SAG snubs and surprises: Redford sinks, 'Dallas Buyers Club' swims

Posted by · 8:15 am · December 11th, 2013

The name “Christoph Waltz” can provide some cold comfort to any actor left out of this morning’s SAG nominations. Omitted from last year’s Best Supporting Actor lineup, he rallied with an Oscar nomination and ultimately took the win. Admittedly, his SAG miss probably had much to do with scheduling, but the point stands: as Marcia Gay Harden proved before him, a SAG nomination isn’t a prerequisite for Oscar glory.
But it certainly helps. Make no mistake: the studios and publicists behind certain films and players absent from this morning’s nominations will be feeling very glum indeed, while those behind some unexpected inclusions are turning cartwheels right now. (Maybe not literally, though I’d like to see Harvey Weinstein have a go.) For better or worse, the SAG slate is a significant preview of what we can expect when the Academy announces their nominations in a little over a month’s time — three years ago, lest we forget, 19 of 20 SAG-nominated performances repeated at the Oscars.
So which contenders got an unexpected boost this morning, and which got shafted? Let’s round up a few key points:
All is lost (at the SAGs, at least) for Redford

SAG is usually highly sympathetic to American veterans, even in little-seen films – they”re the ones who nominated Robert Duvall for “Get Low” (remember that?), after all. So it was by far the biggest shock of the morning that Hollywood legend Redford was passed over for his one-man-show performance in J.C. Chandor”s maritime survival tale “All is Lost.” With scarcely any dialogue, Redford is required to carry the entire film through pure physical performance – you”d think that”s the kind of feat fellow actors would respect. But the film has struggled to find an audience, and perhaps many SAG members thought it sounded like too much hard work to pop in their screeners. It”s a major blow for a contender many thought could win the Oscar – in 20 years, no one has won a leading-role Oscar without a SAG nod. (To add insult to injury, the film was nominated in the Stunt Ensemble category, though Redford did much of his own stunt work.)

“Dallas Buyers Club” shows hidden strength

Everyone expected Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto to be nominated for their moving performances in Jean-Marc Vallee”s AIDS drama, and they duly were. But few saw that nomination for Best Ensemble coming – the film is full of fine character work in the margins, and Jennifer Garner was arguably been under-credited for her warmly sympathetic turn as a morally conflicted medic, but the film has largely been discussed as a two-man showcase. It”s not an undeserved nomination, but it”s one that says less about the ensemble than it does about the film”s popularity with voters – on this basis, “Dallas Buyers Club” is a serious threat for a Best Picture nod.

“Mr. Banks” needs some saving

The slot taken in Best Ensemble by “Dallas Buyers Club” is one most were expecting to go to Disney”s prime awards hopeful “Saving Mr. Banks,” which seemed something of a soft, starry lob to the SAG membership. But while they nominated Emma Thompson (netting her first SAG nod since 1995) for her entertainingly prissy turn as P.L. Travers, they clearly weren”t feeling the film that much: not only did it miss in the top category, but Tom Hanks was passed over for his baity supporting turn as Disney himself. This will have Disney nervous, particularly after the film underwhelmed commercially in the UK. Have its Oscar prospects been overestimated?

“Captain Phillips” gets a second wind

It was a morning of mixed fortunes for Hanks – he may have missed out for “Banks,” but he did secure a none-too-certain Best Actor nomination for his steelier turn in waterborne thriller “Captain Phillips.” Despite solid reviews and box office, buzz seemed to be fading a little around Paul Greengrass”s film, but SAG has given it a welcome shot in the arm – not only did Hanks get a nod, but Somali newcomer Barkhad Abdi turned out to be one of the actors blocking him in the supporting race. Abdi”s the kind of novice who could easily miss out with this group, so that nomination is a real sign of strength.

Weinstein overcomes the critics

The Weinstein Company”s 2013 awards portfolio isn”t one of its strongest: “Lee Daniels” The Butler” pleased audiences in the summer, but seems a little too square for major Oscar recognition, while “August: Osage County” premiered to polite indifference at Toronto, and has struggled to gain much buzz. Both, however, are old-fashioned, star-powered ensemble pieces that are very much in SAG”s wheelhouse – and so it proved today, as they each scored a Best Ensemble nod, plus two individual acting bids apiece. (Forest Whitaker”s nomination for “The Butler,” against tough competition, is a real coup; Julia Roberts, meanwhile, successfully got away with category fraud for “August.”) Does that make them Best Picture heavyweights? Not quite, but missing here would have put them out of the conversation for good.

Daniel Bruhl restarts his engine

Earlier in the year, German actor Bruhl was widely seen as a sure bet for a Supporting Actor nod: his performance as stubbornly cocky racing driver Niki Lauda in Ron Howard”s biographical drama has the tragic arc, feisty defiance and hefty prosthetic assistance that awards voters tend to like in a performance – it helps, too, that he”s really a lead. But as “Rush” sputtered at the box office and veered out of the Best Picture race, Bruhl”s buzz seemed to go with it. Clearly, however, the performance impressed voters independently of the film; like Lauda himself, he”s unexpectedly back in the race.

“Wolf of Wall Street” and “Her” passed over

We”ll never know how Martin Scorsese”s “The Wolf of Wall Street” would have gone over with SAG if it hadn”t started screening so late in the game – the truth of the matter is that many voters simply haven”t seen it yet. (“Django Unchained” was in a similar position last year, and that turned out fine.) So while “Wolf””s absence isn”t a surprise, it”s still a missed opportunity for a film so ensemble driven. Would it have proven too offbeat for the middlebrow SAG membership? Possibly. Spike Jonze”s “Her,” despite a healthy showing in the critics” awards thus far, clearly did.

Jennifer Lawrence does the “Hustle” by herself

A Best Ensemble nod for David O. Russell”s “American Hustle” was inevitable: the film”s both a hot Best Picture player and a colorful ensemble piece. Less certain was how it would fare in the individual categories: Amy Adams was a potential spoiler for a Best Actress nod, while Bradley Cooper had a good chance of muscling into a still-flexible Supporting Actor field. Both, however, missed out, as only surefire scene-stealer (and SAG”s reigning Best Actress) Jennifer Lawrence made the grade; SAG evidently liked “Hustle,” but didn”t go crazy for it.

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