SAG Awards Movies: Full of Surprises And Omissions; Will Oscar Follow Suit?

SAG Awards TV: Rookies Join The Fray
SAG Awards Nominations

Leave it to SAG to throw a few surprises into the season. Although countless critics awards groups have been weighing in with their 2011 movie picks for the past two weeks, this morning’s list of nominations for the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards are most significant because they are the first indication of what the Industry itself is thinking. Hollywood Guild voters overlap with Academy voters and often are the most accurate barometer of where Oscar might be headed. Last year the race was turned on its head when the Producers Guild announced The King’s Speech as their choice over presumed favorite The Social Network which had swept the critics awards and Golden Globes. We all know what happened after that.

If the SAG nominations are any indicator, and I think they are, The Weinstein Company’s The Artist just may have broken out of the pack and into a clear frontrunner position with its three nominations for Outstanding Cast, Lead Actor for Jean Dujardin and Supporting Actress for Berenice Bejo. The  black and white silent sensation has been trending that way with numerous critics group citations and SAG’s affirmation confirms it. And following its impressive 8 nominations from the Critics Choice Movie Awards yesterday, Dreamworks’ The Help with its leading four noms from SAG (Ensemble Cast, Lead Actress Viola Davis, Supporting Actresses Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain) is also emerging as a strong contender. Both The Artist and The Help are likely to continue their winning ways with tomorrows Globe nominations.

SAG’s list provided a lot of surprises not just in what was included, but what was dissed. Among the presumed contenders completely skunked were two Scott Rudin-produced late year entries, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo along with critics faves Drive, Shame, Hugo, The Tree of Life, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and others which were generally skipped in favor of lighter fare.

The Outstanding Cast category is particularly interesting since it generally is considered SAG’s closest equivalent to a Best Picture preference. With The Artist, Universal’s Bridesmaids, Sony Classics’ Midnight in Paris, and The Help joining Fox Searchlight’s The Descendants, none of the nominees are really edgy or heavy dramatic stuff. Although the latter two certainly have some elements of that mixed with comedic scenes  and indicate a taste for lighter choices than usual.

Universal’s smash summer female raunch comedy Bridesmaids is not what awards groups normally honor. But with its inclusion on AFI’s Top 10 list and now two key SAG nods (including one for Best Supporting Actrss Melissa McCarthy who was ironically passed over for her Emmy winning turn on CBS’ Mike and Molly), it’s emerged as one of 2011’s awards season success stories. It is also significant to note that 3 of the five Cast nominees (Paris, Bridesmaids, The Help) were summer season releases, not always the optimum period for opening key awards contenders.

It was also a good day for Woody Allen’s biggest success, Midnight In Paris. Now on top of its CCMA Best Pic nod yesterday gets a key Cast nomination from SAG to signal the industry has not forgotten it.

In the Best Actor category expected nominations went to a trio of superstars: George Clooney for The Descendants, Brad Pitt for Sony’s Moneyball and Leonardo DiCaprio for Warner Bros’ J. Edgar plus French superstar Jean Dujardin in The Artist. But the nom for Mexico’s Deman Bichir in the not-widely-seen illegal immigrant drama A Better Life (Summit Entertainment) was a nice surprise even though Bichir has been very prominent on the campaign circuit trying to drum up interest in the movie’s chances. His nod over higher profile contenders and critics faves like Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, and Gary Oldman is a serious boost to his Oscar chances and will likely encourage distributor Summit to step up to the plate even more now.

A mild surprise in the lead actress category was the exclusion of Young Adult’s Charlize Theron, but the group of women who were expected to be major contenders  are here is this very close contest and all received nominations including The Iron Lady’s Meryl Streep (Weinstein Co), Albert Nobbs’ Glenn Close (Roadside Attractions), My Week With Marilyn (Michelle Williams (Weinstein Co), We Need To Talk About Kevin‘s Tilda Swinton (Oscilloscope Pictures) , and The Help’s Viola Davis.

In the extremely competitive Supporting Actor race there were some surprising omissions including Drive’s Albert Brooks whose strong momentum among critics groups has been stalled by SAG. Veteran Max von Sydow also failed to show despite several appearances in front of voters groups in recent days and the fact that his film, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close (Warner Bros), is platforming on December 25 but does not go wide until January 20.  The film was just beginning its first screenings even after SAG ballots had been sent so many nom com votes may already have been in before members even had a chance to see it. Among the other nominees, Moneyball’s Jonah Hill and J. Edgar’s Armie Hammer were fairly surprising entries even though the lead actors from both of those films were expected to be slam dunk nominees. The exposure for Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio certainly didn’t hurt Hill and Hammer’s efforts to have their performances seen. Both young stars managed to crack a category top heavy with seminal roles for veterans this year including front runner Christopher Plummer of Beginners (Focus Features), Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn and Nick Nolte in Lionsgate’s Warrior. The latter a bit of a long shot since the film did not do well after its early September release but has been gaining traction from its DVD screeners where many voters are just discovering the well-reviewed movie and Nolte’s dramatic turn.

While the supporting actress category did not include any shockers, the ommission of expected contenders Shailene Woodley of The Descendants and Vanessa Redgrave of Coriolanus was eye-opening. Perhaps Redgrave’s towering performance just wasn’t seen by enough of SAG’s voters and the actress was not available to participate in the usual Q&A routine since she is on stage in London performing Driving Miss Daisy. Among those who made the list there would seem to be no one obvious front runner among The Help’s Spencer and Chastain, Bridesmaids’ McCarthy, Albert Nobbs’ Janet McTeer and The Artists’ Berenice Bejo, who actually could eventually emerge as the one to beat due to the demands of playing a singing and dancing star in a black and white silent movie.

In case you are interested in statistics: last year only three actors who failed to get a SAG nomination were able to reverse the trend and turn up at the Oscars. All four SAG winners went on to Oscar glory and The King’s Speech took the big Ensemble Cast prize so attention must be paid. Now the plot thickens in a very interesting and unpredictable season. Tomorrow’s Golden Globe nominations should even add more intrigue.

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