in this than in Mary Poppins. If you (like me) don’t like horror, you’re probably not going to watch this. Just know she carries off a largely silent performance with conviction and real emotion. She’s terrific in what is otherwise an uninspiring film.
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Margot Robbie, “Mary Queen of Scots”

So, you should watch this film. You SHOULD, (if for nothing else the shots of the Scottish Highlands! But I’m guessing most of you won’t. It’s not a great film. It tries to do too much in too short a time and, as a result, feels long. See a production of Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart” for a more engrossing look at the two monarchs. But Ms. Robbie, in her far too few moments of screen time, is fantastic. Constantly attempting to step out of the box that her male advisors attempt to put her in, she is strong, outraged, lonely and most of all, very, very human. It’s a different view of QE1, and I hope the performance lasts in our minds far beyond the film itself. If they had given her just a bit more screen time (and if Rachel Weisz had been submitted for a Lead award), she would have received my vote
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Emma Stone, “The Favourite”

Ms. Stone is getting better and better. She’s not the reason to watch this film (that’s Olivia Colman), but she’s a terrific foil to Ms. Weisz. That said, it takes some time to get used to her in this environment (lack of accent, not on the same classical performance plane as her co-horts, etc.). But she gives it everything she’s got and, just when you think you have her character pegged, she saves some surprises for the last third of the film in her bag of tricks. Also, watch her nominated TV Limited Series performance in “Maniac”…it’s clearly the more deserving exercise.
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Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite” (…she gets my vote)

Ms. Weisz, on the other hand is kinda heavenly. Her strength and ferocity is only matched by her ability to show us the internalized fear and insecurity that feed it. She elevates Ms. Stone’s performance through the ease with which she walks this world’s hallways. Of course, it doesn’t at all hurt to have Ms. Colman to work off of, which is not a knock. They easily match each other in their scenes together. In fact, those interactions are some of the best scene-work this year. It’s really a terrific performance.
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Men

Man, this is a tough category. I loved every single performance of the five. I would have liked Daniel Kaluuya or Brian Tyree Henry from “Widows” to get some consideration, but overall, terrific performances

Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”

I think this is the best we’ve seen of Ali. The little physical tics that permeate all of his previous performances (most notably the act of licking his lips while thinking prior to speaking a line) are completely gone here. That’s very important, because his Dr. Don Shirley is nothing if not thoughtful, taking as much time as is necessary to say exactly what he means…the perfect counter to Mortenson’s Tony. The only reason I wouldn’t vote for him is because of the competition, not because it is in any way lacking.
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Timothee Chalamet, “Beautiful Boy”

Sorry. I’m not a huge Chalamet fan. I applaud his ability to refrain from overacting. But, if I’m being honest about our Y.A. performers, I think Lucas Hedges is far and away the better performer (if a little over-saturated at this point). All that said, this is the best we’ve seen from Chalamet. His frustration, anger, fear and self-loathing are pitch-perfect representations of those with a meth-addiction. Of course it helps that he’s paired with someone as thoughtful and human as Steve Carrell. And, when all is said and done, it’s just not nuanced enough to overcome either the pitfalls of the film or the competition in the category.
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Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman” (after flipping a coin between Driver and Grant, I’m voting for Driver)

I’m torn between voting for Mr. Driver and Mr. Grant. Spike has done something really interesting in this film. His lead actor, John David Washington, is the active one…constantly moving toward the film’s end with utter conviction. Driver, on the hand, is the one infused with more humanity – having to make choices based on fear, personal and familial history, disgust and practicality. It’s this constant variation that makes his performance so special. He is, in many ways, the touchstone of the film (which is a HIGHLY subjective comment, I know). Basically, without his performance, the film would lose a great deal of its import, and isn’t that what we’re looking for?
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Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”

I mean, it’s Sam Elliott. Any time he’s onscreen (which isn’t nearly enough), you sit back and relax. Like putting on your sneakers after being stuck in ice skates for a few hours, his presence makes you exhale with an audible “ah!” Alas, his most important scene of  is a bit over-written and, as a result, feels ever-so-slightly pushed (not by him, but by Cooper). That said, without him I don’t think you’d care nearly as much as you do about the rest of the film.
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Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (…he lost my vote on a coin flip…but he’s going to win, regardless)

So, Mr. Grant deserves some sort of award for being everyone’s favorite “I love that guy” going back to “Withnail and I”. But he also deserves recognition from our Union for this role specifically. I didn’t love the film, or did I go crazy over Melissa McCarthy’s performance due to some hackneyed writing and a second act that takes WAY too long to get going. However, what makes the movie worthwhile is Grant’s delicious debauched nature and the ease with which he slides in to the relaxed glide of a lifelong drunk without playing at it. His Jack Hock is always simple, normal and sadly human.

