If you’re a member of SAG-AFTRA, it’s voting time! The nominating committees of the Screen Actors Guild Awards have chosen the year’s top performers of film and television—a tough task, given all the terrific acting in 2019. We’ve gone ahead and rounded up the 50 individual contenders below for your consideration. Read on for your official cheat sheet to the SAG nominees and what makes each worthy of a coveted Actor statue.
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
Erivo is perhaps better described as a presence than an actor; she has an innate charisma no matter what she’s doing. Particularly in the stillness she lends to her guarded and watchful Harriet Tubman, she dramatizes restraint with mesmerizing results, making us wonder what her wide eyes are seeing. Then, running with hundreds of freed slaves or making a rousing speech later in the film, she’s explosive.
Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
What makes “Marriage Story” Johansson’s best-ever work (in the middle of a superlative year, with similarly heartbreaking fare in “Avengers: Endgame” and “Jojo Rabbit”) is her ability to make the extreme emotions typical of divorce cohere into a relatable journey. Rage, stubbornness, grief, dwindling hope, a sense of failure—she remains Nicole, in all her quirky specificity, throughout.
Lupita Nyong’o, “Us”
Nyong’o sears herself into our minds with dual performances in Jordan Peele’s follow-up to “Get Out”—each award-worthy on its own, let alone taken together. The Oscar winner generates crackling, edge-of-your-seat tension with herself as both cautious everywoman Adelaide Wilson and her “Tethered” counterpart Red, whose darting movements and strangled wheeze of a voice will echo in your nightmares.
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
Theron has said that no role has scared her quite like Megyn Kelly. Starring in “Bombshell,” she takes on the former Fox News anchor in what will become one of the defining turns of her career. So complete is her embodiment of Kelly that there are moments re-created onscreen (interviews with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, for one) where you’d be forgiven for mistaking her for the real thing.
Renée Zellweger, “Judy”
“She is Judy Garland” is a phrase that’s been written in the parlance since the first industry screenings of this biopic. This film treatment of the legendary performer is good—but with Zellweger delivering a career-best performance as the drug-addicted, eating disorder–tormented, insomnia-ravaged superstar during the last year of her life, it is sensational. Like Garland herself, Zellweger coats everything she touches with an intangible sparkle so bright it’s blinding.
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Christian Bale, “Ford v Ferrari”
“Ford v Ferrari” marks another all-in, live-wire act from Bale, who stars as Ken Miles, the inimitable legendary racecar driver whose hair-trigger temper was matched only by his capabilities behind the wheel. He’s unbeatable in the driver’s seat, and Bale, sporting a working-class English brogue and brawn, is reliably unbeatable in front of the camera.
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Equal parts neurotic, explosive, and half in the bag, DiCaprio delivers a powerhouse performance as Western star Rick Dalton. A screaming argument—with himself—in his trailer on set is the gut-busting peak of this Quentin Tarantino instant classic. And DiCaprio lets himself fly off the handle like never before opposite Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, which is a sight to behold.
Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
As Charlie, reeling in the wake of his family’s dissolution, Driver drills down to his deepest depths. The more he taps into the man’s frustration, the more frustrated we get with him, yet we understand him every painful, messy step of the way. By the time he’s performing a rendition of “Being Alive” from the musical “Company,” it’s certain this is the best work of the actor’s career.
Taron Egerton, “Rocketman”
Egerton sees Rami Malek’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” Oscar win and ups the ante: He’s got live vocals! Acting, singing, and strutting his stuff as iconic but troubled music legend Elton John, Egerton has enough flamboyancy and theatrics to fill a baseball stadium—literally. And that’s what makes his more subdued moments all the more somber through rehab, familial trauma, and more.
Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
The role of the Joker is, in Phoenix’s hands, as complex as one could imagine a comic book–inspired character to be. His range is simply astonishing. Although he establishes great chemistry with Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, and others, Phoenix is his own ensemble; it’s like he’s playing an entire cast of supporting characters in the body of one man. (He deserves awards attention for his dancing alone.)
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”
The Dernaissance is alive and thriving, and we should all thank our lucky stars to be bearing witness. That said, calling it a rebirth would imply Dern had ever ceased doing great work—patently untrue. Rather, it seems the roles have finally caught up to her superiority, exemplified by her terrain-chomping lawyer in “Marriage Story.” There’s scene stealing, and then there’s Dern in stilettos and a bandage dress telling your ex-husband precisely where he can go.
Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit”
An emotional center of “Jojo Rabbit” is Johansson’s warm, playful, and supportive Rosie. She understands that her son’s Nazi fanaticism comes from the world in which he’s been brought up, a necessary evil under the authoritarian regime. But there’s clearly more to her.
Nicole Kidman, “Bombshell”
With a career brimming with some of the finest performances of the last three decades, Kidman delivers one of her best film turns yet in “Bombshell.” Playing former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, she is stoic and determined while bringing the hammer down on Roger Ailes and his rampant, closed-door sexual misconduct. To watch her do it is as satisfying as it gets.
Jennifer Lopez, “Hustlers”
When Lopez’s stripper-scammer Ramona arrives in Lorene Scafaria’s box office hit, pole dancing unforgettably to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” we’re reminded why we go to the movies. We go for stars like Lopez, who harnesses her natural charisma here like never before. And we go for performances like this one; Ramona is both warm mother figure and cold mercenary seeking revenge—and she’s so fabulous it’s, well, criminal.
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell”
Playing Kayla Pospisil, one of the few characters in “Bombshell” not based on a real-life figure, Robbie is an amalgam of many young Fox News employees under the reign of Roger Ailes. Experiencing the most explicit forms of sexual harassment while Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson pursues legal action and Charlize Theron’s Megyn Kelly grapples with her own Ailes experiences, Robbie plays the film’s pulsing heart to devastating effect.
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Jamie Foxx, “Just Mercy”
When he’s onscreen in this film, Foxx could break your heart just by breathing. Watching him play the wrongfully convicted Walter McMillian, you see a man go from accepting his demise at the hands of an unjust system to experiencing glimmers of previously unthinkable hope. It’s during this real-life legal drama’s quiet moments that Foxx stuns.
Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
The two-time Oscar-winning Hanks brings decades’ worth of goodwill and charm to his portrayal of children’s TV personality Fred Rogers, who in this love letter from director Marielle Heller seems to have invented kindness itself. Hanks, at his gentlest and most heartwarming, is always actively listening to those around him, personifying innocent curiosity and grace.
Al Pacino, “The Irishman”
As Jimmy Hoffa in “The Irishman,” Pacino gives you exactly what you expect—and it’s exactly what you want, too. Few can play hair-trigger hot-headedness and larger-than-life machismo like this Oscar-winning master, and in his debut collaboration with Martin Scorsese, his take on the famous union leader is one for the books.
Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
Pesci makes us remember just how cherished a presence he is onscreen in “The Irishman.” Never one to boil over, his mob boss Russell Bufalino keeps his sinister powers on simmer, a conductor of crime even when you can’t see him doing it. The trick to Pesci’s performance, however, is that he makes you feel for the man despite the monster. This is the 76-year-old Oscar winner’s dazzling return to form.
Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Charisma embodied, Pitt’s turn as aging stuntman Cliff Booth exudes the effortless California cool of ’60s Hollywood. But it soon becomes clear that his shaggy hair and aviators hide a fascinatingly complex character. And whether as co-worker and chauffeur to DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton or loyal friend to his pooch Brandy, Pitt has chemistry with everyone.
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 9 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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