The Worthiest Film & TV Ensemble Casts for 2021 SAG Award Consideration

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Photo Source: Mark Stinson

For the Screen Actors Guild Awards—and pretty much only the Screen Actors Guild Awards—honoring the year’s best screen acting means honoring ensembles. Voted upon by members of SAG-AFTRA everywhere, SAG’s motion picture cast and TV ensemble categories are essentially the equivalents of the Oscars’ and Emmys’ top prizes. 

Winning in any of these categories is just as much of an honor as the individual prizes, if not more so. The SAG Awards rightly understand that acting is a team activity; tight-knit casts prove that on-screen performances can be more than the sum of their parts. Below are the projects eligible for 2021 SAG Awards (premiering within the eligibility window of Jan. 1, 2020–Feb. 28, 2021) that this year impressed those of us who appreciate cohesive acting. Click on for the selections we at Backstage presented to this year’s SAG Award nominating committees! And to keep up with voting guides for the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, and more, stay tuned here.

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

  • “Da 5 Bloods”: The true-to-life specificity in clashes between Vietnamese locals and returning American vets, both grappling with a war decades gone, is just one of the conflicts driving Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods”...
  • “Judas and the Black Messiah”: Neither Daniel Kaluuya nor fellow “Get Out” star Lakeith Stanfield have ever delivered the same performance twice, and in no film is that more apparent than director and co-writer Shaka King’s retelling of the life, work, and death of Fred Hampton...
  • “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”: Though it dropped on Netflix in the dead of winter, the sensation “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” evokes more than any other is heat—stale, suffocating, overwhelming heat...
  • “Mank”: “Mank,” David Fincher’s film about old Hollywood film legends, features a cast that does these icons justice—shot in sumptuous black and white that pays homage to the era...
  • “Minari”: Lee Isaac Chung’s A24 drama “Minari,” his autobiographically inspired story of a Korean-American family moving to an Arkansas farm, is a reminder that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are measured differently for every family...
  • “Nomadland”: A slice-of-life portrait of van-dwelling migrant laborers eschewing modern American society, Chloé Zhao’s festival darling bears more resemblance to a documentary; her casting of real-life nomads in scripted roles further blends reality and invention...
  • “One Night in Miami”: It’s not often that film-going audiences get the chance to watch powerful, successful Black men commiserating about racism and how it’s affected their careers and their time in the spotlight...
  • “Promising Young Woman”: It’s Carey Mulligan’s world in “Promising Young Woman.” But without the support of this feminist revenge thriller’s star-studded ensemble, there would really be no story...
  • “The Trial of the Chicago 7”: Every actor in this Aaron Sorkin historical drama plays such a pivotal role in the film’s success—and has carved out such a lived-in performance— that it’s impossible to rank one character as more instrumental to the storytelling than any other...

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series

  • “Black-ish”: For a family sitcom on a traditional network, ABC’s “Black-ish” manages to cover an impressive amount of ground...
  • “Dead to Me”: Jen Harding, played by Christina Applegate in the performance of her career, is deep in the throes of grief when we meet her following the sudden death of her husband; Judy Hale, played by perpetually glassy-eyed Linda Cardellini, is grieving, too, though maybe in a more metaphysical sense...
  • “The Good Place”: The core cast members of Michael Schur’s comedy established themselves over four beloved seasons as one of the strongest and most infectiously charming ensembles the small screen has ever seen, right from the day their characters died...
  • “Insecure”: Whether it’s the entertaining, laid-back, hangout feel of the show or the detailed exploration of the Black female experience in modern-day America, the HBO comedy-drama has something for everyone...
  • “Killing Eve”: “Cerebral” and “unique” are words that get tossed around a lot when talking about crime drama. BBC America’s “Killing Eve,” however, is one unlike any you’ve ever seen...
  • “Ramy”: When a series is named after its lead character, you might not think you’re in for much of an ensemble acting showcase. But in “Ramy,” it’s the ensemble that makes the show’s namesake shine....
  • “Schitt’s Creek”: Success stories have been thin on the ground in 2020. It’s a big part of the reason why it was so incredibly gratifying to watch “Schitt’s Creek” clean up at the Emmys...
  • “Ted Lasso”: Jason Sudeikis has long been showcasing the kind of charisma you can’t fake. His everyman aptitude (plus devilish good looks and whip-fast comedy chops) are put to glass-slipper use—or here, leather-cleat use—on his latest small-screen project, “Ted Lasso”...
  • “What We Do in the Shadows”: What would happen if four vampires and their familiars lived on Staten Island? That’s the question FX’s mockumentary hit tries to answer as it follows the bumbling adventures of a pack of supernatural New York City residents...

Listen to great advice from SAG Award contenders here!

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

  • “Better Call Saul”: Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan’s series achieves its success through slick writing and Bob Odenkirk’s convincing performance, which adds a level of vulnerability to the character that wasn’t seen in “Breaking Bad”...
  • “The Boys”: The title of “The Boys” is a little misleading. Yes, there are certainly boys on Eric Kripke’s darkly twisted superhero series on Amazon Prime Video, but women abound, too...
  • “The Crown”: “The Crown” fans and royal watchers alike have been waiting for Season 4 ever since the series was announced all the way back in 2014. No, there wasn’t a cast changeover this year like there was in Season 3, but a new addition was just as exciting and highly anticipated: Diana Spencer...
  • “Lovecraft Country”: With perhaps this TV season’s most mind-boggling introduction, “Lovecraft Country” announces everything it wants to explore thematically in just two minutes...
  • “The Mandalorian”: There’s no denying that the Force is strong with “The Mandalorian” on Disney+. Audience expectations were high when the first live-action series in the “Star Wars” franchise debuted on the new streaming platform in 2019. And so far, the show has exceeded those expectations...
  • “Ozark”: While the series begins with Jason Bateman’s Marty as its primary protagonist, it gradually—and to its credit, organically and seamlessly—re-centers on Laura Linney’s Wendy...
  • “This Is Us”: For this latest season, the ensemble masked up and navigated the challenges of both COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement...

Be sure to check in with Backstage’s awards coverage for more as the 2021 season unfolds!

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