Was this one of the most moving and entertaining SAG Awards shows ever? It’s quite possible that it was.

There was a sense of drama in the air at the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles as just 15 miles away protesters were effectively shutting down LAX arrivals and departures in protest of Trump’s immigration ban. Something many actors in attendance had tweeted about or mentioned on the red carpet before the show. It was something none other than Ashton Kutcher referred to during the opening of the telecast (“…and to everyone that is in airports that belong in my America”). This was absolutely the most political SAG Awards this pundit has ever seen (and I remember the Bush years). Moreover, if this amount of opinion spoken on stage annoyed you we’d suggest you avoid the upcoming Grammy and Oscars telecasts because you likely ain’t seen nothing yet.

In terms of awards season SAG through some interesting wrinkles were added to both the almost year-long television circuit and, of course, the Oscar race.

Denzel Washington’s upset of Casey Affleck in the Male Actor in a Leading Role category threw Academy Award momentum the “Fences” star’s way. Washington was not nominated for the BAFTA, which Affleck “should” win, so it will make the Best Actor Oscar campaign much more interesting and potentially the only nail-bitting major race during the Academy Awards.  Emma Stone’s win in the equivalent actress category is just another example of how much the industry adores “La La Land.” Stone’s peers loved her and the movie so much that they picked her over the more acclaimed turns from Amy Adams and Natalie Portman. People will try to hype up Isabelle Huppert’s chances at an upset, but Stone should win as easily as Viola Davis and, likely, Mahershala Ali will in the supporting categories.

Because “La La Land” didn’t earn an ensemble nomination that sometimes Best Picture indicating category was seen as wide open although many thought “Fences” or “Manchester by the Sea” would take it. Instead, “Hidden Figures” surprised except if it wasn’t really a surprise. “Hidden” was the biggest hit of the five nominees ($104 million at the box office and counting) and features a cast that not only worked as a true ensemble, but are looked up to by many aspirational professional actors that make up a majority of the union’s membership.

As for the show, it still has its problems in terms of uninspired formatting, graphics and some often sleep-inducing written introductions (and we’ve got more to say about that later), but overall the surprises, talent and speeches made this a fast-paced two-hour plus event.

Keeping that in mind, excuse us if we focus a bit more on the “best” instead of the “worst” this time around.

Best: Kerry Washington right off the bat
The show immediately began with the traditional “And I’m an actor” segment which usually is cringeworthy. This year, not so much. The camera immediately zoomed to nominee Kerry Washington who noted, “A lot of people are saying right now that actors shouldn’t express their opinions when it comes to politics, but the truth is actors are activists no matter what because we embody the worth and humanity of all people. This union helps me to do that. I’m Kerry Washington and I’m an actor.” It immediately made it clear that Meryl’s speech at the Golden Globes would not be the last time the industry would speak out about the current regime in Washington any time soon.

Best: Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ “serious” speech
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s won her first SAG for “Veep” and is becoming a legend for her acceptance speeches and her bits in the audience for the Emmys and the Golden Globes. She started with some humor in her acceptance speech noting, “Whether the Russians did or did not hack the voting of tonight’s SAG Awards I look out at the million or a million and a half people in this room and I say, I’m legitimate. I won! I’m the winner. Landslide!” She then got serious, “But, to a less insane note I am a very proud member of this union and I am thrilled to be here tonight and I thank the SAG. I want you all to know I am the daughter of an immigrant. My father fled religious persecution in Nazi occupied France. And I am a patriot and I love this country and because I love this country I am horrified by its blemishes and this immigrant ban is a blemish and it is un-American. So I say to you this. Our sister guild, the WGA, made a statement today that I would like to read because I am in complete agreeance with it. ‘Our guilds are unions of storytellers who always welcomed those from the nations of varying beliefs who wish to share their creativity with America. We are grateful for them. We stand with them. And we will fight for them.’” It was only 10 minutes into the telecast and you could already imagine this was not playing well at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Best: Viola Davis
Viola Davis is likely saving her more emotional speech for Oscar night, but she ended her remarks after winning Supporting Actress for “Fences” with this wonderful moment thanking playwright and screenwriter August Wilson. “What August did so beautifully is he honored the average man who happened to be a man of color.” “We have a story that deserves to be told. We deserve to be in the cannon in the center of any narrative, of the cannon that is written out there.. He elevated my uncles and my fathers who had 8th and 5th grade educations. And he encapsulated them in history. Thank you August.”

Worst: The SAG Awards is still pretty godawful for an awards show
The brutal fact about it is that SAG and its partners at Turner Broadcasting have been producing the exact same show for over a decade and unless the winners come with incredible speeches (or there are big surprises) it can be a colossal bore. Listen, nobody wants an over-stuffed four hour show and nobody wants comedic bits that simply do not work. That being said, the overall show’s look, style and vibe could be much more energetic and, for lack of a better word, contemporary. When your social media accounts are more fun to watch than the show itself you’ve got problems (and likely diminishing ratings). We know the idea of the show is to reflect the union and not the individual, but how about one or two hosts next year SAG? Can we just try it?

