SAG Awards 2022: Is ‘CODA’ the new feel-good Oscar front-runner?

Director Sian Heder uses sign language and actress Marlee Matlin emotionally holds a hand to her mouth.
Actor Marlee Matlin celebrates with “CODA” filmmaker Sian Heder after the movie won the SAG Award for film ensemble.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin put nuclear forces on alert. But, to quote the inimitable Martin Short near the start of tonight’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, “Let’s get on with doing God’s work and give another actor an award.”

The awards season is back! The exclamation point comes courtesy of the telecast’s announcer, looking to gin up a little excitement for a ceremony that returned Sunday to being an in-person event a year after its winners Zoomed in with prerecorded acceptance speeches.

Did the evening earn its exclamation point? If you watched “Squid Game” on Netflix through splayed fingers, the answer is: Yes! The blockbuster South Korean survival drama won honors for actors Lee Jung-Jae and Jung Ho-yeon. “Squid Game” also won for stunt ensemble.


Is it too late to nominate it for best picture?

SAG Awards 2022: “Coda,” “Succession” and the winners of this year’s honors.

Feb. 27, 2022

I’m asking because one of the primary reasons to watch the SAG Awards is that they’re a reliable precursor to the Oscars. In two of the last four years, all of the individual actor film winners repeated at the Academy Awards.

Might that happen again when the next Oscars are presented on March 27? Let’s take a closer look.


Winner: “CODA”

The cast of "CODA" at the SAG Awards.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

The past: The winner of this award went on to take the best picture Oscar 12 of 26 years, making it easily the SAG Awards’ least-trustworthy Oscar precursor. (The ensemble prize wasn’t awarded in 1994, the SAG Awards’ first year.)

Will history repeat itself? Let this beautiful film have its moment. And maybe ask the question: Have we been going with the wrong feel-good crowd-pleaser the last few months?


With its leading 12 Oscar nominations, Jane Campion’s revisionist western “The Power of the Dog” has been the de facto best picture front-runner. But there has been plenty of whispering among academy members that it’s a movie more admired than adored. And the SAG Awards results would seem to bear that out. The movie was snubbed for ensemble, and none of its three nominated actors — Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee — won.

“The Power of the Dog” likely remains the movie to beat. Consider that last year’s Oscar best picture winner, “Nomadland,” didn’t earn a SAG ensemble nomination either, largely because its cast was populated mostly by nonprofessional actors. The absence of “The Power of the Dog” might have had to do with the small size of its cast, though that didn’t stop voters from handing the award to “CODA,” a small, six-member ensemble.

“CODA,” available on Apple TV+, prevailed over both “Belfast” and “King Richard,” heartfelt dramas that have long felt like populist threats to “The Power of the Dog.” And they still might be. But maybe “CODA,” Siân Heder’s sublime coming-of-age story of a child of Deaf adults, is the prime challenger.

It’s not a genre that usually wins best picture ... but then a non-English language movie had never won the best picture Oscar until “Parasite” prevailed two years ago. And do you remember where “Parasite” picked up much of its momentum? When it won the film ensemble prize at the SAG Awards.


Winner: Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”

Jessica Chastain holds on hand to her chest, the other is on her SAG Award.
Jessica Chastain accepts her SAG Award for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The past: SAG and the academy have matched 19 of 27 years. Viola Davis won for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in 2021, but “Nomadland’s” Frances McDormand won her third Oscar at the Academy Awards.

Will history repeat itself? Probably not, if only because the lead actress race is so wide-open this year. Anyone could win. (Well, not Lady Gaga. She wasn’t nominated.) But I’d say Chastain has as strong a chance — maybe stronger — as her fellow Oscar nominees: Nicole Kidman (“Being the Ricardos”), Olivia Colman (“The Lost Daughter”), Kristen Stewart (“Spencer”) and Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers”).

Chastain checks all the boxes. She has a transformative role. She sings! She brandishes a folksy Minnesota accent! And, most significantly, she makes us sort of like — or at least understand and recognize — televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. She digs deeper than offering just an impression or caricature. Also: If degree of difficulty is measured by time spent in the makeup chair (as it often is at the Oscars), Chastain will win.


Winner: Will Smith, “King Richard”

Will Smith hoists his SAG Award statuette above his head.
Will Smith accepts a SAG Award for “King Richard.”
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The past: This category has been the most reliable indicator of Oscar victory, with SAG and the academy matching 21 of 27 times. There are exceptions, though, such as last year when Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar for “The Father,” prevailing over SAG winner Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”).


Will history repeat itself? Yes. We didn’t have the Golden Globes this year, so the SAG Awards offered the first chance for contenders to trot out their acceptance speeches. And Smith delivered: humble, funny, powerful, emotional, charismatic. And brief!


Winner: Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story”

"West Side Story" star Ariana DeBose in the General Photo Room at the 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards.
(Allen Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

The past: The SAG award winner has gone on to take the Oscar 19 of 26 times, including last year when Yuh-Jung Youn won for “Minari.” (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? DeBose has been a lock in this category since audiences first glimpsed her dazzling turn as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s updated “West Side Story.” Rita Moreno won an Oscar for the part in the 1961 film version, and stepping into her shoes had to be intimidating — particularly with Moreno herself in the cast and on board as a producer. DeBose redefined the role, though, delivering a magnetic performance full of power and feeling. Of all the night’s SAG winners, she’s the surest bet at the Oscars.

Afro Latino actress Ariana DeBose, who identifies as queer, won SAG’s supporting actress prize for ‘West Side Story.’

Feb. 27, 2022



Winner: Troy Kotsur, “CODA”

"CODA" actor Troy Kotsur won the SAG supporting actor award.
(Allen Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

The past: The SAG winner has gone on to win the Oscar 18 times in 27 years, including Daniel Kaluuya’s victory for “Judas and the Black Messiah” last year.

Will history repeat itself? It’s starting to feel that way, isn’t it? Smit-McPhee has an astonishing character arc in “The Power of the Dog,” beginning the film as a frail, seemingly doomed young man and emerging as [REDACTED]. But voters often respond more to a moving personal narrative, and Kotsur, the second Deaf actor to earn an Oscar nomination for playing a Deaf character, has perhaps the year’s best backstory. (After years of struggle, which he detailed in his moving acceptance speech, Kotsur became the first Deaf person to win an individual SAG Award.) Plus, as “CODA’s” loving dad, he has a role that goes straight to the heart. That combination could be hard to beat.