Analysis: SAG pushes ‘The Artist’ and ‘Descendants’ to the front of the Oscar race

In one respect the film nominations for the 2012 Screen Actor’s Guild Awards were not that surprising.  They were broad.  They were populist.  And, for the most part, they didn’t rock the boat.  Before we go through each category, however, there are some major lessons already being learned from today’s results.

Go early or go home
Films that screened later in the process did not fare well.  “War Horse,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  This is especially frustrating for “Tinker” which could have benefited from repeat screenings and opened in the UK in September.  “War Horse” also was done months ago and should have considered a limited early Dec. opening so they could start screening at the beginning of Nov.  Films that were in the field early?  “Moneyball,” “Albert Nobbs,” “The Help,” “The Artist,” “My Week with Marilyn” and “J. Edgar” — all films with multiple nominations.

Stats rarely lie when it comes to best picture
Over the past 15 years of the SAG Awards (basically every show except the first one in 1996) the Academy Award winner for best picture received at least a SAG outstanding ensemble nomination.  To be clear, no film without an ensemble nomination has ever won best picture over that span.  That’s a big statistic people and means “”The Artist,” “The Descendants,” “The Help,” “Midnight in Paris” and, um, “Bridesmaids” are in for the best picture win (no, we really don’t think “Bridesmaids” is getting nominated, but it would be fun to see no?).  It also means, “Hugo” and “War Horse” have no shot at winning.  That’s how important the acting branch is.

The year of the polarizing awards season players

The fact films such as “Shame,” “A Dangerous Method,” “Melancholia” and “Young Adult” didn’t receive any nominations shows now matter how strong critical support was for their performances, not enough actors could get behind them.

It was a bad day for Paramount, Sony Classics and Focus Features
Startlingly, Paramount received zero nominations for “Hugo,” “Young Adult” or “Like Crazy.” Classics landed only one nomination for “Midnight in Paris” in ensemble and Focus found only one nod for “Beginners” with Christopher Plummer. On the other hand, The Weinstein Company (which lead all studios with ), Sony Pictures and DreamWorks had much better days.

Surprises but not controversial ones
How respected and beloved is Tilda Swinton by her peers?  If she campaigns (which she didn’t do enough sadly for “I Am Love”) she can be the new Meryl in terms of awards recognition. Demián Bichir from “A Better Life” benefited from a very early screener mailing (smart move by Summit Entertainment) and the actors rewarded Nick Nolte for his best performance in years in “Warrior.”

Now, reviewing each category…

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

“The Artist”
“The Descendants”
“The Help”
“Midnight in Paris”

Lowdown: I just can’t see “The Help” winning best picture, but if Sony Classics could spend and really push the pedal on the campaign for “Midnight in Paris,” Woody’s biggest hit could have a shot at winning.  “Bridesmaids” won’t make the Oscar cut, but this is a huge recognition for the Universal hit.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Demián Bichir, “A Better Life”
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

It would be shocking if Bichir made the Oscar cut.  Look for Michael Fassbender or Gary Oldman to sneak in here.  It’s possible DiCaprio could fall, but he, Clooney, Dujardin and Pitt are likely Oscar locks.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Tilda Swinton, “We Need To Talk About Kevin”
Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”

Lowdown: Baring a major slip from Close this is your best actress field.  Swinton clearly has pulled away from Elizabeth Olson (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”), Felicity Jones (“Like Crazy”), Kirstin Dunst (“Melancholia”) to land the fifth slot.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Kenneth Brangah, “My Week with Marilyn”
Armie Hammer, “J. Edgar”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Lowdown: Just cannot see Hammer making the Oscar field. Hill, on the other hand, easily could. His nomination shows how much love the industry has for “Moneyball.”  Branagh and Plummer are still the only locks for this category in the Oscar race.  It’s hard to imagine Albert Brooks not making the Academy cut.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Bérénice Bejo, “The Artist”
Jassica Chastain “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

Lowdown: This “could” be your five. Searchlight was hoping Chastain would get in for “The Tree of Life” but its “The Help” for her all the way. The only question is whether McCarthy makes it to the Oscar dance.  Carey Mulligan could still sneak in for “Shame.”  Although the actor’s branch in the Academy really need to sit down and watch the movie (it always helps).

Tomorrow? The semi-irrelevant, but always fun to review Golden Globe nominations. Can they impact this year’s Oscar race?  We’ll soon find out.

What did you think of this year’s SAG Awards nominees? Share your thoughts below.

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