Americans and first-timers dominate nominations

Yanks and virgins dominate the Screen Actors Guild nominations in the two lead actor categories.

Let’s begin, however, with the more intriguing topic of all those first-timers.

Despite such high-voltage marquee names as Angelina Jolie (“Changeling”), Sean Penn (“Milk”), Brad Pitt (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), Meryl Streep (“Doubt”) and Kate Winslet (“Revolutionary Road”), not one of the 10 thesps nommed this year has ever taken home a SAG Award for a lead performance in a movie.

For TV, supporting or ensemble work, yes — but not as the star who carries the pic. Pitt, curiously, has only one previous SAG nomination on his resume, for being in the cast of “Babel.” The big shocker here, of course, is Streep, arguably the most awarded film actress ever. Her one SAG win was for the HBO miniseries “Angels in America” five years ago.

Granted, the SAG Awards haven’t been around as long as the Oscars, Golden Globes or even the People’s Choice Awards, so it will be sweet to see who goes from virgin-to-vet status on the evening of Jan. 25 when this org’s kudocast puts its 15th year into the record book.

Then again, the top actor statues could go to a newcomer with no previous SAG acclaim at all, be it Melissa Leo (“Frozen River”) or Mickey Rourke “(The Wrestler”).

Fellow nominees Anne Hathaway (“Rachel Getting Married”), Richards Jenkins (“The Visitor”) and Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”) were previously nommed for their ensemble work in, respectively, “Brokeback Mountain,” “Six Feet Under” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.” But again, no wins.

Many awards orgs have a tendency to favor thesp work from small-budget films over big-budget, or vice versa. SAG voters have balanced the two here, as if to say it is the perf and not the indie cache or the studio marketing that matters.

Leo and Jenkins, especially, have not heretofore figured prominently in the awards sweepstakes despite positive reviews. Then again, the SAG voters haven’t held it against Pitt for appearing in this year’s grand epic.

Where the SAG choices will probably raise the most eyebrows is its nearly all-American slant. Winslet is the sole foreigner to get a top actress nod. Fellow Brit thesps Sally Hawkins, in “Happy-Go-Lucky,” and Kristin Scott Thomas, in “I’ve Loved You So Long,” were left off the lead actress list. The latter oversight means that not one leading-role foreign-language perf has been cited.

International nod

It gets a bit more global in the supporting-actor categories. The bilingual perf of Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) did make the cut. The Brits are represented not only by Winslet (“The Reader”) again but newcomer Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”), and the inclusion of the Oz-born Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight”) is the fourth time in this org’s history that a nomination has been given posthumously. The actor was up for “Brokeback Mountain” three years ago.

The supporting noms continue the Yank love fest: Amy Adams (“Doubt”), Josh Brolin (“Milk”), Viola Davis (“Doubt”), Robert Downey Jr. (“Tropic Thunder”) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Doubt”), who occupies this year’s star-disguised-as-feature-player slot.

With its more than 100,000 members, SAG represents the biggest crossover block of voters for the Academy Awards, and the lists in the acting categories between the two orgs often overlap. But that’s not always the case for SAG’s prize for top perf by a cast: Last year only “No Country for Old Men” made both the SAG and Oscar picture shortlist (and the film won both). Not making the Oscar cut were “3:10 to Yuma,” “American Gangster,” “Hairspray” and “Into the Wild” — all of which were nominated by SAG.

This year the guild’s choices for top perf by a cast are “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Doubt,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” If the primaries from kudo season are to be read as tea leaves, more than one of those could earn Oscar’s picture nominations.

The guild nommed no fewer than four perfs from “Doubt,” meaning that its ensemble inclusion is no fluke. Likewise, its snub of Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Shannon and Kathy Bates from “Revolutionary Road” is deliberate as well.

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