In the Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations — nestled just after the Golden Globe nom announcement — one trend is clear: Blockbusters might be getting their due this year.
It’s no secret that awards shows like the Oscars tend to honor movies considered more “artistic.” This year might be different, if the SAG Award nominations for best cast in a motion picture are any indication (the nominees in the other film categories are mostly unsurprising). This year’s five nominees were “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “BlacKkKlansman.” With the exception of the final film, Spike Lee’s telling of the true story of black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan that was made for just $15 million, the list is all movies with midsize to larger budgets.
That’s unusual for the category. Last year’s list (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Big Sick,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird” and “Mudbound”) had none over $20 million, and the previous year had none over $30 million.
Perhaps what’s most interesting is what wasn’t nominated: all of the movies that could easily take the title “Oscar bait,” such as the Damien Chazelle’s moon landing dramatization “First Man,” Steve McQueen’s “Widows,” Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white passion project “Roma” and Adam McKay’s searing take on former vice president Dick Cheney, “Vice.”
It’s tough to know what this means for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s awards. After the SAG Awards began honoring a film ensemble in 1995, the winner of this award won best picture at the Oscars 11 of 22 times, the Los Angeles Times noted in January.
Still, it’s telling to see the SAG Awards honoring so many blockbusters in the same year that the Academy attempted to be more inclusive of these pictures.
Earlier this year, well after it became clear that Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” had a solid chance of receiving a nomination for best picture, the academy announced a new category to recognize achievement in popular film. It was a clear attempt to include more popular films in the ceremony, probably in the hope of boosting the show’s ratings.
The backlash was swift.
Actor Rob Lowe tweeted “Seriously, this ‘best pop movie’ category is the worst idea the Academy has had since they asked me to sing with Snow White.” The Washington Post’s film critic Ann Hornaday said that “by so uncritically accepting the false binary between aesthetic sophistication and rousingly effective entertainment, the academy has consigned whoever wins best popular movie to a special hell: Their achievement will always have an asterisk attached.”
Less than a month later, the academy axed the category, saying it was “committed to celebrating a wide spectrum of movies” but that “implementing any new award nine months into the year creates challenges for films that have already been released.”
The academy has tried another way to nominate more blockbusters. In 2009, after “The Dark Knight” failed to get a best picture nod, it “expanded the number of nominations for best picture from five to a possible 10 films, in a move meant to inject more blockbusters into the Oscar mix and generate more excitement around the telecast,” as Variety’s Brent Lang noted.
"Oscar bait” films have continued to dominate the best picture category, but if the SAG Awards are any indication, there’s a chance this year might bring a change.