SAG Nominations Served Up With a Side of Odd and Squirrely

In a field made up mostly of favorites, voters found room for Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal… and Naomi Watts in “St. Vincent?”

Naomi Watts in St. Vincent

“Birdman” led all films with four nominations, “Boyhood,” “The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game” were next with three and the frontrunners were all present and accounted for: Michael Keaton, Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon, J.K. Simmons, Edward Norton, Patricia Arquette …

In many ways, Wednesday’s Screen Actors Guild nominations went according to plan, with the 2,100 randomly-chosen voters on the SAG Nominating Committee saluting the actors they were expected to salute and honoring the films they were supposed to honor.

But around the edges, things got odd and squirrely in ways that are hard to pin down.

The comedy “St. Vincent,” for instance,  popped up with one wholly unexpected nomination – not for star Bill Murray, who at least had the benefit of some buzz after the film’s Toronto Film Festival debut, but for Naomi Watts, whose broad performance as a Russian stripper came out of left field in a category thought far more likely to include Laura Dern in “Wild,” or Jessica Chastain in “A Most Violent Year” or “Interstellar,” or Carrie Coon in “Gone Girl” or even Naomi Watts in “Birdman”  … or, really, just about anybody other than Watts in “St. Vincent.”

In the lead actor category, meanwhile, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as a feral hustler in “Nightcrawler” grabbed a spot that could easily have gone to David Oyelowo in “Selma,” or Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper,” or Timothy Spall in “Mr. Turner.”

And in lead actress, a last-minute burst by Jennifer Aniston, who hit the campaign circuit hard in recent weeks in support of her resolutely unglamorous turn in “Cake,” edged out a number of contenders once thought more likely to grab the spot: Shailene Woodley in “The Fault in Our Stars,” Hilary Swank in “The Homesman” and Amy Adams in “Big Eyes,” along with Marion Cotillard in the French-language “Two Days, One Night,” for which she has won a flurry of critics’ awards.

One lesson of the nominations is that it’s not good to wait until the last minute to show your film to the SAG Nom Comm, and it’s not good to withhold those screeners: “Selma” and “Interstellar,” which didn’t send screeners, were overlooked entirely, as were the late-screening “American Sniper,” “Unbroken” and ” Big Eyes.”

And while “Foxcatcher” landed expected nominations for stars Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo, it missed out on a nomination for the all-important SAG Ensemble Award, which went to “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

It’s hard to find any grand takeaways from the nominations, except that SAG voters generally agree with the consensus – but in a scattered and perhaps thin year for female performances, they sometimes have slightly offbeat taste … or, in the case of Watts and “St. Vincent,” very offbeat taste.

On the television side, meanwhile, “Orphan Black” partisans will no doubt be delighted that Tatiana Maslany’s multiple roles are recognized by at least one awards body, after a steady stream of Emmy snubs.

While the SAG TV noms did look a lot like the Emmys, the actors found room for Steve Buscemi but not Jeff Daniels or Jon Hamm, Viola Davis but not Lizzy Caplan or Kerry Washington, Uzo Aduba but not Lena Dunham.

And they helped made Benedict Cumberbatch the biggest single nominee of the morning, adding a “Sherlock” nod to go with his two (lead actor and ensemble) for “Imitation Game.”

So now the first Hollywood guild of this year’s movie awards season has chimed in, and we don’t know much more than we did before SAG spoke up.

But hey, did we mention that Naomi Watts was nominated for “St. Vincent?”