Monday, January 28, 2008

The SAG Awards: A couple of good lines and a fitting tribute.

The 14th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards television ceremony took place last night, simulcast on TBS and TNT television channels. The first major awards show of the season that made it to our TV screens with the support of the Writer's Guild who, while still on strike, granted a special dispensation to SAG so the show could go on. For a full list of winners click here to go to the Screen Actors Guild Awards website. I'll have some thoughts about our collective fascination with watching the Hollywood elite spend an evening backslapping in a future post, but for now I'll stick to some impressions of the show, the awards and a few of the recipients honored, truly, by their peers last night.
Of course the SAG Awards highlight performances in both Television and Film and while TV coverage isn't normally part of our scope, I have to make a couple of comments about last night's TV categories. First, enough of the Sopranos already! The shows over, the cast and crew have gone home, let it go! What is about this show, this cast, that drew so much adulation? Frankly, I don't get it and likely never will. Good show? Sure. Iconic, give me a break. What was new in that idea? Anyway, show's gone, so can we please get past the most ethnically stereotyped character set in the history of entertainment and move on. For all of you diehards, enjoy those DVDs.

To site a far more creative undertaking, congratulations to you viewers, who like me, fall down laughing at Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock. Your perception that this show delivers smart, fast comedy is spot on. Baldwin's award was well deserved as was his co-star's, Tina Fey, who's acceptance line "thanks to anyone in the Screen Actors Guild for even thinking of me as an actor" was typical. Her humility is charming and her talent beautifully showcased on a show, which for me, is the closest TV's ever come to repeating the appeal of the classic 60's sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show.

On the Silver Screen side of things, here's what stood out. Just a column or so ago I urged all of you not to cave-in to Academy Award® sentimentality in counting Ruby Dee's nomination as Supporting Actress in American Gangster, as anything more than a show of respect for the aging actress. Well the Screen Actors Guild has let Academy members off the hook by presenting Ms. Dee with an "actor" for her performance. A lovely (though a bit unfair considering her fellow nominees) nod from her peers. Let's hope that's the end of that. In the other motion picture categories, the winners all had substantial performances to compete against, making No Country For Old Men's wins in both of it's nominated categories particularly impressive. 

In the "Male Actor in a Leading Role" category, it was George Clooney's unfortunate luck to have Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood) return to work in 2007, that sent George home empty handed (for his spectacular performance as Michael Clayton) and I suspect the Oscars will repeat that experience.

As for the rest of this having some influence on the Academy Awards, we'll wait to see. No Country seems like a film that is destined for "classic" status and the Oscars, I'm sure, will be a part of that.

Among favorite moments at the podium, Javier Bardem's comment, "thank you for using the good takes instead of the ones where I really sucked" was perfect. Julie Christie's vocal support of the Writer's Guild was surprisingly as close to a political statement as the evening came and Daniel Day-Lewis' dedication of his award to Heath Ledger, after siting Ledger's performances in Monster's Ball and Brokeback Mountain, was the most maudlinly sentimental note of the night. (And for me, a moment that just felt shallow, but that's just me.)

My final comment speaks to the evening's highlight. Most lifetime achievement awards seem like an overdue and perfunctory tribute to a passing industry icon. Regardless of merit, the business takes a moment to honor one of it's own and we politely sit through the accolade mostly disinterested. Last night the Screen Actors Guild presented it's 44th Lifetime Achievement Award to Charles Durning, a fine actor and, as I learned last night, a hero and decorated soldier in World War II. I was also surprised to find that I had been a fan of Mr. Durning from the beginning, his first major film role still embedded as one of my favorites, as the the hard nosed Lt. Snyder in 1973's The Sting. I've loved watching this man act over the years and still laugh, imagining him dancing around a Texas State House in Best Little
 Whorehouse In Texas. He was a great partner in Burt Reynolds' success (including appearances in some 77 episodes of the underrated television series Evening Shade) and spot-on perfect casting in Denis Leary's Rescue Me, his performances a huge part of why I've watched this show's every episode. Taking the podium after the spoken and video tributes, Mr. Durning's opening line was "That's it?". When he once told his wife he was thinking about retiring from acting, his wife replied, "Yeah, and then what?". Indeed. And then we would have missed so many great performances and characterizations that followed.
Congratulations to Charles Durning and to the Screen Actor's Guild for honoring a talented and deserving icon still within your ranks.

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