Best: Mahershala Ali’s poignant acceptance speech
Ali, who eventually won another SAG Award as part of the “Hidden Figures” ensemble, gave a jaw-droppingly moving speech early on in the film discussing what starring in Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight’ meant to him. His words: “I think what I’ve learned from working on “Moonlight” is we see what happens when you persecute people. They fold into themselves and what I was so grateful about in having the opportunity to play Juan was playing a gentleman who saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community. Taking the opportunity to uplift him and to tell him he mattered, he was okay and accept him. I hope that we do a better job of that. We kind of get caught up in the minutia and the details that make us all different, I think there’s two ways of seeing that. There’s an opportunity to see the texture of that person, the characteristics that make them unique, and then there’s the opportunity to go to war about it. And to say that that person is different than me and I don’t like you so let’s battle. My mother is an ordained minister. I’m a Muslim. She didn’t do backflips when I called her to tell her I converted 17 years ago. But I tell you now, you put things to the side and I’m able to see her and she’s able to see me. We love each other. The love has grown. And that stuff is minutia. It’s not that important. I’m going to thank Tarell Alvin McCraney for his courage. I’m going to thank Barry Jenkins just for your insight, your brilliance and your direction, and just the collaboration, that opportunity, I’ll always hold that close to me. I want to thank my fellow cast mates. Any one of those young men could be up here holding this, I’m telling you. It’s beautiful work. Plan B, A24, thank you. Peace and blessings be upon you.”

Best: Dolly Parton
It was supposed to be a “9 to 5” reunion, but because Jane Fonda was ill it was left to Dolly Parton to introduce her former co-star, Lily Tomlin who received the organization’s lifetime achievement award. It had been a pretty serious program up until then, but Parton, who received a standing ovation herself, brought some much needed humor to the proceedings. “I almost didn’t get in. Seriously, they were holding me backstage. They kept saying they anted to see my IDs. I think it was my ID’s, maybe it was my double D’s.” There was actually a few more winning one-liners and the Grammys might want to see if she’s got any spare material for next month’s show.

Best: Lily Tomlin’s acceptance speech
Long deserving Lifetime Achievement winner Lily Tomlin mixed thanks, emotional and political humor in a speech that made you realize she should have gotten this award years. ago. She began with, “The Doomsday clock been moved up to 2 1/2 minutes before midnight. This award came just in the nick of time.” Gave some advice to younger actors noting, “I wasted time being too ambitious about too many things.” “Watching Oprah really helped.” “Young actors acting me for sage advice hoping for nuggets of wisdom. Along with telling them to wear sunscreen.” “Don’t leave the house when you’re drunk. And if you are already out there you must learn to tell when you’ve had too much to drink.” Dissed her good friend, “Meryl is laughing at this and there is absolutely no time she’s had a failure.” And wrapped up with, “I feel I am just getting started. What sign should I make for the next march?” (Oh, and she had a message for Trump backstage)

Best: The joy of the kids from ‘Stranger Things’ winning and Winona Ryder gif queen
The kids from “Stranger Things” were simply euphoric, jumping up and down on stage about their Netflix series surprising in the Best Ensemble for a Dramatic Series category.And that was even before David Harbour gave an award acceptance speech for the ages that has already created a load of Winona Ryder reaction gifs that you’ll see all over social media for months to come. Harbour who said he was sick was eloquent noting, “In light of all that’s going on in the world today it’s difficult to celebrate the already celebrated ‘Stranger Things’ but this award from you who take your craft seriously and earnestly believe that great acting can change the world is a call to arms from our fellow craftsmen and women to go deeper. And through our art to battle against fear, self-centeredness and exclusivity in our predominately narcissistic culture and through our craft to create a more empathetic society by revealing intimate truths to serve as a forceful reminder to folks that when they feel broken and afraid and tired they are not alone. We are united in that we are all human beings and we are all together on this horrible, painful, joyous, exciting and mysterious fire that is being alive. Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of ‘Stranger Things’ we 1983 midwesterners will repel bullets, we will shelter freaks and outcasts, those who have no hope. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. And when we are at a loss amist the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions we will per Chief Jim Hopper, ‘Punch some people in the face that seek to destroy the weak, the disenfranchised and the marginalized’ and we will do it with soul, with heart and with joy. We thank you for this responsibility. Thank you.” And who knew that would get the biggest standing ovation of the night?

Best: Taraji P. Henson leading the “Hidden Figures” ensemble
Could anyone top the great “Stranger Things” speech with only a few minutes to go in the telecast? Well, Taraji P. Henson came damn close when she went up to accept the Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture honor for “Hidden Figures.” She remarked, “This film is about unity. We stand here as proud actors thanking every member of this incredible guild for voting for us and recognizing our hard work and the shoulders of the women we stand on are are three American heroes, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson. Without them we would not know how to reach the stars. These women did not complain about the problems their circumstances. The issues. We knew what was going on in that era. They didn’t complain. They focused on solutions. Therefore, these brave women helped put men into space. We cannot forget the brave men that worked with us. God rest his soul in peace John Glenn! This story is about unity. This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside and when come together as a human race. Love wins. Every time. Thank you for appreciating these women. They are hidden figures no more!” And the reactions from Octavia Spencer and Jonalle Monae as she spoke? Mic drop.

What did yo think of this year’s SAG telecast? Share your thoughts below.

 

  • xan

    This is NOT JLD’s first SAG win for Veep. Check your facts please. Not to mention that it’s Dreyfus, not Dreyfuss.

  • ron.roguearts@gmail.com

    I used close captioned because I did’t want to hear the voices .
    I respect them but I just wanted to know the winners.
    Everyone talks but actions speak better than works
    We have Freedom of Speech here and now all those words must be put into actions