When contemplating the Screen Actors Guild Award nominations that were announced on Thursday morning, several top Oscar contenders can cling to one heartening thought:
Remember last year!
That’s because a year ago, “The Shape of Water” wasn’t nominated in the SAG Awards’ ensemble category – but less than three months after it was bypassed in that crucial category, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
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For the filmmakers and cast of “The Favourite,” “Green Book,” “Vice” and “Roma,” that’s a statistic to hold near and dear in this exceptionally competitive year without a strong Best Picture frontrunner. Even if the only other film to win Best Picture after not receiving a SAG ensemble nomination was “Braveheart” way back in 1995, “The Shape of Water” showed that it can be done, and that it has been done recently.
So while the SAG Awards gave a boost to “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman,” and even to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” you could argue — as their partisans will argue — that it only put a dent in the awards hopes of “The Favourite” and “Vice” and “Roma” and “Green Book.”
And the last two of those films had excuses. For “Roma,” the key statistic is that it’s exceptionally rare for a foreign-language film to land a SAG ensemble nomination: Only “Life Is Beautiful” and “Babel” have done it in the 24 years of the category’s existence.
For “Green Book,” it’s the fact that “Million Dollar Baby” and “Beasts of No Nation” are the only two films with a three-person ensemble that have ever been nominated in the category. Because of SAG Awards rules that limit an ensemble cast to actors who have solo credits at the beginning of the film, or the equivalent at the end on films with no opening credits, its only eligible cast members are Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, both of whom were nominated, and Linda Cardellini.
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But if “Green Book” and “Roma” can take some solace in knowing what they were up against, “The Favourite” and “Vice” had to be stung by the SAG nominations.
Sure, the former film got three individual nominations to tie “BlacKkKlansman” as the second-most-nominated film to “A Star Is Born” – but in most circles Yorgos Lanthimos’ twisted period piece was considered the likeliest film to grab a SAG ensemble nomination. And “Vice,” Adam McKay’s look at Dick Cheney, also had to settle for nods for its two lead actors, Christian Bale and Amy Adams, when an ensemble nom had seemed all but inevitable.
So this was a very good day for “A Star Is Born,” which got all the nominations it was expected to, including one for Sam Elliott, who was overlooked by Golden Globes voters last week; for “BlacKkKlansman,” which landed the biggest surprise in the best-actor category, John David Washington, as well as an expected nomination for Adam Driver and the ensemble nod; and for “Black Panther,” which didn’t get any individual nominations but became the first Marvel movie and the first comic-book movie to crash the top category.
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The 2,000-plus members on the SAG Awards’ nominating committee also burnished the Best Picture hopes of two films that weren’t high on most prognosticators’ lists, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Crazy Rich Asians.”
They also didn’t hurt “Mary Poppins Returns,” which landed Emily Blunt a best-actress nomination instead of Viola Davis (“Widows”), Yalitza Aparicio (“Roma”), Toni Collette (“Hereditary”), Nicole Kidman (“Destroyer”) or Elsie Fisher (“Eighth Grade”).
Then again, maybe “Mary Poppins” got in because voters really loved Blunt, who also scored a surprising supporting-actress nomination for “A Quiet Place” to make her and Amy Adams the only double nominees. (Adam’s two were in the film categories for “Vice” and the TV ones for “Sharp Objects.”)
Blunt’s supporting nod, along with one for “Mary Queen of Scots” actress Margot Robbie, also helped nudge out Regina King, who in many circles has been considered the supporting-actress frontrunner for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” But that film, widely thought to be a real Best Picture contender, was completely shut out by SAG voters, along with “Roma,” “First Man” and “Widows.”
Bypassing “Beale Street” meant the voters came up with a predominantly white slate of nominees, with John David Washington and Mahershala Ali the only nominees of color. But the presence of “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman” in the ensemble category helped alleviate what might otherwise have been a bad look for the SAG Awards.
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Over the history of the SAG Awards, more than 80 percent of SAG nominees in the leading roles have gone on to receive Oscar nominations, and about 75 percent of the supporting nominees have done so.
The only actors to win an acting Oscar without first landing a SAG nomination are Marcia Gay Harden for “Pollock” in 2000 and Christoph Waltz for “Django Unchained” in 2012.
And since the Oscars expanded the Best Picture category in 2009, 33 of the 45 SAG ensemble nominees have gone on to an Oscar nomination, and only one film has won the Oscar without first landing a SAG nomination.
But that one exception, as we said at the top, is last year’s winner, “The Shape of Water.”
A few films are going to be reminding themselves of that fact over and over for the next 10 weeks or so.