The Oscar acting races are over: Why the four SAG award winners will go all the way

"Joker" star Joaquin Phoenix followed his Golden Globe victory with an even more important win at the SAG Awards.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The SAG Awards were handed out Sunday night, and for those who stopped watching after Brad Pitt’s acceptance speech because they were too busy trying to find him on Tinder, a quick recap: Surprises were scant, Adam Sandler got a well-deserved shout-out and the “Parasite” cast earned two standing ovations — one for just showing up onstage and another for becoming the first foreign language film movie to win the prize for best film ensemble.

Renée Zellweger, Joaquin Phoenix, Laura Dern and Brad Pitt won the individual movie acting honors, repeating their victories at the Golden Globes. It would take a stunning upset — much bigger, say, than Olivia Colman winning the lead actress honor last year over Glenn Close — for any member of this quartet not to win an Oscar this year.

Certainly, there’s precedent. The Oscars have rubber-stamped the individual SAG Awards winners seven times over the last 25 years, most recently in 2018, when Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”), Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) and Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) ran the table.


The real intrigue remains in the best picture race. The “Parasite” win offers the movie’s loyal followers a measure of hope that it can make history again and become the first foreign-language picture to win the film academy’s top prize.

Let’s take a look at how it will shake out at the Academy Awards on Feb. 9


The winner: “Parasite”

The past: The winner of this award went on to take the best picture Oscar 11 of 24 years, easily making it the SAG’s least-trustworthy Oscar precursor. (The ensemble prize wasn’t awarded in 1994, the SAG Awards’ first year.)

Will history repeat itself? Obviously, this prize is not much of a precursor for Oscar success. “Hidden Figures” won it, for goodness sake. But those two “Parasite” standing ovations and the passion behind them send out a lot of good vibes for academy members to absorb and consider. We’re 11 days out from the start of final Oscar voting. That’s plenty of time for voters to shuffle their rankings and move Bong Joon Ho’s thriller up on their ballots. And if Bong prevails Saturday at the Directors Guild, momentum could really shift.

However ... “1917” won the Producers Guild’s top honor Saturday night. And because that group uses the same preferential ballot as the Oscars, the PGA Award has offered a reliable reading of the best picture race over recent years. These awards typically go to movies that most people can agree are ... perfectly fine. “Least disliked” is another way to put it.


A SAG ensemble nomination used to be an absolute prerequisite to winning best picture, and “1917” was absent from this year’s show. But the last two Oscar winners, “Green Book” and “The Shape of Water,” did just fine, thank you, without that particular nod.

It might come down to how many academy members are willing to vote for “Parasite” as best international feature and best picture. For many, as we discovered last year for “Roma,” one of these categories is sufficient reward. But “Roma” didn’t have this kind of a devoted following. Oscar history has never had to reckon with #BongHive.

Lead actress winner Renée Zellweger at the SAG Awards.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)


The winner: Renée Zellweger, “Judy”

The past: SAG and the academy have matched 18 of 25 years. When Colman (“The Favourite”) prevailed over SAG winner Close (“The Wife”) at the Oscars last year, it ended a six-year streak.

Will history repeat itself? Zellweger has been the front-runner for her empathetic portrayal of Judy Garland since “Judy” premiered at Telluride in late August. Not everyone loves the movie, but Zellweger’s personal comeback story have zinged enough heartstrings to give her every major award this season. Oscar voters will get happy for her too.

"Joker" star and SAG Awards winner Joaquin Phoenix accepts the lead actor prize from Glenn Close.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)


The winner: Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”

The past: This category has been the most reliable indicator of Oscar victory, with SAG and the academy matching 20 of 25 times. There are occasional exceptions: Denzel Washington prevailed here two years ago, only to see Casey Affleck take the Oscar.

Will history repeat itself? With so many remarkable lead actor turns this year, it’s crazy how the same person has won every single prize leading up to the Oscars. But in a way, Phoenix has been undeniable since “Joker” earned that eight-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. And Sunday night, he gave a note-perfect acceptance speech, voicing appreciation for the moment, for his fellow nominees and for the late, great Heath Ledger.

Laura Dern embraces her father, Bruce Dern, after winning the SAG Award for her supporting role in "Marriage Story."
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)



The winner: Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”

The past: The SAG award winner has gone on to take the Oscar 17 of 24 times. Last year had the strange twist where the SAG winner, Emily Blunt for “A Quiet Place,” didn’t earn an Oscar nomination, while Oscar winner Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) was snubbed by SAG. (Kate Winslet won this category in 2009 for “The Reader” but was nominated for — and won — the Oscar for lead actress for that performance.)

Will history repeat itself? Absolutely. Dern’s career has been a treasure, so it’s not like we need another reason to love her. But the shot of her embracing her dad, the legendary Bruce Dern, melted my heart. “I literally, literally would not be here if it were not for actors, so thank you Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd,” Dern said, saluting her parents. Funny, heartfelt, a powerhouse turn in “Marriage Story,” a lovely Marmee in “Little Women” and a clutch of Renata Klein memes and meltdowns in “Big Little Lies”? One Oscar isn’t enough.

Brad Pitt wins the SAG Award for his supporting turn in "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood."
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)


The winner: Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”

The past: The SAG winner has gone on to win the Oscar 16 times in 25 years, including Mahershala Ali for “Green Book” last year.

Will history repeat itself? After that acceptance speech? Who doesn’t want to hear Pitt deliver another set at the Oscars? Some highlights: He mocked Quentin Tarantino’s foot fetish. (“Seriously, Quentin has separated more women from their shoes than the TSA.”) And he poked fun at himself: “Let’s be honest, it was a difficult part: the guy who gets high, takes his shirt off and doesn’t get along with his wife. It was a big stretch.” The cutaway shot to ex-wife Jennifer Aniston, beaming, was the cherry on top.