‘Three Billboards’ wins top prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards

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One of the most unpredictable awards seasons in memory took another itty-bitty step toward clarity at Sunday evening’s SAG Awards, as Hollywood’s actors — who represent the motion picture academy’s largest branch — gave their highest honor to “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Director Martin McDonagh’s dark morality tale took home three awards, including the top prize for ensemble, beating out “Lady Bird,” “Mudbound,” “Get Out” and “The Big Sick.” Frances McDormand won the lead actress award for her turn as a grieving mother who tries to spur the local police to solve her daughter’s murder, while Sam Rockwell earned the supporting actor award for his performance as a racist, dimwitted cop.

Though this year’s wide-open awards race has stymied even the most veteran Oscar prognosticators, the victories for “Three Billboards” — which follow its four wins earlier this month at the Golden Globes — could bode well for its Oscar prospects. Over the last 24 years, roughly half of the winners of the ensemble prize have gone on to win best picture at the Oscars.

COMPLETE LIST of SAG Awards 2018 winners and nominees »

That said, two of this year’s strongest contenders — Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical fable “The Shape of Water” and Steven Spielberg’s Pentagon Papers drama “The Post” — were shut out of the SAG ensemble category.

Gary Oldman won the lead actor award for his acclaimed turn as Winston Churchill in the period drama “Darkest Hour.” Allison Janney received the prize for her supporting turn as Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding’s mother in the dramedy “I, Tonya.” Both actors also triumphed at the Golden Globes.

Last year’s SAG Awards ceremony, held in the wake of President Trump’s inauguration and just days after the announcement of a controversial immigration ban, was filled with raw, blistering political speeches. By contrast, this year’s show was a relatively muted affair, with the bulk of the fire directed not at Washington but at the entertainment industry itself.

Coming in the midst of the industry’s ongoing sexual harassment scandals, the ceremony highlighted women throughout the evening, with a female host, actress Kristen Bell, and all-female awards presenters — each a first in SAG history. In one of the evening’s more pointed barbs, Bell half-jokingly referred to Hulu’s drama series “The Handmaid’s Tale” — which envisions a dystopian future in which women are subjected to brutal misogyny and sexual subjugation — as “a documentary.”

Actress Rosanna Arquette — who was among several women whose accusations of sexual misconduct against film mogul Harvey Weinstein helped ignite the #MeToo movement — acknowledged all of those who have spoken up against harassment in Hollywood and beyond.

“We are honored to be part of this supportive creative community and we are inspired that so many powerful voices aren’t silenced by the fear of retaliation,” Arquette said. “We can control our own destiny.”

Illustrating just how much gender issues were on people’s minds, Morgan Freeman — who earned a lifetime achievement award for his long and distinguished career — wryly noted that even the SAG statuette itself is male.

Against this backdrop, the SAG Awards avoided a potentially uncomfortable moment when James Franco, who has faced accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior toward several women in recent weeks, failed to win the lead actor award for his turn as hapless filmmaker Tommy Wiseau in “The Disaster Artist,” a role that recently earned him a Golden Globe.

Another of the evening’s nominees, Aziz Ansari from the Netflix comedy “Master of None,” who faced controversial allegations from an anonymous woman, was not in attendance.

On the TV side, NBC’s “This Is Us” won its first-ever award for ensemble in a drama series, with star Sterling K. Brown collecting the award for lead actor. HBO’s comedy “Veep” also won two awards for its ensemble and star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as did its limited series “Big Little Lies,” which earned awards for Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard.

With her wins for “Veep,” Louis-Dreyfus set a new record for the most SAG Awards — nine — ever won by a single performer. But the actress, who has been battling breast cancer for months, was watching the show from her home. “I wish I could have been @SAGawards tonight but have to admit it’s pretty fun to watch in my pj’s,” she wrote on Twitter.

In one of the evening’s few surprises in the TV categories, Claire Foy earned her second consecutive prize for lead actress in a drama series for the second season of Netflix epic “The Crown,” beating out “Handmaid’s Tale” star Elisabeth Moss, who was considered the favorite following her wins at both the Golden Globes and the Primetime Emmys.

Speaking to her fellow actors — and by extension to the audience watching at home — SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris summed up the evening’s overarching message of solidarity in tackling some of the industry’s most intractable ills and inequities.

“Change is coming, and we are the agents of that change,” she said. “We can and we must create an environment in which discrimination, harassment and abuse are no longer tolerated. Make no mistake, this is not a moment in time. This is a movement. And our strength comes in our unity.”

Times staff writer Sonaiya Kelley contributed to this report.

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