SAG Awards’ Message to Hollywood: Don’t Procrastinate

The three big late-breaking movies, “The Revenant,” “Joy” and “The Hateful Eight,” got only one nomination between them

Revenant Joy Hateful Eight

The actors have spoken, and the 2015 awards race is still a muddle.

Nominations for the 22nd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards did little to clarify a confusing awards picture on Wednesday morning, because members of the SAG nominating committee were sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising and often confounding.

Jennifer Lawrence didn’t get in for “Joy,” but Helen Mirren did for “Woman in Gold,” to go with the nomination she also got for her supporting role in “Trumbo.” Comic legend Lily Tomlin didn’t make it for her touching and funny role in “Grandma,” but comedian Sarah Silverman did for her dead-serious turn in “I Smile Back.”

Steve Jobs,” “Carol,” “Room” and “The Danish Girl” landed two individual nominations each, but were shut of the key ensemble category, while “Straight Outta Compton” was nominated for its ensemble without a single individual nomination.

“Spotlight,” the presumed frontrunner for that ensemble award (and for the Best Picture Oscar), got an expected nomination in that category — but only one of its cast members received an individual nomination, and that was Rachel McAdams rather than Michael Keaton or Mark Ruffalo.

(One lesson: Supporting actor is a more crowded category this year than supporting actress.)

And the biggest film nominee was not “Spotlight” or “Steve Jobs” or “The Martian” or “Carol,” all of them expected to be major Oscar contenders, but Jay Roach‘s period Hollywood story “Trumbo,” which is an also-ran on most prognosticators’ lists but landed three separate SAG nominations.

So what does it mean? That actors like stories about Hollywood? Sure. That the members of the SAG nominating committee admired “Carol” and “Room” more than they loved them? Maybe.

It definitely means that screeners are the way to reach the SAG nom-com, and that it’s best not to leave things to the last minute. The three late-breaking awards contenders, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “The Revenant,” David O.Russell’s “Joy” and Quentin Tarantino‘s “The Hateful Eight,” managed a single nomination between them, for Leonardo DiCaprio‘s unassailable performance in “The Revenant.”

All three directors have had films that won the SAG ensemble award in the past six years — Inarritu with “Birdman,” Russell with “American Hustle” and Tarantino with “Inglourious Basterds” — but none were even nominated in that category this time around, a clear sign that the 2,200 randomly selected actors who make up the nom-com are best reached not though high-profile last-minute screenings, but with screener DVDs.

“The Hateful Eight” didn’t send screeners; “The Revenant” did, at the last minute, but they were individually watermarked, which meant that they could only be sent to members who had previously signed a separate agreement. As many as 500 nom-com voters did not do so.

So in the end, the SAG nominations boosted the fortunes of “Trumbo,” “The Big Short,” “Beasts of No Nation,” “Straight Outta Compton,” Michael Shannon in “99 Homes” and Sarah Silverman, and added Helen Mirren in “Woman in Gold” to an awards-season radar on which it had rarely appeared.

They delivered a hit to “The Martian” and Matt Damon, and bypassed the opportunity to help out Sylvester Stallone in “Creed” or Michael Caine and Jane Fonda in “Youth” or Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years” or Carey Mulligan in “Suffragette.”

And they essentially took a pass when it came to some of the biggest awards-season question marks of 2015, particularly among the December releases. If SAG voters didn’t help “The Revenant” and “Joy” and “The Hateful Eight,” they didn’t necessarily hurt them, either; those campaigns will depend on other, different voters down the road.

On the television side, most of the usual suspects showed up: Jon Hamm continued his awards-show farewell tour for “Mad Men,” Jeffrey Tambor and Claire Daines and Julianna Margulies and Jim Parsons will have the chance to win again.

The surprises were limited to Rami Malek crashing the drama-actor category for “Mr. Robot,” Ellie Kemper grabbing a comedy actress nod for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — and, perhaps, the final season of “Key & Peele” landing an ensemble nomination even though its ensemble consists of two guys, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.

They’ll be going up against the ensemble cast of “Orange Is the New Black,” which consists of 34 actors.

Golden Globe voters will weigh in on Thursday. Don’t expect things to get much clearer.