If today’s SAG Award nominations prove anything, it’s that there are a lot of new guys on the block when it comes to the awards game, and they’ve made a huge impact. Suddenly we have the first major guild race of the year, and new distributor Bleecker Street’s Trumbo is leading with three noms overall. And among the other relative newbies in the SAG Theatrical Motion Picture nominee game this year, Broad Green, A24, Open Road and Netflix all got two nominations each for their entries. And though there certainly are nominations for the majors — notably Paramount’s late entry The Big Short and Universal’s Steve Jobs and Straight Outta Compton — it is the indies that scored big here this year. The Trumbo love might have surprised some critics who were lukewarm on the film, but not me. Since its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, I always felt the time would come for this film about the Hollywood Blacklist once the industry started to see it. That is what’s happening. It also has a very SAG-friendly cast, including nominees Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren, who have been honored by the guild many times.
It also clearly helps to have earlier release dates when it comes to SAG, which has ridiculously impossible early voting, unlike every other guild. SAG balloting for the randomly chosen (by lottery) 2,100-member SAG Nominating Committee started November 18 and went through Monday of this week. Earlier releases definitely have an advantage, as potential December movies like The Weinstein Company’s The Hateful Eight (Dec. 25) didn’t have the opportunity to send screeners, thereby disadvantaging that film’s sensational ensemble cast (the exact snub happened three years ago with Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained but it didn’t matter for the Oscars) or 20th Century Fox’s Joy (Dec. 25) which only recently was finished and didn’t send screeners to SAG’d nominating committee until December 2/3, leaving effectively a weekend to view before ballots were due. Joy was shut out, including for star Jennifer Lawrence and the large ensemble. Conversely, Fox managed to get a nod for Leonardo DiCaprio, despite The Revenant’s Christmas Day date, and Paramount managed to get its December late-breaker The Big Short (Dec. 11) into the mix for its cast and supporting actor Christian Bale. But they seem to be the exception, rather than the rule.
If these nominations are any indication, we are in for a wild ride in what may be the most wide open Oscar race in years. SAG has an excellent track record of matching eventual Oscar nominees. Last year 17 out 20 acting nominees went on to Oscar’s roll call and all of the cast nominees landed in Best Picture including eventual SAG and Oscar winner Birdman. Here’s a breakdown of the hits and misses in the five Theatrical Motion Picture categories.
MALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Always a tough and competitive category , there are no shocking surprises among the five who made the cut – Trumbo’s Bryan Cranston, Black Mass’ Johnny Depp, The Revenant’s Leonardo DiCaprio, Steve Jobs’ Michael Fassbender, The Danish Girl’s Eddie Redmayne – but with only five slots someone is going to get left out, and the most notable omissions here were Will Smith from Concussion and Matt Damon of The Martian. The latter has been unavailable for much campaigning though due to filming out of the country, so being off the SAG Q&A circuit might have hurt, but screeners were certainly sent to the 2,100 member-strong SAG Nominating Committee so I don’t think that’s a huge factor. Tom Hanks might have figured here too for Bridge Of Spies but that film only landed a single nod for Supporting Actor Mark Rylance instead. Veterans Ian McKellen of Mr. Holmes and Michael Caine of Youth also missed the cut, despite being very visible on the trail this year. Of the group that got in only DiCaprio’s The Revenant (Dec. 25) has yet to open and awards consultants repping the film were nervous the late date might hurt his chances, just as it did two years ago when he failed to get nominated for another late-breaker The Wolf Of Wall Street. Screeners were not sent in that case, but they were somewhat later in the game this season for Revenant.
FEMALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Cate Blanchett in Carol, Brie Larson in Room and Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn were widely expected. Helen Mirren , receiving her 11th and 12th/13th SAG noms (also Supporting and Cast in Trumbo) is not really surprising either. Woman In Gold came out in early April, but did well. Weinstein was able to get the screener out very early and it paid off. A SAG Nom Comm Q&A I did with Mirren on Halloween, no less, drew a packed audience and two wildly enthusiastic standing ovations for the star. They love her. Sarah Silverman’s nod for the very indie and dramatic I Smile Back proves once again that actors love seeing comedians showing another side of their talent and that is what Silverman did so effectively in this very tough role. She also has been very visible on the Q&A circuit, most recently in front of a packed SAG crowd on the night before Thanksgiving. But when she failed to get even an Indie Spirit mention I thought it was all over. Good for her. Lawrence is the big omission here, but it could be Joy was too late to this game. And Mirren seems to have taken the veteran slot from a slew of contenders including Charlotte Rampling , Blythe Danner, Lily Tomlin and Maggie Smith. Suffragette’s Carey Mulligan also hit a speed bump in her campaign. My guess is one or two of those overlooked today will still be front and center at the Oscars.
MALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
This is probably the most competitive of all categories this year. Christian Bale in Big Short, Idris Elba in Beasts Of No Nation, Mark Rylance in Bridge Of Spies, Michael Shannon in 99 Homes, and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay in Room produce no shockers, but those who didn’t get in might have been even more likely, as many including Spotlight’s Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, Creed’s Sylvester Stallone, Sicario’s Benicio Del Toro, Love & Mercy’s Paul Dano, The Revenant’s Tom Hardy, and Black Mass’ Joel Edgerton have all topped pundit lists this season.
FEMALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
This is also a fascinating race this year as two of SAG’s nominees, Rooney Mara in Carol and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, have been deemed leads by the Golden Globes and may well be at the Oscars too if the acting branch sees what are clearly leading roles being pushed in the wrong category. Nevertheless SAG allows studios to select the categories in which they want their contenders to be considered and both made the cut. Surprisingly, Rachel McAdams became the only Spotlight star to also receive an individual nod here. Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs makes sense, but Mirren’s Hedda Hopper in Trumbo again emphasizes that the love and respect they have for this star is too much to overcome for some other contenders. I would have thought Jane Fonda’s searing eight-minute cameo in Youth might have guaranteed her a slot here, or perhaps Elizabeth Banks who has been prevalent on the campaign trail for Love & Mercy.
CAST IN A MOTION PICTURE
Very often this is considered SAG’s Best Picture category, although the guild just emphasizes it is really all about the ensemble. But that can’t explain the head-scratching inclusion of Netflix’s Beasts Of No Nation for which they could only drum up three names to be eligible. Go figure. That movie is showing REAL power with its SAG score today. A Netflix exec told me, “clearly the film resonated with the SAG Nominating Committee and so they wanted to honor it broadly”. Perhaps also SAG was still smarting from widespread criticism over the shameful complete lack of diversity in last year’s nominations so bent over backwards to make up for it, but they also nominated Straight Outta Compton here and that makes total sense for a big and true ensemble of terrific performances. Trumbo, The Big Short and Spotlight ( likely the front runner) are full of great actors doing great work together so no surprise on why those three made this cut. BUT where is The Martian, Joy, Black Mass, Concussion, The Hateful Eight all FAR more thought to be likely than Beasts Of No Nation, which essentially is just two very fine performances from Idris Elba and Abraham Attah? Head-scratcher, indeed, but perhaps a great moment for Netflix.