SAG Noms: Out of Touch With This Award Season's Reality?

THR's awards columnist notes that 'La La Land' henceforth will face a daunting statistic: only one film in the 21 years in which the best ensemble prize previously was presented was not nominated for it but still won the best picture Oscar.
Universal Pictures
Emily Blunt in 'The Girl on the Train'

I didn't think anything in the world of film awards could approach the level of surprise and insanity of the recent presidential election, but then, bright and early Wednesday morning, along came the 23rd SAG Awards nominations — determined by a nominating committee of 2,200 members of SAG-AFTRA, the largest union of actors in the world — and my jaw hit the floor again.

Remember La La Land, the movie that landed more noms than any other movie at the Critics' Choice Awards (where it went on to win best picture and seven other prizes) and at the Golden Globe Awards? That movie is not among the five nominees for the SAG Awards' equivalent honor, best ensemble. Instead, Captain Fantastic, a wonderful film also acknowledged in the best actor category with a nom for Viggo Mortensen, is nominated alongside usual suspects Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight, as well as Fences and Hidden Figures. Both Fences and Figures boast diverse casts, and the latter is a feel-good option that may have been chosen over another emotionally upbeat contender, Lion. It's a shame there was no room for Hell or High Water here, but c'est la vie.

I must admit that I, like most everyone else, assumed La La would get in, even though it is essentially a two-hander, because plenty of other movies that essentially are two-handers have been nominated in the past (The Theory of Everything, Dallas Buyers Club, Black Swan, etc.); this one, like many of them, appeared on the ballot with the names of not only the principal two (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone), but also other well-known actors who appeared in supporting roles (all actors with above-the-title credits get listed, and this one also had John Legend, Finn Wittrock and Rosemarie DeWitt); it screened through the roof for SAG nom-com members; and SAG-AFTRA seemingly never has seen a movie musical it didn't love enough to nominate in this category (not just Les Miserables, Dreamgirls, Chicago and Moulin Rouge!, but even Nine and Hairspray).

Instead, La La Land now will face a daunting statistic as it continues on its otherwise pristine march toward the best picture Oscar: only one film in the 21 years in which the best ensemble SAG Award previously was presented was not nominated for it but still won the best picture Oscar, and that was Braveheart — 21 years ago.

But — but — I wouldn't write off La La Land just yet. Moonlight always was the favorite to win this prize at the SAG Awards, whether or not it was competing alongside La La Land, and it still will. But there's a long list of SAG ensemble winners that haven't gone on to claim the best picture Oscar — American Hustle, The Help, Inglourious Basterds, Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways, Gosford Park, Traffic, The Full Monty, The Birdcage and Apollo 13. I point this out not to take anything away from Moonlight, which is a wonderful film, but simply because La La Land still fits the model of what the Academy has gone for in the past more than Moonlight does. If Moonlight wins the DGA and/or PGA Awards, as well, well, then it's time for La La Land to start sweating.

And now for the individual acting categories, where the madness continues. Let's tackle best actress first, shall we? Emily Blunt is a wonderful person and an extremely talented actress who I adore — but nominating her performance in The Girl on the Train, the cinematic equivalent of junk food, over the likes of Annette Bening's in 20th Century Women, Isabelle Huppert's in Elle and Ruth Negga's in Loving is, frankly, embarrassing for all involved.

I have nothing to complain about in regard to the best actor category. The key three are there — Manchester by the Sea's Casey Affleck, La La Land's Ryan Gosling and Fences' Denzel Washington — along with the eminently worthy Andrew Garfield (for Hacksaw Ridge, not Silence, which, as with the Golden Globes on Monday, was shut out entirely) and the aforementioned Mortensen.

The supporting actress category matches up exactly with the Globes' list: Fences' Viola Davis, Moonlight's Naomie Harris, Lion's Nicole Kidman, Manchester's Michelle Williams — and, presumably in the fifth slot, Hidden Figures' Octavia Spencer, a first-rate actress who managed to shine in the least colorful of her film's three principal parts, and who, both at the Globes and at the SAG Awards, will be its sole representative in individual competition. (I honestly thought this group would go for Eye in the Sky's Helen Mirren, who it has nominated for performances less buzzed or worthy on multiple occasions in the past.)

And, last but not least, we come to best supporting actor, where there are three repeats from Monday's Globes — Moonlight's Mahershala Ali, Hell or High Water's Jeff Bridges and Lion's Dev Patel — as well as Manchester by the Sea's Lucas Hedges (arguably the most admirable choice made by the nom-com) and Florence Foster Jenkins' Hugh Grant. Grant may well have edged out his own costar, Simon Helberg, who was nominated by the Globes as a supporting actor, while the Globes nominated Grant in its lead comedy actor category.

Look, SAG-AFTRA is and always has been a bit wacky — just go to one of its screenings and stick around for the Q&A and it won't take you very long to reach that conclusion for yourself. The nominating committee members are randomly drawn from the entire membership, which includes the likes of Hanks and Streep, yes, but far more people whose names you don't know and who don't work regularly and who are just thrilled to get screeners and who, clearly, are drawn to a different sort of fare than other awards groups. Many of the nominees are from films that showed up early on screeners. The nominating committee members presumably were very excited to get them, just as they were excited to cast their ballot early during their extended voting period. And now, rightly or not, they have thrown the larger awards race into disarray.

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