Projection: Oscar Special Report – SAG(gy) Nominations


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So that happened.

Nominations for the 22nd Screen Actors Guild Awards were announced this morning, an event every awards obsessive was circling on their calendars as a potential signifier of Oscar momentum. SAG is the first major industry guild to announce its nominations, and not only is it a guild with AMPAS crossover, that crossover exists within the Academy’s largest branch: the Acting Branch. Now that the onslaught of critics group awards has begun, here we finally had a chance to get a glimpse of what the industry is thinking as we barrel towards Oscar nomination time.

And now that we’ve gotten that glimpse, perhaps the industry should consider checking into the psych ward for examination and constant monitoring.

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It’s not like anyone ever expects SAG to be a 1:1 indicator of the eventual Oscar slate. Academy crossover notwithstanding, SAG is a different group than the Academy – it’s larger, if you can even believe it (compare SAG’s 10,000 members to the Academy’s 6,000), and lest we all forget, It isn’t strictly film-focused. It’s ALL actors, film and television combined (and there’s even a sizable handful of SAG Card carriers that aren’t actors at all). The nominating committee consists of about 2,000 members, still a broad combination that isn’t film-centric. Plus, SAG’s early nominating deadline generally precludes some late-year entries that may not screen for the entire nominating committee, or may have limited screenings at best. We never expect the Oscar slate to match the SAG slate perfectly. And yet even by that standard, today’s announcement was cray-cray.

Several Oscar front-runners were left off of SAG’s list, most notably The Martian, which merited zero (0) nominations – not even Best Cast, where its huge star-studded lineup was viewed to be a veritable shoo-in for a nomination. As I’ve been saying all season long, it’s not as though The Martian is a title that screams “Oscar!,” but it’s huge cast, filmmaking pedigree, and broad critical and box-office success has landed it smack in the middle of the conversation. Combine that with the fact that it most certainly was not hindered by a late release, and the film’s omission becomes rather glaring.

Steve Jobs was another film with a celebrated cast to be left off the Best Cast list, which may be explained by the dominant stories of its poor box-office returns…but how then would one explain the nominations of Michael Fassbender in the Lead Actor category and Kate Winslet in Supporting? Carol isn’t included in Best Cast, nor Brooklyn nor Room nor Bridge of Spies nor The Revenant nor Creed.

What did make the Best Cast cut? Well, uh, Trumbo.

Yep, not a misprint in the slightest. Not only that, but Trumbo leads all SAG nominated films with three nominations: Best Cast, Best Male Actor in a Leading Role for Bryan Cranston, and Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role for Helen Mirren.

You could also say Helen Mirren leads all SAG film nominees by earning TWO nominations, since she is also nominated for Best Female Actor in a Leading Role for Woman in Gold. In case you are receiving this information for the first time, I’ll allow you a few moments to compose yourself.

…All good? Okay, let’s proceed.

Best Picture frontrunner Spotlight did, indeed, land a Best Cast nomination, but it, too, is the subject of a surprising development in other categories. Suspected Supporting Actor contenders Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo were left off SAG’s Supporting Actor list. I had honestly suspected something like that might happen, since Supporting Actor has gotten more crowded recently with the inclusion of Sylvester Stallone in Creed …but he actually wasn’t included here either, soooooo whatever. SAG did, however, recognize one member of the Spotlight ensemble – Rachel McAdams in Supporting Actress. Good lord, what a cluster.

Joining Spotlight and…Trumbo…in the Best Cast field are more surprises, including Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation and F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton. One could also consider Adam McKay’s The Big Short a surprise as well, but we at least knew that it has a huge cast of recognizable stars in flashy roles, and that it would be coming on strong as a late-game Oscar contender.

But wait…I thought the late entries were likely to get shut out due to SAG’s deadline? So how did Big Short make it in for not only Best Cast, but Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role for Christian Bale? And Leonardo DiCaprio made the Lead Actor cut as well for The Revenant, so at least SAG members attended a couple of the late screenings before voting. Truth be told, all of the nominated films held industry screenings prior to November, which the exception of The Revenant, which landed the DiCaprio nod anyway. Plus, virtually all of the Oscar frontrunners had festival debuts in September (or earlier) and most were actively in release throughout the fall. So the whole discussion of an early timeline can’t be viewed as the end-all be-all excuse. Something weirder is going on.

Category Confusion (or “Fraud,” as has become the more universally embraced parlance, though I consider that be a too-harsh assessment of this situation for a variety of reasons) also reared its ugly head, as Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander were nominated in the Supporting category for Carol and The Danish Girl, respectively. Jacob Tremblay was nominated in the Supporting category for Room, in spite of the fact that he is, at very least, a co-lead…but he’s a child actor, and everyone knows that child actors get relegated to Supporting in their first awards go-round…that quite literal instance of “fraud” has been perpetrated for years and years.

Broad Green Pictures had a great morning, since two of the surprise nominees came from their stellar slate of 2015 releases – Sarah Silverman in I Smile Back, nominated for Best Female Actor in a Leading Role, and Michael Shannon in 99 Homes, nominated for Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role. Both are, frankly, surprises of the pleasant variety, since they are actually two of the year’s best performances…it’s just that no one expected them to be awards contenders due to the relative size (read: tiny) of their films. Shannon is a bile-spewing joy in 99 Homes, and in my opinion, Silverman’s is the absolute best performance of the year. Her work is unmatched in 2015, from where I sit. If only this nomination could carry over into the Oscars.

On the subject of carrying over to the Oscars, I tend to think very little of this SAG nominations slate actually will. For one, the early nominating deadline may have adversely affected a lot of the players, although that may have less to do with failure to screen all the films as much as a failure to read the trends (as for The Martian’s omission, I got nothin’ for ya…that may be more damning). Second, for all the talk of SAG’s Academy crossover, it’s more sizable lack of crossover is finally something that needs to be discussed. It’s quite a broadly populated organization including actors of all stripes – which is wonderful from a union point of view, but probably not too precise when it comes to Oscar handicapping. And thirdly, allow me to remind you what the unintended theme of this year’s Projection: Oscar has turned out to be: media influence on the season. Awards Season is as narrative-driven as the films that populate it, and that narrative can be shaped in any number of ways by the various media outlets and personnel that cover it. If you have bothered to venture out onto social media at all today, you already know how this particular narrative is being spun: SAG went bonkers. Just like Ben Affleck’s Best Director omission in 2013 led to an increased push for Argo to win Best Picture, the onslaught of disdain for these SAG choices will lead to an Oscar slate that, directly or indirectly, “corrects” these perceived wrongs.

In a way, that’s unfortunate, since setting all that Trumbo/Mirren silliness aside, there are valid nominees in this group, with Silverman leading the way and the likes of Beasts and Compton getting unexpected but deserving recognition. Nonetheless, don’t bother tossing out those early Oscar predictions just yet. The full picture will be painted in time…and we’ll eventually scratch our heads at just how different that picture looks from the one SAG offered up.

Who am I kidding? We’re already scratching our heads.

And by the way, all this uproar over the nominations has taken the spotlight off of Anthony Mackie’s performance at the announcement, which was every bit as confounding as the nominations themselves…

For the full SAG nominations list, click here.


About Author

I married into the cult of cinema at a very young age - I wasn't of legal marriage age, but I didn't care. It has taken advantage of me and abused me many times. Yet I stay in this marriage because I'm obsessed and consumed. Don't try to save me -- I'm too far gone.