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LEAD PERFORMANCE IN A FILM

Women (but no Viola Davis, KiKi Layne or Nicole Kidman! As Kevin Kline would say in “Fish Called Wanda”…”DISAPPOINTED!”)

Emily Blunt, “Mary Poppins Returns”

<sigh> I don’t know. Kids films have always been my blind spot. I just never enjoyed them…even as a kid. Every so often I’m surprised by the creativity and wonder of a film and the adult actor’s ability to take me on that wondrous ride. This, alas, is not that film. Ms. Blount is just so hellbent on keeping it all together, that the moment of wonder (basically a terrific song and dance number) seem utterly out of character within the framework of the world she’s created. It just feels like an impersonation of Julie Andrews without the warmth. Again, not my kind of film…but neither is it a particular stellar performance.
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Glenn Close, “The Wife”

Is there an actress that gets overshadowed by the giant aura-filled nimbus that surrounds Meryl Strep more than Glenn Close? It’s like we forget how great, powerful and lasting everything she does is. “The Wife” might be her best performance ever. Intense, angry, visceral, heart-breaking, rageful…and that’s just in the first act. Most of you have probably not watched this. I urge you to watch this before the votes are due on Friday. For me, hers is a performance that falls just few millimeters short of Ms. Colman’s. It’s brilliant. You won’t forget it.
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Olivia Colman, “The Favourite” (…she gets my vote)

Just vote for her. Seriously. We love to reward actors for making themselves into ugly people, or people who surround themselves with the trappings of ugliness. But Ms. Colman’s Queen Anne let’s us see how every single horrendous thing that has scarred her life finds its way in to her every move, breath and emotion. It is, for me, the most fully formed and exciting thing to watch in film this year. PLEASE at least watch this film before you decide to vote for someone else.
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Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”

Nice. At least through the first two-thirds of the film. Really nice. Believable, heartbreaking and exciting. But, man, does it fall apart in that third act. Granted, it’s not a very well written third act, but nonetheless, it takes the performance from extraordinary to something less than. She’s going to be a fine actress, especially if she chooses great scripts. This just isn’t on the same level as Colman, Close, Viola Davis (“Widows”), Nicole Kidman (“Destroyer), KiKi Layne (“If Beale Street Could Talk”), etc. etc…
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Melissa McCarthy,” Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

I don’t know. I found her Lee Ivory to be a very successful character exploration, just not a very successful character within the framework of a story. She’s perfect for the role, no doubt. Her particular brand of angst, anger and wise-ass-ness is perfect for the character. But it takes so long for the self-awareness that after a while it just gets a bit dull. And even after that moment of clarity, she seems to slide immediately back in to her previous shell of crustiness. Without Mr. Grant, there would be very little light in this film.
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Men

Christian Bale, “Vice”

No one will ever doubt Bale’s commitment to a role. What he has done both in his physique and his vocal apparatus to give us a true Dick Cheney is as remarkable as it may be unhealthy. But while he may have given everything to the character, the person portrayed remains largely unknowable. This comes down to director McKay’s refusal to let us see his humanity…his doubts, fears or even passions. As a result, it feels more like a Oscar-winning impersonation…which is not an award-worthy end result. It is, however, fascinating, funny, and, ultimately, infuriating.
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Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”

While Mr. Cooper fairs far better than Ms. Gaga, when all is said and done, it’s still just a touch too far on the sappy side to really put him in the discussion over Morteson, Malik or Stephan James in “Beale Street”. No doubt, it’s a tremendous achievement…directing, writing the music AND script and still finding a way to be as good as he is in both his relationship to Gaga and to his world. But we’re about the acting…right? Right?
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Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book” (…he gets my vote)

