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The SAG Awards honor Phoenix and Dinklage in an otherwise disappointing night for genre

By Benjamin Bullard
Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (Credit: Warner Bros)

The 26th annual Screen Actors Guild awards set the table for some big genre showings this year with a ton of nominations in both the film and television categories, but did all that pre-awards show love translate into big wins for some of our favorite actors and ensembles?

The SAG Awards, unique among the major entertainment ceremonies for honoring actors but not projects, included tons of genre stars in its annual batch of nominees this year. In the end, though, it was all about Joker star Joaquin Phoenix and Game of Thrones favorite Peter Dinklage, while most other genre nominees watched from the sidelines.

Phoenix kept his string of awards-season wins intact, capping the evening by walking away with the award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role for his protrayal of Arthur Fleck in Joker. In a gracious acceptance speech, Phoenix gave a big shoutout to his iconic predecessor behind the Joker's makeup — the late Heath Ledger. "Really, I'm standing here on the shoulders of my favorite actor: Heath Ledger," he said, while throwing additional props to fellow nominees Leonardo DiCaprio, Adam Driver, Taron Egerton, and Christian Bale.

Dinklage had Game of Thrones highest-profile win, taking away his very first SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series. Fresh off his record-setting fourth best supporting Emmy from late last year, Dinklage topped a field of nominees that also included Stranger Things’ David Harbour. In his brief acceptance speech, Dinklage thanked “the people of northern Ireland, who put up with us for nine years,” as well as Erica Schmidt, his wife — for putting up with him even longer than that.

Before straying too far from Joker, we should note that proceedings paused midway through the ceremony to honor the monumental career of legendary actor Robert De Niro (who plays opposite Phoenix in Joker as talk show host Murray Franklin). In his politically-veering acceptance speech, De Niro said he was grateful to have worked with some of film’s greatest talent to enjoy “a career with dignity and creative fulfillment.” De Niro was this year’s SAG honoree as the recipient of the Life Achievement Award. 

Looking at some of this year's missed opportunities, Us star Lupita Nyong’o lost out to Judy's Renee Zellweger for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, while Jojo Rabbit’s Scarlett Johansson watched the Actor statue go to Marriage Story’s Laura Dern for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. The Handmaid’s Tale star Elizabeth Moss stayed seated as well, as The Morning Show’s Jennifer Aniston took home the statue for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series.

While Jojo Rabbit ended up losing out to awards-season favorite Parasite in the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture category, at least the stunt teams in this year's bumper crop of genre projects got some love. Avengers: Endgame literally assembled the best cast of stunt actors in any action film this year, according to the Screen Actors Guild, which awarded the Marvel epic the trophy for Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture. Endgame edged out Joker, also nominated in the same category, to take home the prize.

Finally, back on the TV side, all other series bent the knee one last time to Game of Thrones, which set sail from Westeros with the award for Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series — in the process edging out genre nominees Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, and fellow HBO drama Watchmen.

Will Phoenix's SAG win keep Joker's momentum going as we head into the home stretch ahead of this year's Academy Awards? Thankfully, we don't have too long a wait to find out. Set to take place on Feb. 9, this year's Oscars ceremony is just around the corner.