SAG Awards' South Asian talent surprise: Best Cast winners Freida Pinto & Dev Patel + Irrfan Khan & Anil Kapoor
In the motion picture categories, the biggest surprise by far at the 2009 SAG Awards (see list of winners and nominations further below) was the Screen Actors Guild voting members' Best Cast selection: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, and Irrfan Khan for Slumdog Millionaire.
Featuring no big names in the United States – Irrfan Khan and Anil Kapoor are big in India and in countries where Bollywood movies are popular – the “ethnically South Asian”* cast of the Danny Boyle-directed, Mumbai-set drama beat the better-known ensembles – e.g., Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, James Franco, Frank Langella, Philip Seymour Hofman – in Doubt, Milk, Frost/Nixon, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
In the SAG Awards' individual big-screen categories, the winners were the expected names:
- Two-time Best Actress (or Female Actor) winner Meryl Streep for her self-righteously envious nun in John Patrick Shanley's Doubt. Individually, Streep had been shortlisted for five motion picture SAG Awards, always in the Best Actress category, in addition to having won Best Actress in a Television Movie or Miniseries for Angels in America.
- First-time Best Actor winner Sean Penn for playing the title character – openly gay San Francisco Board of Supervisors Member Harvey Milk – in Gus Van Sant's Milk. Individually, Penn had been shortlisted for three motion picture SAG Awards, always in the Best Actor category.
- Best Supporting Actress Kate Winslet for her lead role in Stephen Daldry's Holocaust-themed The Reader. Winslet had previously won in the same category for Ang Lee's 1995 period romantic drama Sense and Sensibility.
- Posthumous Best Supporting Actor Heath Ledger for bringing to life The Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. Individually, Ledger had been shortlisted for the 2005 Best Actor SAG Award for Brokeback Mountain.
Veteran James Earl Jones, a Best Actor Academy Award nominee for Martin Ritt's The Great White Hope (1970) and the voice of Darth Vader in the earlier Star Wars movies (and in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith), was the recipient of this year's Life Achievement Award.
* Yes, we're aware that South Asia has dozens of ethnic, cultural, and linguistic groups; hence the quotation marks.
In the individual categories, the SAG Awards this century have been a reliable – albeit hardly infallible – indicator of the Academy Awards, at least in the lead categories. Out of eight Best Actor/Best Actress Screen Actors Guild winners, seven male (including Benicio Del Toro, shortlisted in the Academy Awards' Best Supporting Actor category) and six female performers were also handed Oscar statuettes.
This year, expect Sean Penn and Heath Ledger to top their respective categories, while Kate Winslet is the shoo-in Best Actress for The Reader. With Winslet out of the way in the Best Supporting Actress race, that particular Oscar statuette should then go to Penélope Cruz for her Anna Magnani-esque performance in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
It should be noted that unlike the Oscars, the SAG Awards take a “don't ask, don't tell” approach to its listings. If a performer is submitted in the supporting categories, no matter how large their role they will be in contention for the Screen Actors Guild's Best Supporting Actress/Best Supporting Actor trophy.
SAG Awards' Best Cast vs. Academy Awards' Best Picture
When it comes to the Best Cast category, the SAG Awards-Academy Awards correlation gets iffier.
SAG members tend to select ensemble pieces – e.g., Apollo 13, The Birdcage, The Full Monty, Traffic, Gosford Park, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Sideways, Crash – but these don't necessarily win Best Picture Oscars. In fact, since the first SAG Awards (honoring 1995 releases), only six Best Cast winners have gone on to win Best Picture.†
This year, however, things look different. Considering the fact that Dev Patel was the only Slumdog Millionaire cast member shortlisted in the SAG Awards' acting categories and that this awards season's sleeper hit has received few mentions in the acting categories elsewhere, it seems clear that the Anglo-Indian-American production was the Screen Actors Guild's Best Cast pick because of the movie itself.
Once one factors in the disproportionate weight of the Academy's extensive Actors Branch, that translates into … Slumdog Millionaire for the Best Picture Oscar.
† SAG Awards' Best Cast / Academy Awards' Best Picture winners: John Madden's Shakespeare in Love (1998), Sam Mendes' American Beauty (1999), Rob Marshall's Chicago (2002), Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Paul Haggis' Crash (2005), and Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men (2007).
SAG Award presenters
As announced by the Screen Actors Guild, this year's SAG Award presenters included:
Veteran Best Actor Academy Award winner Ernest Borgnine (Marty, 1955).
