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Earlier this morning, the Screen Actors Guild announced the nominees for the 18th annual SAG Awards (which will take place in Hollywood on Sunday, January 29), and there were numerous noteworthy surprises and snubs. Here’s my best attempt to make sense of it all.
- The film that had the best showing was The Help, which garnered four nominations (best ensemble, Viola Davis for best actress, and both Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer for best supporting actress). The Artist was close behind with three nods (best ensemble, Jean Dujardin for best actor, and Berenice Bejo for best supporting actress). And then there was a plethora of films that nabbed two: Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close for best actress and Janet McTeer for best supporting actress); Bridesmaids (best ensemble and Melissa McCarthy for best supporting actress); The Descendants (best ensemble and George Clooney for best actor); J. Edgar (Leonardo DiCaprio for best actor and Armie Hammer for best supporting actor); Moneyball (Brad Pitt for best actor and Jonah Hill for best supporting actor); and My Week with Marilyn (Michelle Williams for best actress and Kenneth Branagh for best supporting actor).
- The best ensemble nod for the comedy Bridesmaids and best supporting actress nod for its principal scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy are huge — the cherry on the cake that was a remarkable week for both the film and the performance: the film and McCarthy received those same nominations, respectively, from the BFCA; McCarthy was named best supporting actress by the Boston Society of Film Critics and New York Film Critics Online; the film was named best ensemble by the New York Film Critics Online; and the film earned a spot on the AFI’s list of the top 10 films of the year. Consequently, McCarthy is now an odds-on favorite to score a best supporting actress Oscar nod, and, odd as it may sound, the film has to be monitored very closely as a potential surprise best picture Oscar nominee.
- Jonah Hill, who once specialized in the sort of comedy for which McCarthy is being recognized, earned a best supporting actor nod the old-fashioned way: in a drama. The 28-year-old Moneyball star surprised everyone — except for the handful of us who caught his work in Cyrus (2010) — by more than holding his own opposite Brad Pitt in the baseball drama as a straightlaced numbers-puncher. That’s right, folks, it is looking increasingly likely that you’re going to have to get accustomed to the odd-sounding phrase: “Oscar nominee Jonah Hill.”
- I figured that Leonardo DiCaprio, as one of the few movie stars who is also an actors’ actor, stiil had a pretty good chance of snagging a best actor nod for his stirring performance as the title character in the much-maligned biopic J. Edgar (he did), but I never took seriously the possibility that SAG might also nominate his co-star Armie Hammer — not because Hammer isn’t perfectly good in the film, but because he had a lot less to do in it; he is lesser-known as an actor; and it hasn’t felt like there was enough passion out there for the film to lead to two acting nominations. But when a handsome and charming young actor works the SAG circuit — especially at screenings followed by Q&As to which his co-star draws out the masses — it can clearly make a difference.
- 51-year-old veteran Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin) beat out a lot of younger and higher-profile actresses to snag the fifth spot in the best actress category alongside long-presumed safe bets Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Viola Davis (The Help), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn), and Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs). Swinton had only once before been nominated by SAG for an individual performance (as opposed to being a part of a recognized ensemble), and that year she went on to win the best supporting actress Oscar.
- Based on the nominations announced yesterday by the BFCA and today by SAG, it now appears that Jessica Chastain will be heading to the Oscars (despite having five performances in films for five different studios being pushed against each other in the same category), and that she will be doing so on behalf of the commercial hit The Help (rather than The Tree of Life, in which many critics preferred her work).
- With best supporting actor nods yesterday from the BFCA and today from SAG, Nick Nolte (Warrior) continues to mount one of the all-time great acting comebacks. One of the top stars and heartthrobs of the 1980s and 1990s, Nolte earned two Oscar nominations in the latter decade before encountering serious personal and legal problems around the turn of the century, at which point most people assumed he was washed up. Between this awards recognition and a prominent role on the upcoming HBO show Luck, he seems to be proving them wrong.
- In a way, the best actor nod for the Mexican actor Demian Bichir (A Better Life) was the most heartening to see, because it shows the SAG nom-com voters actually do their due diligence and check out even the smallest of awards hopefuls, in which gems of performances like these can sometimes be found. Bichir, 48, has been toiling as an actor in relative obscurity since he was 14-years-old, and well-deserved recognition like this could literally change his career.
- The single biggest shocker, to me, was the exclusion of Albert Brooks (Drive) from the best supporting actor category, especially in light of the fact that he has been picking up best supporting actor wins — nevermind nominations — left and right in recent days. (Among those that have honored him: the New York Film Critics Circle, New York Film Critics Online, Boston Society of Film Critics, and San Francisco Film Critics Circle.) I’m afraid the only possible explanation that I can imagine is one that I noted early in the season: Brooks isn’t the most beloved guy in the world. He seems to have mellowed into a really nice guy at this stage of his life, but for a number of years in the prime of his career he was known for being difficult to work with. That shouldn’t matter on a day like today, when a performance, not a person, is supposedly being recognized… but voters are humans, too.
- The second biggest shocker, to me, was the exclusion of Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) from the best supporting actress category, especially in light of the fact that SAG obviously liked the film in which she gave her breakthrough performance. The only possible explanations that I can imagine for this particular snub are a lack of familiarity with the actress (this was, after all, her big screen debut, and it came as part of a giant ensemble) and/or splitting votes with her costar Judy Greer (who has been in the business a lot longer and worked with a lot more actors, some of whom may have been inclined to vote for her instead of Woodley).
- A number of presumptive best picture Oscar contenders were completely snubbed today, which could prove problematic for them down the road, since only a small handful of the 83 best picture Oscar winners have won that title without also carrying at least one acting Oscar nomination. (The last to do so was Slumdog Millionaire three years ago.) The most prominently snubbed: War Horse, which never really stood a shot at individual acting nods, but could have gotten a needed boost with a best ensemble nod; Hugo, for which Ben Kingsley stood a shot at a best supporting actor nod; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, for which Gary Oldman stood a shot at a best actor nod; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for which Rooney Mara stood a shot at a best actress nod; Shame, for which Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan stood a shot at best actor and best supporting actress nods, respectively; The Tree of Life, for which Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain stood a shot at best supporting actor and best supporting actress nods, respectively; Martha Marcy May Marlene, for which Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes stood a shot at best actress and best supporting actor nods, respectively; and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, for which Max von Sydow and Sandra Bullock stood a shot at best supporting actor and best supporting actress nods, respectively (but which was almost certainly hurt by its very late screening date).
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