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The 'sag' in the SAG Awards

Posted by Wesley Morris  December 17, 2009 11:43 AM

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The Screen Actors Guild Awards know they’re great. They’re “the awards show where only actors vote.” Yes, there are no stupid cinematographers, critics, or consumers standing between the guild and its favorite performances. But it’s not even Christmas and the onslaught of prizes – the Golden Globes, the critics’ awards, the AFI list – has already sucked the excitement out of this process. The SAGs have pretty much confirmed that, with few exceptions, the 20 names in four categories will pretty much be the ones we’re stuck with until the Oscars are over in March – March!

Here are the film nominees (there are awards for television work as well):

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
JEFF BRIDGES / Bad Blake - "CRAZY HEART" (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
GEORGE CLOONEY / Ryan Bingham - "UP IN THE AIR" (Paramount Pictures)
COLIN FIRTH / George Falconer - "A SINGLE MAN" (The Weinstein Company)
MORGAN FREEMAN / Nelson Mandela - "INVICTUS" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
JEREMY RENNER / Staff Sgt. William James - "THE HURT LOCKER" (Summit Entertainment)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
SANDRA BULLOCK / Leigh Anne Tuohy - "THE BLIND SIDE" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
HELEN MIRREN / Sofya - "THE LAST STATION" (Sony Pictures Classics)
CAREY MULLIGAN / Jenny - "AN EDUCATION" (Sony Pictures Classics)
MERYL STREEP / Julia Child - "JULIE & JULIA" (Columbia Pictures)
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
MATT DAMON / Francois Pienaar - "INVICTUS" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
WOODY HARRELSON / Captain Tony Stone - "THE MESSENGER" (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER / Tolstoy - "THE LAST STATION" (Sony Pictures Classics)
STANLEY TUCCI / George Harvey - "THE LOVELY BONES" (Paramount Pictures)
CHRISTOPH WALTZ / Col. Hans Landa - "INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS" (The Weinstein Company/Universal Pictures)
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
PENÉLOPE CRUZ / Carla - "NINE" (The Weinstein Company)
VERA FARMIGA / Alex Goran - "UP IN THE AIR" (Paramount Pictures)
ANNA KENDRICK / Natalie Keener - "UP IN THE AIR" (Paramount Pictures)
DIANE KRUGER / Bridget Von Hammersmark - "INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS" (The Weinstein Company/Universal Pictures)
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
AN EDUCATION (Sony Pictures Classics)
THE HURT LOCKER (Summit Entertainment)
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (The Weinstein Company/Universal Pictures)
NINE (The Weinstein Company)

At this point, my grousing has nothing to do with the actual names. Gabourey Sidibe and Jeremy Renner deserve as many prizes as they can carry. But there’s a homogenizing dimension to the accolade-apolooza that desensitizes you to the high quality of the work being extolled. Then, of course, there are the mysterious received wisdoms that set in almost immediately – that, for instance, Stanley Tucci was better as the serial killer in “The Lovely Bones” than he was as Paul Child in “Julie & Julia.” This isn’t true. One performance with its prosthetic accoutrements and descent into unseemliness is one an actor (or a publicity wing) might find brave. But I’m far more inclined to think that resisting the urge to follow a giant, falsettoing, epically merry Meryl Streep over the top is braver.

Part of the other reason the better Tucci performance might have been glossed over is that it is essentially comedic. Which brings me to Matt Damon, and his uncannily deranged performance in “The Informant!” He’s been nominated in the supporting category for nailing a South African accent and looking quite convincing as a jock in “Invictus,” but what he managed to do with the narration alone in Steven Soderbergh’s corporate satire was ingenious. Damon basically peeled off layers of comedy in this performance until the pathetic man we’re left with in the final minutes is a shadow of the slick nerd we meet at the start. Soderbergh could have spun the film as a drama – a la “The Insider.” But it was cleverer – shocking, even – to ask Damon to make us laugh, which he does. How that choice has failed to appeal to the awards show where only actors vote is unfortunate.

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