'The Help' leads SAG nominations, Demián Bichir surprises in Best Actor

Posted by · 5:51 am · December 14th, 2011

Things I correctly predicted in this morning’s Screen Actors’ Guild nominations list: “Midnight in Paris” and “Bridesmaids” landing nominations in an unusually comedy-heavy Best Ensemble slate; “The Help” coming out on top with four nominations, including (hurrah!) a supporting bid for multi-tasker Jessica Chastain; Glenn Close’s ailing Best Actress campaign for “Albert Nobbs” getting a boost with recognition from her fellow actors; “The Descendants” breakout Shailene Woodley getting the cold shoulder in the supporting actress category; and “Young Adult,” “Hugo,” “War Horse” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” among the films frozen out entirely.

Things I (and, as far as I can tell, everyone else) did not predict: a Best Actor nomination for Mexican veteran character actor Demián Bichir, whose performance as a hard-up immigrant worker in Chris Weitz’s indie “A Better Life” was praised to the skies by critics upon its release in June, but was widely considered to be a forgotten factor in the Oscar race. No more. By landing a nod ahead of more heavily buzzed dark horses, Michaels Fassbender and Shannon, Bichir is a new player to watch in a field that currently has only three surefire Oscar nominees. 

Also very much in the hunt, after seemingly slipping a bit since his film’s indifferently-received release, is Leonardo DiCaprio: successive nods from SAG and the BFCA in the past few days suggest many admire his methodical portrayal in Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar,” even if they’re cool on the film.

More surprisingly, the Guild also came to the rescue of his co-star Armie Hammer in the supporting category, which is especially unexpected given that current precursor leader Albert Brooks (for whom I imagined SAG members would have a lot of affection, but apparently not) missed the cut. Indeed, SAG really mixed things up in the Supporting Actor race, also tossing in a mention for fading “Moneyball” hopeful Jonah Hill, while Nick Nolte followed up his BFCA nod yesterday with another mention. Hard luck, Ben Kingsley and Patton Oswalt.

As with Best Ensemble, my predictions were five-for-five in the Best Actress category: if any group was going to stick up for Glenn Close, it was going to be this one, and they evidently liked the film enough to hand a supporting nod to Janet McTeer, too. Tilda Swinton, meanwhile, continues her good run of fortune with the precursors: if even SAG, with its mostly middlebrow tendencies, can groove to a film this prickly, she’s clearly looking good for an overdue leading Oscar nod. Many will be surprised to see Charlize Theron missing from the lineup, but I’m not: superb as she is in “Young Adult,” I sense her character’s (and film’s) lack of obvious likeability is a barrier for many voters.

The Supporting Actress race, meanwhile, is flung wide open here. Vanessa Redgrave missed the cut, though the Academy’s British voting bloc could well save her in the Oscar race; for Shailene Woodley, getting snubbed here is perhaps more of a danger sign. Following on from yesterday’s BFCA nod, Chastain’s mention here for “The Help” clearly establishes that film as her prime Oscar pony, as we suspected would be the case: she could even be a threat for the win now, but the possibility of splitting votes with co-star Octavia Spencer remains. With that in mind, could Bérénice Bejo slide through the middle on a current of love for “The Artist” (which I’m guessing will also take the ensemble prize)? I’m starting to think she might.

Finally, the nominees in the top category suggest voters were in one of their moods where they’re more concerned with honoring their favorite ensembles than with predicting the Best Picture category, and good on them. Nobody’s suddenly going to start thinking “Bridesmaids” (which also snagged yet another nod for the currently-coasting Melissa McCarthy) is a stronger Best Picture threat than “War Horse” or “Hugo,” but this apparent lack of interest from the actors does put a dent in their hopes: you have to go back to “Braveheart” in 1995 (the SAG ensemble award’s inaugural year) to find a Best Picture winner that wasn’t nominated here.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to know what to read into the absence from the list of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”: whispers from SAG screenings is that audiences were high on both the film and young lead Thomas Horn’s performance, but none of that translated into nominations. Did the film simply screen too late to capture wider voter attention, or is something wrong? We’ll have a clearer idea when the other guilds weigh in next month.

Check out the full list of nominees below.

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
“The Artist”
“The Descendants”
“The Help”
“Midnight in Paris”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Demián Bichir, “A Better Life”
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Tilda Swinton, “We Need To Talk About Kevin”
Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Kenneth Brangah, “My Week with Marilyn”
Armie Hammer, “J. Edgar”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Bérénice Bejo, “The Artist”
Jassica Chastain “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

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