"Parasite" has officially infected this year's award season. Bong Joon Ho's Korean class satire became the first foreign language film to take top honors from the Screen Actors Guild on Sunday, setting itself up as a legitimate best-picture contender to the front-runner "1917" at next month's Academy Awards.
The win, over the starry productions likes of "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" and "The Irishman" was a surprise, but only to a degree. "Parasite," up for six Oscars including best picture, has emerged as perhaps the stiffest competition for Sam Mendes' "1917," which won at the highly predictive Producers Guild Awards on Saturday.
But "Parasite" was the clear crowd favorite Sunday at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, where even the cast's appearance introducing the film drew a standing ovation. Yet until the SAG Awards, the many honors for "Parasite" have seldom included wins for its cast, none of whom was nominated for an Oscar.
"Although the title is 'Parasite,' I think the story is about coexistence and how we can all live together," said Song Kang Ho, one of the film's stars.
Because actors make up the largest percentage of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, their picks are closely watched as an Academy Awards harbinger.
But the last two years, the SAG ensemble winner has not gone on to win best picture: "Black Panther" last year and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" in 2018. And this year's front-runner, "1917," more acclaimed for its technical acumen, wasn't nominated by the screen actors. If "Parasite" can pull off the upset at the Feb. 9 Oscars, it would be the first foreign language film to do so.
Before the win for "Parasite," the SAG Awards were most notable as a reunion for Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. They each took home awards and celebrated the other's wins.
Pitt is headed toward his first acting Academy Award for his supporting performance in "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood," and he added to his front-runner status with a win from the actors' guild. Along the way, his speeches have been full of one-liners, and he didn't disappoint Sunday. Pitt, who said he was nursing a flu, looked down at his award and said, "I've got to add this to my Tinder profile."
"Let's be honest, it was a difficult part. A guy who gets high, takes his shirt off and doesn't get on with his wife," joked Pitt. "It was a big stretch." The audience laughed and clapped, including — as the cameras captured — Aniston, his ex-wife.
Aniston later won an award of her own for best female actor in a drama series for the Apple TV Plus show "The Morning Show." "What!" she said upon reaching the stage. Aniston finished her speech with a shout-out to her "Murder Mystery" co-star Adam Sandler, whose performance in "Uncut Gems" has gone mostly unrewarded this season despite considerable acclaim.
"Your performance is extraordinary and your magic is real. I love you, buddy," said Aniston.
Backstage, Pitt watched Aniston's acceptance speech. After she got off stage, they warmly congratulated each other on their first individual SAG Awards.
Along with Pitt, all the Oscar favorites kept their momentum, including wins for Renee Zellweger ("Judy"), Joaquin Phoenix ("Phoenix") and Laura Dern ("Marriage Story").
As expected, Phoenix took best performance by a male actor. After individually praising each fellow nominee, Phoenix concluded with a nod to his Joker predecessor. "I'm standing here on the shoulders of my favorite actor, Heath Ledger," said Phoenix.
Dern also further established herself as the best supporting actress favorite with a win from the actors guild. On her way to the stage, she hugged her father, Bruce Dern (part of the "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" ensemble).
Phoebe Waller-Bridge continued her awards sweep for "Fleabag," a winner at the Emmys and the Golden Globes. Waller-Bridge added a SAG win for best female actor in a comedy series and took a moment to reflect on the show's parade of accolades.
"This whole thing really has been a dream, and if I wake up tomorrow and discover it was just that, then thank you," said Waller-Bridge. "It's been the most beautiful dream."
"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" also continued its streak, winning best comedy series ensemble for the second straight year, along with Tony Shalhoub taking home the statue for best male actor in a comedy series. But accepting the ensemble award, the show's shocked Alex Borstein said she had voted for "Fleabag."
"Honestly this makes no sense," said Borstein. "Fleabag' is brilliant."
Robert De Niro was given the guild's lifetime achievement award, an honor presented by Leonardo DiCaprio who, like De Niro, is a frequent leading man for Martin Scorsese. (The two co-star in Scorsese's upcoming "Killers of the Flower Moon.") A raucous standing ovation greeted the 76-year-old actor.
De Niro, a fiery critic of Donald Trump, referenced the president in his remarks.
"There's right and there's wrong. And there's common sense and there's abuse of power. As a citizen, I have as much right as anybody — an actor, an athlete, anybody else — to voice my opinion," said De Niro. "And if I have a bigger voice because of my situation, I'm going to use it whenever I see a blatant abuse of power."
"Game of Thrones" closed out its eight-season run with wins for Peter Dinklage for best male actor in a drama series and for best stunt ensemble work. "The Crown" took best ensemble in a drama series. And both "Fosse/Verdon" stars — Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell — won for their performances in the miniseries.