The various awards programs that take place prior to the Oscars surely matter a great deal to the people who vote on and receive the awards. But to armchair analysts, they’re much more useful as weathervanes detecting slight changes in Academy winds. A lot of the same industry types that make up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ voting body hold membership in other entertainment unions that annually mete out awards recognition, so the nominations that the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, and the Screen Actors Guild decide on can be reliable predictors for the slate of Oscar contenders.
If that continues to be true this year, then we’re looking down the barrel of a much stranger Oscar race than some had formerly anticipated. The SAG nominations were unveiled this morning, and a few films once thought to be flagging have roared back with some key nominations. In other words, today was a very good day to wake up and be Bryan Cranston.
Dismissed in early reviews as a routine biopic too bland to cause a major blip on Oscar radar, Trumbo has proven itself an awards force capable of hanging with the heavyweights. In addition to personal nods for Cranston as the eponymous blacklisted screenwriter and Helen Mirren as career-breaking gossipmonger Hedda Hopper (one of two nominations for Mirren along with a Leading Actress nod for her turn in Woman in Gold, which, what is going on right now), Trumbo scored the highly coveted Outstanding Performance By A Cast nomination for the whole ensemble. Whether this marks the beginning of an unexpected drive for gold from Trumbo will become clearer after the Golden Globe nominations are unveiled tomorrow morning (make sure to check back in tomorrow for our comprehensive breakdown), but Cranston had all but disappeared from the Best Actor race and Mirren’s wasn’t the hot name on anyone’s lips to begin with. This prestige indie is far from dead, and it just goes to show that you should never underestimate the awards potential of movies that frame people who make movies as the real heroes.
Netflix’s first foray into the major Oscar races, Beasts of No Nation, also made out handsomely in the SAG nominations, and a bit more deservedly so. Cary Fukunaga’s harrowing African war epic also snagged an Outstanding Performance By A Cast nomination for Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, and Kurt Egyiawan in addition to a nod singling out Elba as the ruthless warlord referred to only as Commandant. (Fun fact, depending on your definition of ‘fun’: SAG hasn’t nominated a three-actor ensemble since 2004, when Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, and Morgan Freeman repped Million Dollar Baby.) Besides singlehandedly legitimizing Netflix as a presence in the awards sphere beyond the Documentary categories, Beasts of No Nation has made a convincing argument for Elba as Best Supporting Actor, a hotly contested category with six actors jockeying for five slots. Along with Elba, the other frontrunners include Tom Hardy for The Revenant, Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies, comeback king Sylvester Stallone in Creed, and Spotlight‘s Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton. If the brains behind Spotlight decide to submit Keaton as a lead, that would open up the category a little, but today’s nomination has jettisoned Elba to the front of the pack.