SAG Ensemble Award Preview: This Year's Potential Contenders

Star-packed casts like those of "12 Years a Slave," "August: Osage County" and "Lee Daniels' The Butler" will vie with the character actors of "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Nebraska" spots in the category.
"12 Years a Slave" cast

An abbreviated version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Screen Actors Guild members will soon be asked to select nominees for several categories that are also recognized at the Oscars, as well as one that is not: best ensemble (or, as it is officially titled, “Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture”).

Only actors who receive an individual card in their film’s title credits (or whose special circumstances for not doing so are deemed acceptance by a SAG committee) appear on the for-your-consideration ballots and can win a statuette.

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But what are voters considering? Some take the category’s title literally and select the film that they feel features the best cast; others select the film that they feel features the best large cast; and still others select the film that they feel is simply the best of the year, since there is no SAG Award for best picture. (The five best ensemble SAG nominees end up among the five to ten best picture Oscar nominees most of the time.)

The five most impressive ensembles that we’ve seen so far in 2013 are 12 Years a Slave (the best picture Oscar frontrunner and one of the most racially diverse of the contending casts), August: Osage County (the star-studded cast of which features Oscar winners Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Chris Cooper, plus others who also have cult-like followings), Blue Jasmine (it’s Cate Blanchett’s show but a lot of other people, from Sally Hawkins to Louie C.K., also get chances to shine), Lee Daniels’ The Butler (it offers tons of star wattage between the principal cast and numerous cameos) and Saving Mr. Banks (no other contender boasts two two-time Oscar-winning stars, among many others).

We cannot forget, though, two awards hopefuls that have not yet been unveiled: American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, which both have casts to rival any of the above.

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Others to keep a close eye on include Captain Phillips, a blockbuster with a big-name star (although most of its supporting players are unknowns); Dallas Buyers Club, a serious but enjoyable indie, as most SAG ensemble nominees are; Inside Llewyn Davis, a music-centric dramedy like so many past nominees (although its main protagonist is a newcomer); Nebraska, which features a ton of veteran character actors (most SAG members relate more to the likes of June Squibb and Stacey Keach than A-listers); Lone Survivor, which truly revolves around a tight ensemble of guys; Out of the Furnace (which boasts two Oscar winners and four Oscar nominees); and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (voters may be hungry for—and reward—a real crowd pleaser).

Top Oscar contenders with casts that probably can’t/won’t be considered “ensembles”: All Is Lost (Robert Redford is the only actor in the film) and Gravity (which stars just Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and a third guy who we see for but a second).

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg