Are these Oscar contenders going to pick up SAG nicks?

There are less than 12 days to Christmas and the Oscar nominees for Best Picture are walking non-stop around town as voters prepare to relax with a warm cup of Irish coffee (“Sláinte!”) And a slice (liquorice -) Pizza settle down to see all the available titles on the Film Academy’s streaming platform.

After all the titles are down, which acting ensembles are attracting the most sympathy, both from the academy members and from their colleagues at SAG-AFTRA, who will be voting soon? Let’s look at the films with the highest profiles.


Lucy and Ricky, Fred and Ethel. You know the four cores. And anyone who has heard the excellent TCM podcast “The Plot Thickens” also knows Lucille Ball’s remarkable story, the highlights of which “Being the Ricardos” condensed into a (sip) five-day period. It feels like screenwriter and director Aaron Sorkin is trying to share every tidbit of information he learned about Ball during his research with a VitametaSorkinator who brings up a series of sloppy dialogue scenes and didactic hectoring. Still, it’s worth a look, if only for the way Nicole Kidman justifies everything with a razor-sharp view of Ball’s perfectionism, insecurity and genius. It’s a great performance that like “I Love Lucy” will live forever in repetitions.

SAG ensemble? It shouldn’t be nominated. But it’s about actors, so it could very well be.
Look out for: Kidman and JK Simmons who make William Frawley an (incredibly) adorable mortar.


Kenneth Branagh’s sentimental look at his childhood in Northern Ireland shows beautiful actors – Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe – playing mom and dad, along with Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds as the caring, loving grandparents every child deserves, especially a bitch like that of the film’s adorable scamp, Buddy (Jude Hill). Love, love, love … all you need is love. If Branagh hadn’t been determined to fill the movie with Van Morrison, he could have slipped into the Beatles anthem because that’s the “Belfast” vibe. It has already won the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and there are many more awards to come.

Say together? Yes.
Look out for: Balfe and Hinds


“The feel-good movie that will destroy you emotionally” was the headline in my August review of
Siân Heder’s great coming-of-age story about a child of a deaf adult. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who were gleefully wrung out by this movie and a few others who still haven’t gotten around to watching it, either on the Film Academy’s streaming platform or on Apple TV +. But this year “CODA” has earned a place of honor among the 10 fixed nominees for the best picture. It will be an easy movie for voters to watch with their families over the holidays.

SAG Ensemble ?: Only five films catch up with SAG ensemble names. Can this little movie do well? Sometimes fairy tales come true to conjure up the characteristic song of the film “Both Sides Now”. But sometimes the illusions of life intrude. To quote another hymn from the time … you could say I am a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.
Watch out for: Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin, who play the loving, incredibly horny parents of the film.


I don’t mind that Adam McKay takes the world’s problems seriously. But after seeing this smug apocalyptic farce, I miss the days when McKay could devastate society and not take himself so seriously. (“Talladega Nights” remains his masterpiece.) “Don’t Look Up” is an all-star cast of a terrible, topical issue, climate change, in the guise of a deadly meteor hurtling toward Earth Headline by Leonardo DiCaprio. Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep. But the critics were not impressed, and any accolades this misstep makes are achieved only through reflexive voting and a signal that the fate of the planet does indeed matter. Very important.

SAG Ensemble ?: A nomination would be a sure sign of the apocalypse.
Look out for: Maybe DiCaprio, who delivers a laid back, comical twist as the film’s sky-rocketing scientist.


The other day I saw the great, Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage in the classic summer film “Con Air”, who had two Oscar nominations of his own and could have won a few more for the hilarious actors, very dedicated work. Will I still fondly remember the equally absurd “House of Gucci” in 25 years’ time? Probably not. I could smile at the memory of the memes. And I’ll probably be wondering how Lady Gaga got / didn’t get an Oscar for her full throttle performance and how Al Pacino managed not to laugh during the many horrific things and / or the constantly tense Jared Leto slapping in the face scenes they shared.

SAG Ensemble ?: If it’s an award for most actors, yes.
Look out for: Gaga and the actor who urinated on the scarf.


This is a family film regardless of title, and any actor who plays a Williams tribe on King Richard is wonderful, including Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as young tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, Aunjanue Ellis, respectively as her calm, strong mom and of course Will Smith in the title role of the demanding, uncompromising father and coach. The cast of the film also has a deep bank, including Jon Bernthal’s great comic twist as an angry coach struggling with Richard.

SAG ensemble ?: game, sentence, game.
Look out for: Smith and Ellis, who could both be holding Oscars for next year.


Paul Thomas Anderson’s easygoing, lovable foray into the San Fernando Valley, circa 1973, stars Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, actors who are making their film debut. It also stars Bradley Cooper and Sean Penn and Tom Waits, as well as the great Harriet Sansom Harris and filmmaker Benny Safdie. “Licorice Pizza” draws a free-running energy from the way in which Anderson combines his different actors. Just watch the scenes where Cooper, who plays the crazy producer Jon Peters, terrorizes the young Haim and Hoffman. The fear in their eyes is very real.

SAG ensemble ?: Could be too versatile (read: interesting) for the SAG voters’ taste.
Look out for: Haim and Cooper for his short, wild twist.

“Nightmare Alley”

Cooper is back, directing the cast of Guillermo del Toro’s beautiful, bloated remake of Edmund Goulding’s 1947 noir classic, the story of a Depression-era drifter looking for a fresh start on a circus sideline. Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Richard Jenkins, Toni Collette, David Strathairn, and Willem Dafoe co-stars, but oddly enough, this stacked ensemble (and the movie’s slow story) isn’t as memorable as the art direction.

SAG ensemble ?: Tarot cards predict disappointment.
Look out for: Blanchett. Always Blanchett.


Jane Campion’s western thriller centers on Benedict Cumberbatch’s dominant role as the boastful, banjo-playing rancher who greets news of his brother (Jesse Plemons) and wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst) being kidnapped by waging a war of psychological terror. The film gains strength and tension as it slowly reveals that we may marginally underestimate the frail-looking young man (Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays Rose’s son).

SAG Ensemble ?: It would be just this quartet of actors, but sometimes voters rely on quality over quantity.
Look out for: Cumberbatch, Smit-McPhee, and Haze. (Plemons’ goddamn nice character never builds the anger or nerve to make a big Oscar clip scene.)


The 1961 film adaptation of the Broadway musical won 10 Academy Awards, including awards for Rita Moreno and
George Chakiris. Moreno, 90, plays a small, central role in this Steven Spielberg-led update, and it’s easy to see that sentiment is influencing voters to at least nominate them. But then they’d have to make room in the supporting actress category for Ariana DeBose, who plays Anita, the role Moreno won the Oscar all those years ago. And that is exactly what they could do. Spielberg’s great, entertaining remake characters are turning into an awards season juggernaut.

SAG-Ensemble ?: That has its place. There’s a place for it somewhere.
Look out for: DeBose and Moreno.

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