What to Make of the SAG Awards Nominations (Analysis)

THR's awards analyst says noms for Barkhad Abdi, Daniel Bruhl, Forest Whitaker and the "Dallas Buyers Club" ensemble were not assured -- and snubs of "All Is Lost" star Robert Redford and the "Saving Mr. Banks" ensemble were surprising.
James Gandolfini was nominated posthumously for his work in "Enough Said."

On Wednesday morning, SAG-AFTRA revealed its nominees for the 20th annual SAG Awards, which will take place in Hollywood on Jan. 18 and, in an unusually competitive awards season, industry insiders were paying close attention to the first guild to chime in on the race.

The announcement brought expected news for many -- 12 Years a Slave led the field with four nominations, spread among its ensemble, lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, supporting actor Michael Fassbender and supporting actress Lupita Nyong'o -- but news that was anything but expected for others.

For instance: Captain Phillips nabbed noms for Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, Dallas Buyers Club received mentions not only for lead Matthew McConaughey and supporting actor Jared Leto but also its ensemble, Lee Daniels' The Butler received mentions for its ensemble and lead actor Forest Whitaker, Nebraska was represented by lead actor Bruce Dern and supporting actress June Squibb, Rush snagged a nom for supporting actor Daniel Bruhl and August: Osage County scored noms for ensemble, lead actress Meryl Streep and supporting actress Julia Roberts.

STORY: '12 Years,' 'Breaking Bad' Dominate SAG Award Nominations 

But All Is Lost's lead actor Robert Redford and Saving Mr. Banks' ensemble and supporting actor Tom Hanks, all of whom were widely regarded as slam-dunks, went unacknowledged, as did anyone associated with The Book Thief, Fruitvale Station, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Out of the Furnace, Prisoners, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and the late-screening The Wolf of Wall Street. (I believe that Wolf would have received several nominations if voters had been given more time to catch up with it; last year it was December release Django Unchained that was ignored by SAG but wound up with Oscar noms for best picture and best supporting actor, among others.)

The Weinstein Co. -- between August: Osage County, Lee Daniels' The Butler and Philomena -- scored more noms than any other distributor: seven.

Also of note: Enough Said's late supporting actor James Gandolfini became only the third film actor or actress ever to score a posthumous SAG nom, after Massimo Troisi for The Postman (1995) and Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight (2008). This certainly boosts his Oscar prospects -- although, it must be said, many actors who work primarily in the medium of television, in which he most distinguished himself, also got to vote for SAG's film nominees, but far fewer will be found among the Academy's ranks.

The SAG nominations were determined by the 2,100 SAG members who were randomly selected to serve on this year's SAG Awards nominating committee, some of whom -- unlike the voters from the critics and awards groups that have heretofore announced their honors -- might actually also be represented in the Academy, and could therefore provide valuable insight. (Voting for SAG Awards winners is open to all of the 100,000-plus members of SAG-AFTRA in the United States.)

The SAG Awards have been handed out since 1995. In the years since then, the guild's acting nominees and winners have predicted the Academy Awards' acting nominees and winners more consistently than any of the many other accolades that collectively constitute awards season. The two groups both issue 20 acting nominees -- four categories with five individuals in each -- and overlapped on 18 in 2008 (and three winners), 19 in 2009 (and all four winners), 17 in 2010 (and all four winners); 16 in 2011 (and three winners); and 15 in 2012 (and three winners).

The best ensemble SAG Award (officially entitled "Outstanding Performance by a Cast"), however, has not proven to be particularly predictive of best picture Oscar nominations -- even though there can be as many as five more best picture Oscar nominees as SAG ensemble nominees -- probably because of confusion over what the category is intended to recognize. Some SAG voters take it literally and seek out the strongest sizable casts; others treat it as a surrogate best picture category, since they do not have one, and vote for films even if their casts are smaller. In terms of SAG ensemble nominees that went on to best picture Oscar nominations, there were four in 2008 (Doubt missed), five in 2009 and 2010, and four in 2011 (Bridesmaids missed) and 2012 (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel missed).

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg