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Jeff Simon

Take a good look, SAG Awards announced some new things

Jeff Simon

I have seldom been as wrong about anybody as I was about Brad Pitt.

I was, for all intents and purposes, present at the creation of Pitt as a major movie figure. It happened in 1991 when women got a look at his washboard abs and aura of romantic deliverance in the ground-breaking Ridley Scott movie "Thelma and Louise."

I was among the critics who first got a look at the now-classic feminist film, which meant I was there as Scott and his cast were unveiled for the movie press.

To put it mildly, Pitt's ability to answer questions from a room full of critics did nothing for me. You couldn't help but take note of the fact he was a good-looking fellow in his all-American way. Articulate, he wasn't.

I remember Pitt talking none-too-eloquently about his background. He wanted to be a journalist at school, he said. I remember writing in huge snarky letters on my pad: "This guy wanted to be a journalist?" The publicist standing behind me (that long-vanished studio's minions suspiciously did that to me a lot, if you must know) snorted disapprovingly at my sarcastic note to myself.

I had confused the movie role with the ambitious young man. I assumed he was a miscellaneous and thoroughly no-account blond himbo of unusual middle-American good looks who was destined to be a heartthrob of little significance. (OK, maybe a low-level Gary Cooper if he buckled down as an actor and got really lucky.)

That, as the world has long known, isn't just being wrong, that's being just about as wrong as you can be. Nor did it get better when I had another almost immediate occasion to fire questions at him right away during the journalist's unveiling of Robert Redford's film "A River Runs Through It." You'd think I might have suspected some substance given Redford's wholehearted approval but, no, not me. I was still stuck in slightly peevish dismissal mode.

Well, decades later, he was the best thing, by far, about the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday, when he racked up another Best Supporting Actor win for playing a stunt man and Leonardo DiCaprio's pal in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." He was, in award-acceptance mode, simultaneously, hilarious and soulful and self-deprecating.

The first thing he said as he cradled his naked SAG statue was, "I'm going to add this to my Tinder profile." Then he joked about director Tarantino's much-commented upon affection for unclad female feet. "Seriously," he said, "Quentin has separated more women from their shoes than the TSA." About his role in the film, Pitt said, "Let's be honest. It was a difficult part – a guy who gets high, takes his shirt off and doesn't get along with his wife. It was a big stretch."

Game, set, match, for all future Best Supporting Actor awards this year. Poor Joe Pesci, I thought. He knew what was going to happen for his performance in Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman," which is why he stayed home from the SAG awards. Pesci's extraordinarily disciplined and icy performance in Scorsese's film no longer stands a chance against community recognition of Pitt's stature as one of Hollywood's truly great award recipients.

Whether or not Pitt wrote all of his own speech or had some writerly help is of no more significance than whether or not JFK – and not Ted Sorensen – wrote, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Pitt has – quite importantly – been one of Hollywood's most significant film producers for some time (his production company, Plan B, is the company of "12 Years a Slave," "Moonlight" and "The Departed"). At the same time, you had to see the gleaming delight on people's faces as he spoke to know how popular he is in Hollywood.

When his ex-wife Jennifer Aniston also won an award for her role in TV's drama "The Morning Show," she was genuinely surprised and thoughtful and lovable as an award recipient. The shots of the two of them reuniting affectionately backstage turned into a viral explosion.

These two are a long way from Hollywood babies. Pitt is 56. Aniston is 50. It's clearly time, it seems, for a whole different level of Hollywood stardom and prestige for the two of them.

As always, the SAGs gave prognosticators a pretty good peek at what is likely when the Oscars happen Feb. 9 (yes, they're early this year).

I'm not going to be crazy, to be honest, about award recognition for Renee Zellweger's musical overreach as Judy Garland. The actors gave her a SAG. For all the power of her acting, her hubris singing Garland's repertoire was a mistake, I thought. So were all of her ostentatious Southernisms when accepting her award. On the other hand, Joaquin Phoenix solidified an Oscar for his extraordinary work in "Joker" and to me, that's nothing but good news. He won a SAG for starring in the film.

In accepting it, he seemed quite properly chastened and grown up – so much that he was unfailingly gracious. He said of his previous SAG nominations (four of them), "I couldn't appreciate it at the time." He went out of his way to compliment his fellow extremists in the actor's trade – Christian Bale and the late Heath Ledger (on whose shoulders as the Joker he stood, he admitted while also calling him "my favorite actor"). Hollywood's reigning problem child among major actors has, at long last, clearly decided to go straight.

Something I'm not going to be quite so pleased about is the looming reputation of South Korean filmmaker Boon Joon-Ho and his film "Parasite."

I'm not mad about that, but I finally get it. Somewhat incredibly, "Parasite" won the Ensemble Acting Award from the American Screen Actors Guild. That's quite significant, as these things go. The actors are the largest Oscar voting bloc and if, as a group, they've co-signed on Bong Joon-Ho and his film, it means it stands a good chance of actually superseding Scorsese's "The Irishman" and Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," as well as "Joker" as the Best Picture Oscar.

What that meant is, it seems, quite simple. Hollywood already has a sizable investment in the South Korean film master. His earlier masterwork "Snowpiercer" is being turned into a TNT series. And "Parasite" is being adapted by HBO. The South Korean has been hanging around Hollywood a lot in emigre mode.

Hollywood wants this guy. Bad. It's crystal-clear to me now.

I don't blame them. I admire his films, too – almost as much as they do. But their desire for his creativity and future influence is so great that their bid on his future is obliterating their desire to recognize the valedictory of Scorsese's past and Tarantino's convincing mid-life plateau.

Sorry. Nobody asked me, but I vote no on that. But at least this time, I get it. I see what's coming.

Just as, to be appallingly frank, I was clueless about Brad Pitt's future way back when his first shirtless stardom captured community imaginations in 'Thelma and Louise."

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