The clock is ticking for Dec. 25 releases if they are looking for love from SAG voters

By Nicole Sperling
Updated September 03, 2015 at 05:13 PM EDT

Fans of going to the movies on Christmas? Hollywood is taking good care of you this year. Five potential Oscar flicks are going to debut on the most wonderful day of the year. They include Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman follow-up, The Revenant; Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight; David O. Russell’s Jennifer Lawrence-starrer, Joy; Oliver Stone’s Edward Snowden biopic Snowden; and the Will Smith-starrer Concussion.

Yet, accompanying all these must-see films may be some underlying angst for the studios behind them, should these notoriously precise auteurs tinker with their films up until the last possible minute. If so, that could put a wrench into their award campaigns. Oscar races develop their own narrative, and like a horse race, stumbling out of the gate can doom a hopeful contender.

As was reported last week in The Hollywood Reporter, the deadline for nominations for the Screen Actors Guild Awards is Dec. 7. Why does this matter? SAG nominees and winners overlap frequently with how the Academy votes, and their choices often prove to be a precursor to Oscar night. In last year’s four acting categories, only three selections differed between the two organizations’ nominations. Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler); Jennifer Aniston (Cake) and Naomi Watts (St. Vincent) were nominated by SAG but the Academy chose Bradley Cooper (American Sniper); Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) and Laura Dern (Wild) in their respective categories.

Selma, the Martin Luther King biopic starring David Oyelowo, was completely overlooked by SAG, a situation that may have been caused because Paramount Pictures couldn’t get the screeners out to SAG voters in time. Selma was nominated for two Oscars — Best Picture and Best Song, which it won — but was ignored by the Academy in the acting and directing categories, a snub many attribute to the late delivery of screeners.

The causal relationship between those two events may be dubious — The Wolf of Wall Street missed its SAG deadline back in 2013 but still scored five Oscar nominations, including picture, director, and two acting nods — but no Oscar consultant chooses to miss sending screeners to SAG members, which needs to happen in mid-November in order to be considered for nomination. (After all, the largest branch of the Academy is the acting, many of whom are also SAG members.)

“In a way they are all important, but in the aggregate,” said one Oscar consultant, referring to the awards given out by the various guilds, which also includes the Directors Guild and the Producers Guild. “Just like a political campaign, it’s not good to lose Iowa, but many presidents have gone on to win without Iowa.”

Take last year’s American Sniper, for instance. The Clint Eastwood-directed war flick did get screeners to SAG’s nominating committee, yet Bradley Cooper was ignored in the actor race. His fate was reversed when he landed an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of war hero Chris Kyle.

For 2015, however, most people working behind the scenes on the five high-profile movies mentioned above hope the films will be done in time. While Inarritu was still shooting The Revenant as late as August, he was also simultaneously editing the 19th-century survival piece starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Those working on the film tell EW they expect to be able to start screening the movie in time for the November deadlines. The same can be said for The Hateful Eight, which The Weinstein Company is expecting Tarantino to deliver on time. Also likely to make the deadline will be David O. Russell, the writer-director who has debuted his last three films in December but still managed to screen each one for SAG voters, landing multiple nominations for all three films. Joy, which stars Jennifer Lawrence in a performance that spans multiple decades, should be able to do the same.

Sony also says its Will Smith-starring drama Concussion, which has come under fire this week by the New York Times, is also likely to make the November deadlines. Which leaves Oliver Stone’s Snowden. The mercurial director is notorious for working right up to the deadline on his films and executives at Open Road expect the same on his Edward Snowden biopic starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

But all is not lost for Stone should he work right up to his December deadline. Consider Wolf of Wall Street’s fortuitous turnaround: five nominations after missing the SAG deadline. Not bad for a last-minute cram session.