Every year, the SAG nominees start to separate the contenders from the pretenders, although as is the case in every race, not all twenty SAG nominees will make the jump to Oscar, somebody always gets left off. That being said, SAG today, has given a boost, and hurt the chances of several contenders, and has laid out a little bit clearer path to the Oscar nominations.
The biggest surprise of the day probably occurred in the ensemble race with the inclusion of Dallas Buyers Club. American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave are big Oscar contenders already, and have huge, deep casts, so neither were a surprise for me. And, as I expect, August: Osage County and Lee Daniel's The Butler, which have been and will continue to be absent from the critical circuit, got their huge Oscar boost today as the actor's came to their defense and put them squarely in the middle of the Oscar race. But Dallas Buyers Club came as a bit of a surprise, especially over potentials like Wolf of Wall Street (probably could have happened had more SAG members actually seen it in time), Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, Her, Captain Phillips, and others. But they went for it, as well as individual nods for Leto and McConaughey (which were expected), and for a film that has been flirting with the Best Picture top ten for months, this is exactly the types of nominations it needs to break into the race. Barkhad Abdi should be nominated, as well as Daniel Bruhl, but buzz had died for them and for their movies a bit (particularly Rush), so their inclusions prove that you don't have to be a big name to make the cut, and I think that this exposure will lead to Oscar nominations. The final surprise on the film side, was not really one for me, because I predicted him, but I am pleasantly surprised and thrilled that James Gandolfini got a farewell nod from his fellow actors. Not only because he was an incredible actor taken too soon, but also because his performance in Enough Said was subtle, warm, and truly something to watch. I hope the Academy follows their lead.
The biggest and most obvious snub this morning was the exclusion of Robert Redford in favor of Forest Whitaker. It is not a surprise that Whitaker was the sixth slot, this is an incredibly deep category and the inclusion of Phoenix, Bale, Dicaprio, Jordan, and several others would have made sense. But the fact that Redford was the one that was left off is surprising to some. I had suggested earlier that he was more vulnerable, but I kind never thought he would be left off by SAG. This is a big exclusion, and while HFPA will probably include him tomorrow, this proves that no one is safe in this race. That being said, it looks like Dern, McConaughey, Ejiofor, and Hanks are pretty solid. Whitaker would be a great choice, but I think SAG will like it more than the Academy acting branch, and maybe a more outward performance, say from Dicaprio may be more to their liking. But of course with a snub like Redford, I repeat, no one is safe. The other major snub was Tom Hanks in Supporting Actor. It may be that the actors decided to throw their supporting singularly behind Captain Phillips, but I do find it interesting that newcomers like Abdi and Bruhl got more votes than Hanks, then Saving Mr. Banks, which has a lot of big names in its cast, was also snubbed in ensemble. Maybe it is not as strong as we once thought. In Ensemble, I thought maybe Nebraska would get in after both Squibb and Dern made it in, and Wolf was completely snubbed (like Django last year though, a late start may be the reason for that). Also, smaller films like Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine, and Fruitvale Station (especially Octavia Spencer), were shut out as well. And while Sandra Bullock got a nod, as I expected Gravity, which many consider one of the top frontrunners, did not manage an ensemble nod. This is not a surprise, but no film since Braveheart has won Best Picture without at least an Ensemble nomination. It would have to overcome a lot of history to win, although I still think it has a shot.
The Oscar Narrative
So at the end of the day where do we stand? Besides Redford and Hanks, most of the other frontrunners in Best Actor made the cut. But the snub of Redford proves only one thing, that this race is a fluid, and surprising as ever, and the Globes and BAFTA will probably only add to the confusion, not sort things out. Best Actress has quickly turned into a rather boring category. Bullock and Blanchett deliver career best performances, so their inclusions are worthy. And Thompson is apparently on top of her game in Saving Mr. Banks. But both Dench and Streep have delivered better performances, and while I love and admire both of them I would have loved to have seen a wild card pick like Amy Adams, Brie Larson, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, or Julie Delpy, instead of this lineup which just seems stale. But alas, this will probably be the five unless the American Hustle campaign can kick into high gear and knock somebody off. Best Supporting Actor is definitely still an interesting race, because I think Disney will want to avenge the snub of Hanks. Plus, maybe once the actors get a load of Jonah Hill (who is said to be great in Wolf), he may get his second career nomination. That being said this is a great lineup, and it still looks like Leto (especially with the ensemble nod to back him up) could be the winner here, especially with Fassbender not campaigning. Although do not discount the sentimental vote of Gandolfini. he was a well-respected actor, and will have a lots of support, especially at SAG from the television side, and it could parlay into an upset Oscar victory (if he gets the nod). Finally, in Best Supporting Actress, all five of my predictions made the cut. I would have loved to have seen Martindale get in over Roberts (Roberts is great, but she is a lead), and Octavia Spencer, really needed this nod. If she misses out on the Globe as well, it might be the end of the road for a potential second Oscar. But has of now, these do seem like the top candidates for the Oscar nod, and while I'm sure I will get a lot of blowback for this, I think that Winfrey, who has been absent on the critical trail as Lawrence, Squibb, and especially Nyong'o have dominated, could be the perfect fit for the Academy. Don't discount the power of Oprah. Ever. So how about Best Picture? I don't anyone was particularly hurt too badly by the exclusion from major awards, although Saving Mr. Banks seems like the biggest miss (and Her after doing so well on the critical circuit walks away empty handed). And smaller picks like Inside Llewyn Davis and Fruitvale Station weren't expected to make too big of a mark here, so they could still impact the field. August: Osage County and Lee Daniel's The Butler have reentered the race, but I had never excluded them, as many bloggers and pundits did, because I expected SAG to do just exactly what they did, and nominate them across the board. So once again, I point to Dallas Buyers Club. This was a big win for it, and if it continues to do well, and Leto and McConaughey continue to lead the conversation, it could be a strong Best Picture contender by the end of the year.