All controversy aside, Mortenson probably gives the most classically complete performance. Starting at A (Brooklyn) and getting to Z (Brooklyn) while traveling all over the Deep South, he and Ali give us one of the better Buddy Pictures we’ve had in some time. And within that structure, he inhabits a perfect arc within a character while never falling in to caricature…or maybe he inhabits a very specific caricature while always keeping in touch with his character’s emotional arc. Either way, it’s a terrific performance, and since it’s in the best film of the bunch, he squeaks by Rami.
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John David Washington, “BlacKKKlansman”

“BlacKKKlansman” is one of the best films of the year by a lot. It’s filled with passion, purpose, humor and abject horror. But as good as Washington is in the role, and he’s very very good, his character is more of a plot driver than a fully developed emotional character. This is true of the protagonist in many of Spike’s films. The minor characters do the heavy lifting. I don’t mean to diminish his contribution, because I think he’s great in the film. But if we’re trying to choose the best, there is simply not enough of a journey to compete with Cooper, Mortenson or Malek.
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Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Another take on an actual historical figure, the differences between Christian Bale’s Cheney, and Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury, are as opposite in performance as they were in real life. Where Bale developed Cheney from the outside in (the look, the walk, the voice informing what emotions may exist), Malek  chooses the opposite. His movements and actions are informed by Mercury’s passions, fears, and confidence. This never feels like an impersonation, although the performance passages are lovingly portrayed as Mercury would have done them. No, this is a master performer (Malek), finding the only thing that makes another master performer tick, the inability to do anything other than share one’s emotions with the wider world. And considering Malek’s own reticence to share much of his own emotional life to the Entertainment Tonight’s of the world, that’s a considerable accomplishment. Alas, all of it exists in a film that is just not very good. Wonderful experience to be sure, but much of the scene work is creaky, Wouldn’t mind if he won, however.

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ENSEMBLE IN A FILM

This is SAG’s version of Best Picture. I honestly can not look at these five pictures and say we got it right. How am I to vote for a film that I KNOW didn’t possess the best ensemble? What I’m left with is voting for the film that has the best performances by a larger cast, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean the best ensemble. Because the best ensemble this year was provided by “Widows”, “Beale Street” right on its heels and then “The Favourite” – and on and on. Luckily, one of these is deserving of the being in the discussion, which makes my choice very easy. But this is what we have to work with, so…here are the nominees:

“A Star Is Born”

Not so much an ensemble as a duo with a lovely supporting player thrown in. Again, just because we love a film is no reason to nominate it for ensemble. Nonetheless, Cooper, Gaga, Elliott and Dice(!) are all terrific. I guess you could throw in the dog as a fifth.
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“Black Panther”

This is not a film about performances. It’s a film about ideas and Afrofuturism (which is the word that’s been bandied about to describe the film’s higher purpose). Yes, Bozeman, Jordan, Nyong’o, Gurira and Winston Duke are all terrific…but, with the exception of Jordan and Gurira who play the person behind the comic book/iconic character, its characters are still playing superhero characters.
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“BlacKKKlansmen” (…this gets my vote)

THIS is the film with the most kickass ensemble of the bunch. In addition to Washington and Driver there are literally a dozen or so performances that are all intertwined in complex and necessary ways. Everyone in the police department (including Robert john Burke and Frederick Weller), in the Klan (Michael Buscemi, Topher Grace and, especially, Jasper Paakonen), in the background (Corey Hawkins and Harry Belafonte) and the women (Laura Harrier and the great Ashlie Atkinson)…are all quintessential pieces of a great piece of art. This is such a no-brainer given the noms. Doesn’t mean it will win…but it sure should.
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“Bohemian Rhapsody”

A one-man show…okay, maybe three if you add Aaron McCusker (Jim Hutton) and Gwilym Lee (Brian may). They are the only other two characters that have any gravitational pull in Malek’s orbit. And as I;ve said many times…this is an experience…not so much a film, and therefore the onus is on the music and the presentation, not the ensemble.
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“Crazy Rich Asians”

This wasn’t a very good movie. It’s a fine RomCom wth a fine RomCom cast. And I’m willing to celebrate the good feelings that surround its being made with anyone. But if we’re being honest here…does anyone think the ensemble is better than the films NOT nominated in the category? Seriously? I mean, Michelle Yeoh is, and always has been, brilliant. And Constance Wu and Awkwafina are better than okay. But really, other than rewarding diversity (which is a valid and necessary goal), this film has no business being in the discussion.
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That’s it! My predictions on the 26th!

Written on 1/22/19

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