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SAG Movies: Surprises, Diversity & True Ensembles Dominate As First Guild Weighs In On The Race

Deadline logo Deadline 12/14/2016 Pete Hammond
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The Screen Actors Guild, the first industry guild to announce awards nominations, has a history of throwing a wrench into the Oscar race, which it did in select categories this morning (particularly Lead Actress). But it also has an enviable track record of correlation with eventual Oscar nominations in acting categories.

Last year, with Spotlight winning Best Cast (or the Ensemble award, as it is commonly known), along with Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Actress Brie Larson and Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander, the SAG Awardsnearly matched Oscar down the line — with the exception of SAG Supporting Actor winner Idris Elba, who infamously wasn’t nominated by the Academy’s actors branch in the second straight year of what was dubbed by media and others as #OscarsSoWhite. That is typical of the SAG/Oscar coziness.

Oscar favorites Manchester by the Seawith a leading four noms, and Moonlight and Fences(right) with three each did exactly as expected, particularly with an actor-heavy presence in all those movies. Their noms in the Cast category, which some in the media often like to dub SAG’s “Best Picture” category (which SAG consistently denies, correctly pointing out it is recognizing the entire cast and not the overall movie) are no surprise at all. Neither is the exclusion in that category of presumed Oscar front-runner La La Land, which is focused on the romance between its two leads, played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Both won SAG noms today, but the cast doesn’t really constitute an “ensemble,” despite the film’s handlers trying to emphasize that the movie gave jobs to 150 SAG members, mostly singers and dancers. But La La Land is without significant individual roles other than its two stars. The film won eight Critics’ Choice Awards on Sunday but was shut out of a nomination there too in the Ensemble Cast category, which was won by Moonlight over five others not named La La Land.

Hidden Figureswhich has yet to open, also got a couple of nominations from SAG including for Outstanding Cast, reversing its relatively weak showing to date from other groups. With one-quarter of the individual acting noms going to black actors, as well as the presence of Moonlight (left), Fences and Hidden Figures in the Cast lineup, no one will be writing #SagSoWhite this year, even though two years ago there wasn’t a single actor of color among the 63 actors nominated by the guild in its four single acting or Cast categories.

It was a very big year for diversity (which also included a Supporting Actor nod for India’s Dev Patel), as evidenced by presenter Common saying “yeah!” after each nomination for a black actor was announced live on TV. Still, even with that strong — and encouraging — diverse showing, the Lead Actress race passed on the opportunity to nominate Loving’s Ruth Negga and Taraji P. Henson from Hidden Figures, both considered key possibilities. That uber-competitive category also saw such front-runners as critics’ favorite Isabelle Huppert, Annette Bening and Miss Sloane’s Jessica Chastain also ignored in favor of perennial nominee Meryl Streep for her brilliant comic turn in Florence Foster Jenkins (never underestimate actors’ love for Streep!) and especially Emily Blunt. Up until now, where it really counts, Blunt has not been mentioned — even whispered, anywhere — for Universal’s The Girl on the Train. She wasn’t even a big player on the SAG Nominating Committee Q&A circuit this season (though she did do some). Receiving expected SAG love were Amy Adams for Arrival, Natalie Portman for Jackie and Stone, though all are nominated for Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice awards (with Portman winning the latter) and are on the campaign trail.

One unexpected development, but a welcome one as far as I am concerned, is the strong showing for Bleecker Street’s Captain Fantastic. The Sundance debut and July release not only got star Viggo Mortensen a well-deserved Lead Actor nom (as he did in the Globes Drama category) but also the other nomination handed out for Outstanding Cast. The film also features standout ensemble work by the six young actors who played his kids in the movie. This will boost that film’s profile considerably and give it needed momentum to move into the Oscar race not only for Mortensen but perhaps other categories like Original Screenplay or even Best Picture, if enough voters now take a new look at it. They should.

There will be a few kids in the crowd of film nominees when SAG unveils its winners on January 29, when you add in Moonlight with all those young actors sharing the role of Chiron and Kevin among that movie’s cast. The 2,200-member SAG nominating committee (randomly chosen each year) has turned the Outstanding Cast contest into a very competitive category — and one that is true to the spirit of what it was intended to be, honoring outstanding casts who all have to work closely together.

Hell or High Water and Hacksaw Ridge, both also populated with a large number of good roles for actors, were overlooked in the Outstanding Cast category, but Hacksaw did nab noms for Lead Actor Andrew Garfield and its stunt ensemble, and Hell got a supporting mention for veteran Jeff Bridges. It seems to me the other big name missing at SAG today is Sully’s Tom Hanks, who also was passed over by the Golden Globe nominations (as was the film) and is not having a good week, awards-wise. He was widely expected to be in the mix at the Globes, SAG and Oscar but so far has landed only a Critics’ Choice nom this season (Manchester’s Casey Affleck won continuing his domination of critics awards). This does not bode well for the five-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner who egregiously was snubbed by the Academy (where he sits on the Board of Governors) in recent years for outstanding, but, like Sully, subtle and not actor-y roles in Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks and last year’s Bridge of Spies. Hanks consistently has delivered beautifully modulated performances but is not getting the recognition he deserves for them (SAG did nominate him at least for Phillips). Academy, are you listening?

With today’s announcement by SAG, we will move into the next phase with a slew of other guilds coming out with nominations in early January and really shaping the race in terms of what the industry voters think rather than critics, who traditionally dominate the early conversation with their picks. The guilds are far more telling than critics in predicting which way the Oscar winds are blowing as the Academy starts voting at the end of the month. This is just getting started.

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