What if you threw an awards show, and everything – other than some of the big winners chosen – followed the script? It would be as stately, inoffensive and barring a few surprises highlighted by the rousing coronation of “Black Panther,” kind of boring as the Screen Actors Guild Awards were on Sunday night.
As the Oscars wrestle with various issues, the SAG Awards seemed to sidestep all of those landmines and controversies. For everyone who complains about awards shows being too political, the ceremony was largely devoid of politics, other than frequent expressions of support for the guild – and unions in general – and Patricia Arquette’s note of thanks to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and those, as she described them, working to safeguard American democracy.
As for the host, Megan Mullally hammed her way through a few modest bits, but took a decided back seat to the business at hand.
Instead, the 25th annual SAG awards kept the spotlight squarely on the winners, in a way likely to fill Academy Award organizers with envy. Throughout, the speeches offered a full-throated celebration of the craft of acting – filled with familiar expressions of just being honored to be nominated and thanks to the usual assortment of agents, publicists and family.
A classy, heartfelt tribute to Alan Alda – the recipient of a career-achievement award – perfectly encapsulated the entire night’s vibe.
The memorable flourishes, rather, came courtesy of SAG voters, who provided the evening with a strong populist hook, reaching out to honor movies, TV and performances that have found widespread popularity. The standout by that measure, of course, was “Black Panther,” which, as a superhero blockbuster, was deemed to have won just by breaking through and garnering a nomination.
Still, that film wasn’t the only crowd-pleasing selection, with NBC’s drama “This is Us,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” star Rami Malek and Emily Blunt – for the horror hit “A Quiet Place” – adding to the list of commercially successful winners.
SAG’s choices also highlighted some of the challenges inherent in keeping awards season fresh, with Malek, Glenn Close, Mahershala Ali, Sandra Oh, Darren Criss, the aforementioned Arquette and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” all reprising victories from the recent Golden Globes.
Among the perhaps too-seldom-cited hurdles that the Oscars faces – in this age of televised abundance – is the ample practice some of its big winners have had delivering acceptance speeches by the time the protracted awards-season process comes to an end.
If there was one indelible moment, it came when “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman spoke on behalf of the movie’s ensemble, after acknowledging, “I didn’t think I was going to have to speak.”
His surprise and remarks about what the movie represents for people – and especially performers – of color sounded utterly genuine and charmingly sincere, on an awards night that saved its surprises, by and large, for those moments when the envelopes were opened.