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SAG nominations 2016: What does it all mean?

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Bleecker Street

Wednesday’s SAG Awards nominations further muddled an award season that is already all over the map. The industry’s actors brought newfound attention to Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation and the Bryan Cranston-starrer Trumbo — two films that had been primarily ignored by critics groups and pundits alike — while shunning odds-on critical favorites like The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road.

The nominations give a boost to the box-office hit Straight Outta Compton, which landed an ensemble nod despite being left out of the acting categories. The announcement by the Screen Actors Guild, which has the biggest overlap with Oscar voters, also boosted the odds of Johnny Depp landing an Oscar nomination for his role in Black Mass, a film that’s dropped in odds-maker predictions over the last few weeks.

But one of the oddest choices by the SAG Awards’ nominating committee was its decision to include Spotlight — clearly the one film that seemed to be hitting everyone’s best of list this year — in the ensemble category and the supporting actress category for Rachel McAdams’ performance, but not supporting actor. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Liev Schreiber had been mentioned as possible major contenders there, but were left off the ballot in favor of first-time nominees Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Michael Shannon (99 Homes), and young Jacob Tremblay (Room). That trio joined Christian Bale (The Big Short) and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) in the supporting category (Elba was also nominated in the television category for his role in Luther).

We don’t yet know if the actors rejected David O. Russell’s Joy flat-out or whether the exclusion of the film and its lead actress Jennifer Lawrence, a two-time SAG winner, was due to the fact that the screeners for the Christmas Day release arrived too late for voters. Rather, the group went with Sarah Silverman in the best actress category, for her portrayal of a woman with depression in the tiny Sundance debut I Smile Back, and Helen Mirren for Woman in Gold. The actresses joined obvious contenders: Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), and Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) in the category. 

The SAG Awards nominating committee, which consists of 2,000 voters, essentially spread its votes all over the map, giving two nominations each to Beasts of No Nation, The Big ShortSpotlight, Room, and Carol. The film landing the most nominations is the unlikely Trumbo, with three nominations for ensemble, best actor (Bryan Cranston), and Mirren, again, for her portrayal of Hedda Hopper. (It makes sense that the actors would reward Trumbo, a film that celebrates Hollywood history and portrays actors and writers as heroes in the 1950s blacklist story.)

The SAG Awards are often considered a very reliable predictor. In the last 10 years, the actors’ group has predicted the best actor Oscar winner 100 percent of the time, best supporting actress 80 percent of the time and  best actress and best supporting actor 70 percent of the time. In the ensemble category — the SAG Awards equivalent to best picture — the odds aren’t as good, predicting the Best Picture Oscar only 60 percent of the time in the last 10 years.

The Golden Globe nominations are Thursday, and while the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association have no overlap with Oscar voters, the group’s choices bring light to some of the best of the year. My prediction is it will only further complicate what this year’s race will look like, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At least it won’t be boring.

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