Some SAG surprises indicate unexpected currents in the season

Posted by · 5:57 am · December 12th, 2012

The awards-obsessive corners of the web were all abuzz this morning with murmurs of a supposed “leak” of the 19th annual SAG nominees. Intrepid net hounds had apparently gone into the guild’s website and done some choice searching to turn out what ended up being, indeed, the full list of nominees. So what were they and what do they mean? Let’s take a look.

The immediate surprise of note is Nicole Kidman’s nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category for “The Paperboy.” The actress’s PR wing engaged with a slew of interviews with the press late in the game, but then screeners came late, so that she managed to rally enough support to push out an apparent favorite like Amy Adams in “The Master” is hugely surprising, particularly for a film this divisive.

And indeed, “The Master” itself was only embraced in one instance, for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s supporting performance. Joaquin Phoenix was snubbed outright just days after the Los Angeles Film Critics Association appeared to blow wind into his sails. Despite that, I don’t know that the snub will translate to the Academy’s actors branch. People will blame it on his recent bad-mouthing of awards season, but he said nothing that many say in private. If he continues to be left out by his peers, it will simply be because the industry has not responded to the film. And that notion is not entirely a shock: it was my instinct after first seeing it. Nevertheless, both he and the unceremoniously snubbed Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”) still have an angle on the Oscar race, I think.

Speaking of Riva, the lead actress category kept Helen Mirren’s hopes alive as the actress landed a spot for her performance in “Hitchcock.” Ditto Naomi Watts in “The Impossible.” Remember that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was not eligible for these awards so young Quvenzhané Wallis was never going to pop up. Marion Cotillard (putting in a lot of work while, for instance, Riva can’t be here for the face time) made the cut for “Rust and Bone,” while frontrunners Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) filled out the category.

Another happy surprise was Javier Bardem finding a spot for his villainous turn in “Skyfall” a day after the BFCA chalked him up for same. For a race that has been looking for some shape, it seems to have it now. “Django Unchained” was snubbed completely, but there’s still a chance Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson or Christoph Waltz turn the trick, depending on whether the campaign shows any real interest in getting them there.

Bardem’s “Skyfall” co-star Judi Dench did not get cited for the film, but she gets to be a SAG nominee nevertheless as part of the ensemble of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” bringing the film back around and making it clear that it resonates with actors in the industry (Maggie Smith also picked up a nomination for her supporting performance). Does this mean it’s in the Best Picture hunt? Yes, but it has always been lurking as a possibility because it’s a film Academy members haven’t stopped talking about since its Spring release. Now Searchlight really has something to build upon if they want to put it through the campaign ringer.

Filling out the ensemble category was the expected: “Argo” (also picking up a mention for Alan Arkin’s performance), “Les Misérables” (an unexpected nominee for stunt ensemble), “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” Those four along with “Zero Dark Thirty” are clearly the frontrunning Best Picture possibilities, with “Life of Pi” (which was completely snubbed by SAG, but that was to be expected) on the outside of the quintet looking in.

The thing about the SAG nominations announcement is that, while they often offer up surprises to the season, those surprises and whatever snubs they produce cannot be overlooked. They indicate rhythms in the industry, an overall current. It’s times like these that you can’t just chalk up, say, a snub for Shailene Woodley as an anomaly. Nevertheless, the abbreviated phase one timeline ought to be taken into account, too. There will be less than a week between this announcement and the mailing of Oscar ballots, rather than two. Will the immediate aftershock of these yield anything reactionary from the Academy?

Well, one can only hope. One can only hope that Emmanuelle Riva’s fellow actors understand why what she’s done in “Amour” is sublime, or that, if there IS bristling at his comments, that Joaquin Phoenix’s work matters, not his attitude. These won’t match up 100% with Oscar so we’ll have to see how it pans out. If I were to guess, I’d say Kidman, Mirren, Watts and Bardem are the most vulnerable, for a variety of reasons. But Bardem is beginning to feel solid, and Watts could be firming up, too (“The Impossible” has been dogged on the guild screening circuit).

The 19th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will be held on Sunday, January 27, 2013.

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