The Ensemble prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards used to be a critical nomination if your film was going to have any chance of winning the Oscar for Best Picture. However, three of the past four winners have been snubbed for the Ensemble race but in each of those cases the films received at least one individual performer nomination. Since the SAG merged with AFTRA for a film to win ensemble it has to contain a mix of both film and television stars.
We can analyze this year’s race by beginning with the two biggest surprises: Don’t Look Up and House of Gucci. Don’t Look Up is the largest ensemble and its nomination proves the power of Netflix and the availability of streaming. But the film will have to overcome the Leonardo DiCaprio curse as he’s been nominated five times previously as part of an Ensemble that would go on to lose. Ironically the first of his losses came in Marvin’s Room (1996) which also starred his Don’t Look Up costar Meryl Streep. Streep is also cursed when it comes to winning Ensemble as she’s been a part of six nominated ensembles without a win. Most notably she was double nominated for both The Hours (2002) and still walked away empty handed. Her last loss was in the Drama TV Ensemble race for Big Little Lies (2020).
If the star-studded cast of Don’t Look is out what about House of Gucci? House of Gucci, arguably is the nominee amongst the five to over perform receiving three nominations. It’s got its own star power with not just Lady Gaga but an ensemble that includes acting legends Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. As Pacino knows all too well star power isn’t enough as he lost as part of The Irishman ensemble (2019). Adding to Gucci’s trouble is the film isn’t widely adored but they still nominated Jared Leto for his panned performance for Supporting Actor.
King Richard stars Will Smith who just so happened to have gotten his acting start on television. The ensemble includes Tony Goldwyn best known for his television work on Scandal and Jon Bernthal, who is probably best known for his television work on The Walking Dead and. Also, amongst the cast is Aunjanue Ellis who was recently nominated for an Emmy (Lovecraft Country). But, it was her surprising snub that might show there isn’t as much support for King Richard as we expected.
Next up is Belfast. Naturally, Belfast is hoping to use a win in the Ensemble category to keep itself at the top of the pack for Best Picture especially after its biggest competition The Power of the Dog was snubbed. A win here going into BAFTA could give this film a chance to become leader of the pact. Belfast appears to have everything it needs to win Ensemble— the film has a respected film and stage star Judi Dench amongst its cast. The ensemble also includes two well-known television stars Caitriona Balfe (Outlander) and Ciarán Hinds (Game of Thrones). However, both Hinds and Jamie Doran were notably snubbed in the Supporting race. Also, missing from the ensemble is Lewis McAskie who plays Will, Balfe and Dornan’s oldest son. This film should easily be out front when you consider it’s a semi-autobiographical film from actor/writer/director Kenneth Branagh. A film directed by an actor should be almost a sure thing? In actuality, of the 19 films with an actor/director nominated, only three have ever won ensemble Apollo 13 (1994), Argo (2011) and Spotlight (2015).
Last, but certainly not least, is CODA, which should not be underestimated as three of the six members of the ensemble are deaf. If their fellow actors are wanting to show their diversity and inclusion this cast is one to watch. What would make more of an impact than seeing Marlee Matlin or Troy Kotsur sign an acceptance speech? CODA, like Don’t Look Up, is easily available for voters to watch as it’s currently available to stream on Apple TV+. A win here would give the film a huge burst of momentum heading into the Oscars.