LOS ANGELES -- With just three weeks to go until the Oscars, this year's unpredictable awards season took another surprising twist at Sunday evening's Screen Actors Guild Awards, as Hollywood's actors gave their highest honor to Bong Joon Ho's genre-scrambling class satire "Parasite."
Beating out a diverse field including "Bombshell," "The Irishman," "Jojo Rabbit" and "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood," the critically acclaimed South Korean film about two families, one rich and one poor, whose lives become entangled became the first foreign-language film ever to win the SAG ensemble prize, the guild's closest analogue to a best picture award. (The only other previous foreign-language film to score a SAG ensemble nod was 1997's Holocaust dramedy "Life Is Beautiful.")
"Although the title is 'Parasite,' I think the story is about co-existence and how we can all live together," actor Song Kang Ho, who plays the patriarch of the poor family, said as he accepted the award. "To be honored with a best ensemble award, it occurs to me that maybe we haven't created such a bad movie."
Coming into the night, many were predicting that either Martin Scorsese's gangster epic "The Irishman" or Quentin Tarantino's 1960s fantasia "Once Upon a Time" -- both anchored by star-packed casts -- would take the ensemble prize. But when the "Parasite" cast, none of whom received individual nominations, earned a warm standing ovation early in the night from the audience of actors at the Shrine Auditorium, while introducing the film, it was clear where the crowd's affections resided.
With the actors representing the largest branch of the motion picture academy by far, the SAG Awards are generally considered a significant bellwether indicating which way Oscar voters may be leaning. Over the last 25 years, roughly half of the winners of the ensemble prize have gone on to win best picture at the Oscars. That said, last year's victor, "Black Panther," ultimately lost out to "Green Book" (which was not nominated for the SAG ensemble prize).
This year's wide-open awards horse race has seen different films appear to surge into the lead at varying times, with the accelerated schedule only heightening the sense of uncertainty. The win for "Parasite" -- which has earned six Oscar nominations, including the first ever best-picture nod for a Korean film -- could be a good omen for its Academy Awards chances.
No foreign-language film has ever won the best picture prize in the academy's 92 years, however, and "Parasite" will have to overcome stiff competition from more conventional Oscars fare such as the World War I drama "1917," Scorsese's "The Irishman" and Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time." Both the comic-book smash "Joker" and "1917" -- which are in the thick of the leaders' pack with 11 and 10 Oscar nominations, respectively, with the latter hot off its Producers Guild Award for best picture win on Saturday -- failed to score ensemble nods from SAG.
Joaquin Phoenix won his first-ever SAG Award for his lead turn as a mentally disturbed aspiring stand-up comic turned supervillain in "Joker," while Renee Zellweger took home the lead actress prize for playing Hollywood icon Judy Garland in her difficult final years in the biopic "Judy." Both Zellweger and Phoenix took home Golden Globe Awards earlier this month and are considered front-runners in their respective categories for the Oscars.
After giving a somewhat rambling and jaded speech at the Globes, Phoenix seemed in better humor. He extolled the talents of his fellow nominees and saluted the late Heath Ledger -- who won a posthumous Oscar for playing the Joker in "The Dark Knight" -- calling him his favorite actor and saying, "I'm here tonight standing on (his) shoulders."
Laura Dern won the supporting actress prize for her turn as a cutthroat divorce lawyer in "Marriage Story," while Brad Pitt took home the supporting prize for playing a grizzled 1960s stuntman in "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood." "I've got to add this to my Tinder profile," Pitt cracked in one of the night's most memorable speeches. "Let's be honest, it was a difficult part: a guy who gets high, takes his shirt off and doesn't get along with his wife. It was a big stretch."