Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Lady Bird were the big winners in this morning’s SAG Awards nominations that further cement their status in the upper crust of Oscar contenders. But the announcement probably was just as significant for what the group left out.
Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Daniel Day-Lewis and Jessica Chastain were among the surprising snubs of actors who had been on a roll this awards season with nominations from the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards but were nowhere to be found in SAG’s orbit. It is very rare for an actor not to be at least nominated by SAG and then go on to win the Oscar, but this year already is proving to be unpredictable so precedent certainly can be broken.
What the actor union’s 2,500 randomly chosen members of the SAG Nominating Committee did do is throw a life line to streamers Amazon and Netflix, which had some setbacks at earlier awards this season. After shockingly getting shut out by the Golden Globes (even though it has separate comedy categories), Amazon’s The Big Sick rebounded in a big way with nominations for Outstanding Cast and Supporting Actress for Holly Hunter. And Netflix, which just has to love SAG, also landed its Mudbound ensemble in the Cast category as well as Supporting Actress for Mary J. Blige.
Two years ago, SAG nominated Netflix’s first big attempt to break into the Oscar conversation in major categories by nominating Beasts of No Nation for Outstanding Cast, even though it really was just a two-hander, and awarding Idris Elba Best Supporting Actor. It went on to be ignored by Oscar, though, and Mudbound’s significant showing today can give the controversial Netflix hope that maybe this is the year It can break through in Oscar categories other than for their documentaries. Blige certainly has to be on any Oscar short list after nailing SAG, Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations.
It was also a big day for Universal’s Get Out, which continues to defy the odds of its early-February release to score significant attention including a Cast and Lead Actor nom for star Daniel Kaluuya. The latter’s inclusion over Hanks and Day-Lewis must have been particularly encouraging to the studio. And with Get Out, Mudbound, a Denzel Washington (last year’s winner for Fences) nomination for Roman J. Israel, Esq., and diversity shown in noms for Downsizing’s Hong Chau and the cast of Big Sick, fears that we might be headed to a return to #OscarsSoWhite this year look increasingly unwarranted.
You could explain the absence of The Post, Phantom Thread and Molly’s Game and their actors Streep, Hanks, Day-Lewis and Chastain as due to the late -breaking nature of those Christmas releases, but remember that another late-year release, Hidden Figures, won the Cast award last year. But, as I often have said, SAG has ridiculous voting windows for this contest and actually sent out ballots a month ago, so it puts later releases at a disadvantage if many members of the SAG Nom Comm chose the early voting option. Perhaps that explains why films that have been in the consciousness since Sundance such as Big Sick, Mudbound and Get Out could be helped by earlier awareness, while expected awards juggernauts, particularly Steven Spielberg’s The Post, failed to make the cut.
That was the case with eventual Best Picture Oscar nominees such as The Wolf of Wall Street and Django Unchained that didn’t meet SAG’s dopey early deadlines. Still, The Post was heavily screened for SAG right after Thanksgiving, and screeners were sent out. It seems a lot of movies this season are experiencing bumps in the road, and the SAG omission — especially when you consider the actors’ love in the past for Hanks and especially Streep — is a definite bump. To go by the numbers, no film has won the Academy Award for Best Picture without at least a SAG Cast nomination since Braveheart in 1995, back in the early years of the SAG Awards that celebrate its 24th with its show on January 21. We thought that curse was broken last year when La La Land, not a SAG Cast Award nominee, briefly was named Best Picture during Oscar’s infamous Envelopegate mess. Moonlight, the actual winner, was a SAG Cast nominee (but lost to Hidden Figures).
Looking at the likely winners this time around, Gary Oldman appears to be a shoo-in in SAG’s Lead Actor race for his towering Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Timothée Chalamet, the New York and LA Film Critics winner for Call Me by Your Name, would seem to be his closest competition. Partially on the basis of their apparent love for Three Billboards, I would say Frances McDormand wins in the incredibly competitive barn burner of a Lead Actress contest that also includes real contenders in The Shape of Water’s Sally Hawkins, Lady Bird’s Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie in I, Tonya. The great Dame Judi Dench was a slight surprise to nab this nomination for Victoria & Abdul over Streep and Chastain, but she has been active on the circuit this year and there is lots of love for her movie. On top of her Comedy/Musical Actress nomination from the Globes on Monday, we shouldn’t be counting this seven-time Oscar nominee out. But it is abundantly clear that some very worthy performances will be overlooked in this category at the Oscars. What a year for the women in movies.
As for the supporting categories, I would guess Lady Bird’s Laurie Metcalf will duke it out with I, Tonya’s Allison Janney, but by virtue of the former’s Outstanding Cast nom, I would give the advantage to Metcalf’s domineering mother over Janney’s domineering mother in this race. For Supporting Actor, I was pleasantly surprised to see Three Billboards’ Woody Harrelson nominated alongside the expected nom for his deputy Sam Rockwell, but if they cancel each other out, look for veteran Willem Dafoe in A24’s The Florida Project to continue his winning ways this season. That would be ironic since the four other nominees all come from Fox Searchlight films: Shape of Water’s wonderfully deserving Richard Jenkins, and Steve Carell, a mild but worthy surprise from Battle of the Sexes. In the Cast category you have to think it is between Three Billboards and Lady Bird, but this is a group capable of upsets.
Time will tell, but SAG did little to further define a race that continues to be wildly unpredictable, and in fact by dealing a blow to The Post — one of the major presumed Oscar front-runners — it has only muddied the waters a little more than they already were.