In terms of the horse race for Oscars, this morning’s SAG Awards nominations are important on a couple of fronts. It’s the first Guild awards nomination announcement of the year, and that’s significant because the way guilds are thinking (with their strong crossover membership with the Academy) is usually the way Oscar voters are thinking. It’s much more significant in that regard than critics awards. These SAG Awards nominations, the only guild announcing before the Academy gets their ballots this year (10 days earlier than normal), also can have a strong effect on influencing acting Oscar nominations even more than usual due to the time crunch and the fact that many Oscar voters still have a lot to see. In the last few years, the correlation between SAG and Oscar has been strong: In the past two years, the two orgs agreed on 17 of 20 acting noms. Three years ago it was 19 of 20. And although the 2000-strong nominating committee that votes on this film list changes by lottery every year, it’s remarkably in step with the tastes of the Academy’s Actors Branch.
Related: SAG Awards Nominations Announced
What this year’s list really reflects is the tightness of the lead actor race. In September when The Master was released, it was almost unthinkable that Joaquin Phoenix’s highly praised performance would not be among the Best Actor nominees — but he’s AWOL here. I think it probably has less to do with the fact that he didn’t campaign (he didn’t appear at a single SAG Q&A and has been vocal about his disdain for the awards-season process) than the fiercely competitive nature of this category. Who are you going to cut out among Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, John Hawkes, Hugh Jackman and Denzel Washington? There is a long list of others left at the altar by SAG this year including Hitchcock’s Anthony Hopkins, Arbitrage’s Richard Gere, Hyde Park On Hudson’s Bill Murray, Django Unchained’s Jamie Foxx, Bernie’s Jack Black and Amour’s Jean-Louis Trintignant among others, but there just doesn’t seem to be room at the inn and the Academy is likely to have the same problem.