Golden Globe, SAG Award Noms Reveal Disruption of Trump Era in Oscar Race

Awards Season’s Age of Disruption -Illustration by Matt Collins - H 2017
Illustration by Matt Collins

With the actors guild's snub of the old guard honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press, the us-versus-them of our political system has reached Hollywood. Will it upend the Academy Award nominations, too?

For lovers of all things traditional — those with a yearning for the past, a respect for the tried-and-true, a belief in the old world order — Dec. 13 was a bleak day indeed. That’s when the 2,500 members of the Screen Actors Guild’s awards committee kicked the establishment in the balls.

Just 48 hours after the Hollywood Foreign Press Association rewarded a slew of veterans with Golden Globe nominations — among them, such bauble-bearing artists as Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Helen Mirren, Daniel Day-Lewis and Octavia Spencer, all previous Oscar and Globe winners — SAG went rogue, sticking it to the Hollywood nomenklatura when its movie noms were revealed and shutting out the blue bloods.

True, some of the same old names were sprinkled among the SAG Awards’ movie nominees; how could it be otherwise, given that almost any awards-oriented film needs a goodly dose of star power just to get off the ground? But, with few exceptions (Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq. and arguably Steve Carell for Battle of the Sexes), there wasn’t an A-lister to be found.

Instead, SAG favored the film industry’s blue- and white-collar workers. It opted for those who toil close to the industry’s icy Kuiper Belt, rather than at its molten core. Make no mistake, this was a vote for outsiders, a cri de coeur from the dispossessed warning those at the nexus of power: Don’t for a second imagine that Donald Trump-like disruption is confined to the political sphere — it’s oozing out of Tinseltown, too.

What a far cry that was from the Globe film nominations just two days before, when Steven Spielberg’s The Post took six, including best drama, actor (Hanks) and actress (Streep). The director’s paean to the First Amendment was completely ignored by SAG.

Think that was the exception to the rule? The Globes included Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World among its best picture nominees, but neither made it into the SAG Awards best ensemble circle. (The omission of Money’s Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams, both of whom were nominated for Globes, may be explained by the film’s failure to reach SAG voters in time.) Among other Hollywood aristocrats, Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) and Mirren (The Leisure Seekers) found favor with the Globes, while SAG left them blowing in the wind.

The gap between the two awards bodies comes into sharp focus when you look at the nominees’ previous hauls. The actors and actresses nominated for this year’s film Globes boast 24 Oscars among them; the SAG Award nominees (excluding those in the ensemble category) total just 15.

So what does this mean come the Oscars? For all the hullabaloo over the SAG Award and Globe nominations, they’ve always served as an appetizer before the main meal. Each has gained significance over the years as a litmus test for the Oscars, part of an awards Triple Crown in which the final race is the only one that really counts. This year, the SAG/Globe divergence doesn’t so much winnow the potential Oscar nominees as indicate a rift in the motion picture industry, a divide between the insiders and outsiders, the haves and have-nots.

If the Academy has traditionally been on the side of the haves, it’s not evident that’s still the case. The truth is, the battle playing out with the Globes on one side and SAG Awards on the other reflects one taking place within the Academy itself. Many pundits wondered if Moonlight’s best picture win in February was an aberration; rather, it revealed how powerful the anti-establishment wing of the Academy has become.

Old school and new school aren’t wrestling inside SAG and the HFPA alone; they’re in a tug-of-war behind the closed doors of Hollywood’s most prestigious institution. Only when the Oscar noms are revealed in January will we know which side has won.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.