Feinberg Forecast: Analyzing the SAG Awards' Best Ensemble Contenders

9:00 AM 11/25/2016

by Scott Feinberg

SAG-AFTRA doesn't bestow a best picture honor — but its ensemble award is the closest thing, and this year sees 16 formidable contenders, with nominations to be announced Dec. 14.

'Lion,' 'Hidden Figures' and '20th Century Women'
'Lion,' 'Hidden Figures' and '20th Century Women'
  • 20th Century Women


    Merrick Morton/A24

    PRO Few 2016 films feature a truer ensemble than this one, in which a makeshift family is portrayed by performers from several different generations — Annette Bening, Lucas Jade Zumann, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Billy Crudup.

    CON The absence of marquee names might make this movie a tough sell.

  • The Birth of a Nation

    Fox Searchlight

    Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

    PRO Nate Parker leads a deep and diverse cast that also includes Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley and Gabrielle Union. Past nominees directed by their film's star: Sling Blade; Life Is Beautiful; Million Dollar Baby; Good Night, and Good Luck; and Argo (which won).

    CON It faces an uphill climb due to the controversy over Parker's past rape accusation and trial.

  • Captain Fantastic

    Bleecker Street

    Courtesy of Sundance

    PRO Revered actors of all stripes — Viggo Mortensen, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Missi Pyle, Frank Langella and Ann Dowd — star in this quirky art house dramedy directed by actor Matt Ross (Silicon Valley), which got a 10-minute standing O at Sundance.

    CON It also stars six kids nobody has heard of and has a lower profile than most of its competitors.

  • Fences


    David Lee/Paramount Pictures

    PRO Denzel Washington (star of past nominee American Gangster) and Viola Davis (star of past winner The Help) carry this unusually diverse film. Voters adore Broadway adaptations, including dramas (see past nominees Doubt, Frost/Nixon and August: Osage County).

    CON A late unveiling won't help it.

  • Florence Foster Jenkins


    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    PRO Three actors with different constituencies — Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg — anchor this comedic biopic, a genre recognized with a nom just last year (Trumbo). A nom would represent Streep's record-tying sixth in this category.

    CON The standout performance is Streep's — and it's so strong that it may cause some to forget the strength of those around her.

  • Hell or High Water

    CBS Films

    Courtesy of Lorey Sebastian/CBS Films

    PRO This acting showcase stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as brothers in crime and Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham as the lawmen trying to stop them.

    CON It might be disadvantaged by the absence of any female parts of note. Only four all-male casts have been nominated: Saving Private Ryan, The Social Network, Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton.

  • Hidden Figures

    20th Century Fox

    Hopper Stone/Twentieth Century Fox Film

    PRO The closest parallel to this inspirational, commercially promising film — which stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, plus Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali — is The Help, which won this award.

    CON Critics might not be as kind to this film as audiences.

  • Jackie

    Fox Searchlight

    Stephanie Branchu

    PRO Natalie Portman has earned raves as the title character, surrounded by Billy Crudup, Peter Sarsgaard, John Hurt, John Carroll Lynch, Greta Gerwig and Max Casella as other historical figures. And in the wake of Donald Trump's election, Camelot nostalgia likely will be at a high.

    CON It's fundamentally a showcase for Portman, and everyone else is glorified set decoration.

  • La La Land


    Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

    PRO No movie has been more praised, and no cast is more likable than this one's, with Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt and John Legend. Even half-decent musicals (Hairspray, Nine, Les Miserables) get noms here; Chicago won.

    CON Leads Gosling and Stone are its only performers who have parts of any size.

  • Lion

    The Weinstein Co.

    Mark Rogers/The Weinstein Company

    PRO In only six of this category's 21 years has a Harvey Weinstein-distributed film not been nominated. Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara star in this, his best shot this year, which evokes comparisons to 2009 winner Slumdog Millionaire.

    CON Its first half features Indian child actors with whom voters are unfamiliar.

  • Live by Night

    Warner Bros.

    PRO Ben Affleck has starred in three nominees (Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love and Argo — the latter two won) and here is joined by Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina and Chris Cooper.

    CON It's rumored to have more commercial than critical appeal.

  • Manchester by the Sea

    Roadside Attractions/Amazon

    Claire Folger/Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions

    PRO Kenneth Lonergan brings out the best in his actors, and this is no exception, with Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams firing on all cylinders, and Kyle Chandler, Matthew Broderick and Gretchen Mol also shining in smaller parts.

    CON The dark subject matter could prove a turnoff for some.

  • Moonlight


    David Bornfriend/A24

    PRO This critical and commercial triumph stars colorful performers including Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Andre Holland and Janelle Monae. Films about race often get nominated (see Ray, Crash, The Help, Precious, 12 Years a Slave, The Butler and Straight Outta Compton).

    CON Much of its ensemble — including the three actors who portray its central character — is composed of newcomers.

  • Rules Don't Apply

    20th Century Fox

    Francois Duhamel/Twentieth Century Fox

    PRO No film's call sheet had more familiar names: Warren Beatty, Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Ed Harris, Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Annette Bening, Taissa Farmiga, Steve Coogan, Amy Madigan, Oliver Platt, Candice Bergen, Josh Malina, Paul Sorvino, Megan Hilty, etc.

    CON Only Beatty, Ehrenreich and Collins really have much to do.

  • Silence


    Kerry Brown/Paramount Pictures

    PRO This worldly cast includes Brit Andrew Garfield, Irishmen Liam Neeson and Ciaran Hinds, American Adam Driver and Japanese Tadanobu Asano, and could follow two other Scorsese films, The Aviator and The Departed, by landing a nom.

    CON Its SAG support could be hurt by its late unveiling and long runtime, as were Scorsese's Hugo and The Wolf of Wall Street.

  • Sully

    Warner Bros.

    Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros.

    PRO It has grossed more than any other serious contender ($123 million) and boasts a formidable cast of actors, including Tom Hanks (Apollo 13 won this award), Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad won its TV equivalent), Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney.

    CON Apart from Hanks, nobody else in the film really has much meat on their part.