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Five big takeaways from the SAG Awards — and what they might mean for the Oscars

The Screen Actors Guild Awards happened on Sunday night — the first of the guilds to give out their big prizes this season. The guilds — your Screen Actors Guild, but also your Directors Guild and your Producers Guild and your Writers Guild — make particularly interesting predictors of Oscar season (unlike, for instance, the Golden Globes), because they are chosen by some of the same voters. That can make guild awards solid predictors, or at least as solid as any. For instance, before Parasite won what was originally considered a longshot best picture Oscar two years ago, it picked up a win at the SAG Awards, and that's when its win for best picture started to look like a shot that was not quite so long.

So what can we take away fromSunday night's wins?

1. Here comes Squid Game. The South Korean drama series about a game that offers participants the chance to get out of debt or literally die trying won big in television drama: Lee Jung-jae and Jung Ho-yeon won for lead actor and actress, and the show's stunt ensemble won in their category as well. (The SAG Awards are one of the only places where stunt performers are honored, a regrettable omission elsewhere that was noted by my colleague Glen Weldon in a recent lament about the Oscars.)

When the Emmys come around in the fall, will Squid Game manage to beat out the lauded Succession, the cast of which won last night's ensemble award? It's always hard to know when popularity — hotness, if you will — is going to translate into awards recognition. Early signs for Squid Game (and thus Netflix) are good, but Succession is still a beast, and it had a very good third season. Should be a good fight.

2. CODA is getting some good momentum. CODA, the crowd-pleaser about a young girl named Ruby getting ready to leave for college (or not), won the award for its ensemble — the closest thing the SAG Awards have to best picture. And Troy Kotsur, who plays Ruby's father, won the supporting actor award. Note that Kotsur was the first deaf actor to win a solo SAG award, and the cast was the first predominantly deaf cast to win.

The film has been on a bit of a roller-coaster: When it came out at Sundance, it was lauded and sold for a ton of money; hopes were high. But maybe because it sold to Apple TV, still a service that doesn't have the reach of something like Netflix, and maybe because its theatrical release came in August, when theatrical attendance was still pretty rickety, it seemed to fade a little in the public consciousness.

Until recently, it felt to me — this, admittedly, is my extremely unscientific gut instinct — that best picture would probably go to either Power of the Dog or Don't Look Up, but it's easy to wonder whether CODA might sneak in there. A crowd-pleaser does, after all, sometimes please just enough of the crowd.

3. Will Smith may be close. Will Smith has been nominated for Oscars twice before, for The Pursuit of Happyness and Ali. Some of his other performances have felt, for lack of a better word, awards-y, but have not been nominated: your Concussion, your Seven Pounds, and so forth. This year, he's nominated for King Richard. He's already won the Golden Globe — but as we've discussed in the past, that doesn't tell you much. Now, however, he's won the SAG Award, which advances the notion that we may be looking at the Will Smith Oscar year.

4. Your movie doesn't have to be a big knockout for you to win. Full disclosure: The Eyes of Tammy Faye is still on my Oscar spreadsheet as "To Watch," not as "Watched." But that film was nominated for just two Oscars: Jessica Chastain for best actress and the film's makeup and hairstyling. It's not a huge haul, and the reviews were what we might call good-not-great. Nevertheless, Chastain won the SAG on Sunday, and like Will Smith, she's on her third Oscar nomination. But if she beats out, on Oscar night, Nicole Kidman, Olivia Colman, Kristen Stewart and Penélope Cruz? That's a big win for a movie that has not necessarily been prominent this season.

5. It's an Ariana DeBose world. Ariana DeBose won for West Side Story on Sunday, continuing — as a couple of folks noted — a talent pipeline from Fox's reality show So You Think You Can Dance. But more directly, DeBose is just on a huge roll, and while there aren't a lot of "rising star" stories anymore where everybody seems to think the person is just luminous and fabulous, she's got what feels like an extremely high approval rating at this point. She's also the first Latina actress and the first openly queer woman of color to win for film. If you're looking for a good story this Oscar season, look no further.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
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