SAG Awards: Winners & nominations
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor.
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon.
* Sean Penn - Milk.
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler.
Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin - Milk.
Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder.
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt.
* Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight.
Dev Patel - Slumdog Millionaire.
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams - Doubt.
Penélope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Viola Davis - Doubt.
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
* Kate Winslet - The Reader.
Doubt: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis.
Frost/Nixon: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, etc.
Milk: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco, etc.
* Slumdog Millionaire: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Irrfan Khan, Anil Kapoor.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, etc.
Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award
James Earl Jones.
Best Actress in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Laura Dern - Recount.
* Laura Linney - John Adams.
Shirley MacLaine - Coco Chanel.
Phylicia Rashad - A Raisin in the Sun.
Susan Sarandon - Bernard and Doris.
Best Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Ralph Fiennes - Bernard and Doris.
* Paul Giamatti - John Adams.
Kevin Spacey - Recount.
Kiefer Sutherland - 24: Redemption.
Tom Wilkinson - John Adams.
Best Actress in a Drama Series
* Sally Field - Brothers & Sisters.
Mariska Hargitay - Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Holly Hunter - Saving Grace.
Elisabeth Moss - Mad Men.
Kyra Sedwick - The Closer.
Best Actress in a Comedy Series
Christina Applegate - Samantha Who?.
America Ferrera - Ugly Betty.
* Tina Fey - 30 Rock.
Mary-Louise Parker - Weeds.
Tracey Ullman - Tracey Ullman's State of the Union.
Best Actor in a Drama Series
Michael C. Hall - Dexter.
Jon Hamm - Mad Men.
* Hugh Laurie - House.
William Shatner - Boston Legal.
James Spader - Boston Legal.
Best Actor in a Comedy Series
* Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock.
Steve Carell - The Office.
David Duchovny - Californication.
Jeremy Piven - Entourage.
Tony Shalhoub - Monk.
Best Cast in a Drama Series
* Mad Men.
Best Cast in a Comedy Series
* 30 Rock.
Best Motion Picture Stunt Ensemble
* The Dark Knight.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Best Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series
Friday Night Lights.
Anglo-Indian-American co-production tops PGA Awards
Slumdog Millionaire, Man on Wire, and WALL-E were the three big-screen winners of the 2009 Producers Guild of America Golden Laurel Awards, announced at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles on Jan. 24.
Having also topped the SAG Awards' Best Cast category – for stars Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Irrfan Khan, and Anil Kapoor – Slumdog Millionaire is definitely the movie to beat at the 2009 Academy Awards.
In the Oscars' Best Documentary Feature and Best Animated Feature categories, the same goes for, respectively, James Marsh's Man on Wire, about daring/maddening tightrope walker Philippe Petit, and Andrew Stanton's Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Film winner WALL-E, about a lonely robot in a deserted planet who falls in love with a visiting probe. Their producers are, respectively, Simon Chinn and Jim Morris.
The PGA Awards' other theatrical motion picture winner was Gus Van Sant's biopic Milk, about slain San Francisco Board of Supervisors Member Harvey Milk. Written by WGA Award winner Dustin Lance Black, and starring SAG Award winner Sean Penn, Milk earned producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen the Stanley Kramer Award, named after the director/producer whose films (e.g., Judgment at Nuremberg, Ship of Fools, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) tackled significant social themes.
Producers Guild Awards: Winners & nominations (partial list)
The Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Kathleen Kennedy & Frank Marshall, Ceán Chaffin.
The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven & Emma Thomas.
Frost/Nixon, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard & Eric Fellner.
Milk Dan Jinks & Bruce Cohen.
* Slumdog Millionaire, Christian Colson.
Producer of the Year Award in Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures
* Man on Wire, Simon Chinn.
Standard Operating Procedure, Julie Bilson Ahlberg & Errol Morris.
Trouble the Water, Carl Deal & Tia Lessin.
Producer of the Year Award in Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures
Bolt, Clark Spencer.
Kung Fu Panda, Melissa Cobb.
* WALL-E, Jim Morris.
David L. Wolper Producer of the Year Award in Long-Form Television
Bernard and Doris.
* John Adams.
A Raisin in the Sun.
Brian Grazer & Ron Howard.
David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures
Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television
The Stanley Kramer Award
Milk, Dan Jinks & Bruce Cohen.
Screen Actors Guild website.
Producers Guild of America website.
“Freida Pinto & Anil Kapoor + Meryl Streep & Kate Winslet: SAG Awards + PGA Winners” last updated in October 2018.