A Few Surprises from SAG

It is easy to either over- or under-state the importance of the Screen Actor’s Guild nominations. They’re the first group of the season to have massive crossover membership with the Academy, so it’s the first opportunity to judge how AMPAS itself is thinking. But when it comes to individual nominations, a SAG choice has about an equal chance of being a sign of things to come or an out-on-a-limb decision. Last year, for instance, Demian Bichir’s unexpected SAG nomination for little-seen indie “A Better Life” translated into a surprise Oscar nomination a month later. But for every Bichir or Ruby Dee, there will be plenty of actors whose campaigns will stop here.

In other words, SAG is not the end all and be all of Oscar precursors, but it’s a very important one. That’s why we can’t take snubs like Emmanuelle Riva or Amy Adams or Joaquin Phoenix lightly. They can still sneak into the Oscars in the end, but it will be an uphill climb from here.

The biggest story is probably that “The Master,” fresh off a reinvigorating batch of recognition from the LAFCA, looks to be floundering again. Some people are blaming Phoenix’s snub on the fact that the divisive actor made some grating comments about the absurdity of awards campaigning earlier in the season, but I’m not buying that – he was just saying what everyone’s thinking. Mo’Nique did the same thing a few years back and it didn’t affect her. But the corresponding snub for Amy Adams’ strong supporting turn suggests that the film just isn’t registering with Academy voters. “The Master” could still get a boost from the Directors’ Guild, but that’s looking like more and more of a longshot.

Instead of Adams, SAG found room for Nicole Kidman’s campy, vampy turn in Lee Daniels’ polarizing “The Paperboy.” Most viewers seemed to be turned off by the film’s sordid melodrama, but there were a lot of fierce defenders of Kidman’s feral performance, and the great respect of her peers seems to have paid off here. I highly doubt this will translate to the Oscars, but kudos to SAG for going their own way.

The leading actress category must be qualified by the fact that “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” shot with a completely amateur cast, was disqualified from contention for not meeting guild regulations. Little Quvenzhane Wallis still has an excellent shot at an Oscar nod, as Helen Mirren’s “Hitchcock” performance feels like filler. Naomi Watts got a nice boost, though, and is probably competing with Emmanuelle Riva for that last wobbly spot in the category. Sorry, Rachel Weisz/”Deep Blue Sea” fans (Elaine), SAG was her opportunity to crash the party and it didn’t happen.

Speaking of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Dwight Henry still has an outside shot in the absolute dogfight that is the supporting actor category. Arkin, De Niro, Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones all feel pretty solid at this point, but that last spot is all over the place. Javier Bardem is a fun choice, and the Academy has developed a taste for flashy villains in this category in recent years. Then there’s Henry, or any of the trio from “Django Unchained:” Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio or Samuel L. Jackson. It’s hard to say what’s going on there – apparently it’s possible that SAG members didn’t get screeners in time for Tarantino’s film to register with the voting. Even if they had, though, it seems like those three might be splitting the votes of the film’s supporters. The Weinstein Company is trying to campaign Waltz in lead to avoid that, but so far this season that move doesn’t seem to have worked. That one will probably stay a mystery until Oscar morning.

Finally, a lot of bloggers had been warning that “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” played really well to the Academy crowd and could very well pop up at SAG. I didn’t want to believe them, but there it is. I love Judi Dench and Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith as much as the next person, but it really seems a shame in such a crowded year to reward such a trifle of a movie.

Full list of SAG film nominees below.

Best Ensemble:

  • Argo
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Les Miserables
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

  • Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
  • John Hawkes, “The Sessions”
  • Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables”
  • Denzel Washington, “Flight”

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

  • Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
  • Marion Cotillard, “Rust and Bone”
  • Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
  • Helen Mirren, “Hitchcock”
  • Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

  • Alan Arkin, “Argo”
  • Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
  • Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
  • Javier Bardem, “Skyfall”

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

  • Sally Field, “Lincoln”
  • Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”
  • Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”
  • Nicole Kidman, “The Paperboy”
  • Maggie Smith, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
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