Without question the biggest surprise coming out of this morning’s all important announcement of the Screen Actors Guild Award nominations in film was the absence of Robert Redford‘s tour de force one-man show in All Is Lost in the Best Actor category. The New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor winner was shut out and that could have an effect on shaking up what is an extremely competitive category. Redford was widely expected to be a major factor here — he has only been Oscar-nominated as an actor once, for 1973′s The Sting, and never in the 20-year history of the SAG Awards — and since SAG is one of the most reliable precursors of Oscar noms, his omission is a troubling sign. Adding insult to injury SAG did nominate the “stunt ensemble” of All Is Lost (is that just one guy?) even though when I interviewed him Redford told me he did most of his own stunts in the movie. Go figure.Then again, last year SAG and Oscar disagreed at least once in every category and matched in just 14 of 20 main acting nominees, so although this is a setback for Redford, it’s not a knockout. In the last two decades it’s been highly unusual for an actor not at least nominated by SAG to go on and actually win at the Oscars. But it actually happened last year when Christoph Waltz took the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Django Unchained after being the only one of the field who was not also a SAG nominee.
Related: SAG Awards Nominations Announced
The Django factor could also be comforting to the Christmas Day release The Wolf Of Wall Street, another film completely shut out this morning. Like Django it came to the game extremely late with its first SAG screenings only 10 days ago, and Paramount sent out no DVD screeners to the SAG Nominating Committee of 2000 randomly chosen members from around the country. That is why its absence from the list of Outstanding Cast, as well as for its most talked-about performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, is not really surprising. It’s a good bet to say a great number of voters just didn’t see the film in time. That won’t be a factor with the Academy, which doesn’t even get its ballots until the end of the month.
With Redford and DiCaprio, both still strong Oscar possibilities, missing from the lead actor lineup, you can’t say among those who were nominated — Bruce Dern, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Hanks, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Forest Whitaker — that there were any stunning surprises. It’s a killer category and a few votes either way can make a huge difference. The showing for Whitaker was a big boost to The Weinstein Company’s August release Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which also nabbed a Cast nomination and a Supporting Actress nod for Oprah Winfrey but was thought by many pundits to be fading. SAG, the first of the very important guild groups to weigh in on the race, has just brought it roaring back to life — at least for the moment. It does have one of the largest, starriest casts of the year and that could definitely be a factor here. The same is true for Weinstein’s very actor-centric August: Osage County (like Wolf a Christmas Day release but one which has been widely available to view), which not surprisingly landed a Cast nom and individual nods for Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. This is a group of actors voting for a movie that is completely driven by actors. It hasn’t been mentioned in any of the early critics awards but could do well at the Oscars since the biggest branch there by far belongs to the actors.
With Streep joined by Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench and Emma Thompson, the lead actress race went down exactly as expected. All are former Oscar winners and I expect all to be nominated again January 16th. Same for the Supporting Actress race: Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong’o and June Squibb joining Winfrey and Roberts.
The Best Supporting Actor race, like Best Actor, is a fluid one that could have gone many ways. Tom Hanks’ omission as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks surprised me, but perhaps SAG felt one nod for Captain Phillips was enough. But no surprise here for the nom for his co-star in that film. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi of Captain Phillips simply wowed SAG Nom Comm Q&As (as well as Deadline’s own THE CONTENDERS event). At one SAG gathering he got the longest standing ovation I can ever remember. The nod to the late James Gandolfini for Enough Said was also widely expected along with frontrunners Jared Leto and Michael Fassbender. Daniel Bruhl’s inclusion for Ron Howard’s Formula One racing drama Rush might surprise some since Rush had been fading from the awards conversation, but it’s an extremely strong performance and the filmmakers even threw some parties to make sure he wasn’t forgotten. Look for Bruhl to further grease his Oscar chances with a Golden Globe nomination tomorrow. And — shocker — look also for Rush to be the surprise Globe nominee for Best Motion Picture Drama, maybe even Howard in directing. HFPA members to whom I have spoken have been talking it up for weeks.
In the SAG category of Outstanding Cast of a Motion Picture — which some compare to the equivalent of a Best Picture category (but how are you going to nominate a Gravity here?) — the biggest surprise was the inclusion of Dallas Buyers Club, since its main cast really just consists of McConaughey and Leto, both already individually nominated, and Jennifer Garner. If SAG is sending a sign for the Oscar race it could be with this nomination. I might have thought Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks , Nebraska, or the completely and unfairly ignored Inside Llewyn Davis might have grabbed a slot. Or even Prisoners which has a great ensemble.
Oh, and did I mention SAG’s front runner, 12 Years A Slave? With four key nominations it leads the field and did exactly what it needed to do after a spotty run in early critics contests. And with the first major guild verdict in, Fox Searchlight should be thrilled.