SAG Awards: Predictions in an Unpredictable Year

Sorry critics, but the SAG Awards are the first of the true precursor honors that indicate which way the Academy Awards may be leading. The nominees are voted on by 4,200 SAG members selected at random every year — 2,100 vote on film awards, 2,100 vote on TV awards. The full SAG-AFTRA voting body then selects the winners, who will be announced in a ceremony on Jan. 25, 2015. The nominees will be announced on Dec. 10 at an ungodly hour.

Last year, all four SAG award winners in film went on to score the Academy Award. (The fifth category, best ensemble, has no Oscar equivalent, though many erroneously associate it with best picture.) Still, there are always some anomalies in matching up the races every year — I still wonder if voters thought they were casting ballots for Melanie Laurent in “Inglourious Basterds” the year Diane Kruger got a nod.

And because the nominations are announced early, it’s not always possible for voters to see all the films. Every year, there is a film that gets shut out because screeners didn’t go out in time – -last year it was “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the year before it was “Django Unchained.” This year, “Selma” failed to get screeners out on time — a shame, considering the fantastic performances in the film. There are also several actors who have been unable to promote their films as much as others, which also can hurt their odds in such a competitive year.

Here is a completely unscientific take on the likely nominees we’ll hear called Wednesday morning.

Supporting Actress:
Likely Nominees: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”; Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”; Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”; Emma Stone, “Birdman”; Jessica Chastain, “A Most Violent Year”
Possibilities: Laura Dern, “Wild”; Sienna Miller, “American Sniper”; Naomi Watts, “Birdman”

There are three locks for this category: Arquette, Streep and Knightley. Chastain’s film has yet to be seen by many voters, but if they pop in their screeners, her turn as a mob-connected housewife is tough to ignore. And actors love her. Emma Stone’s Broadway commitments to “Cabaret” have kept her out of circulation and she has to compete with three other great supporting actress in her film — including possible nominee Naomi Watts. But actors love “Birdman” and her. Laura Dern is a very strong possibility to bump one of the nominees for her excellent work in “Wild.” And it’s hard to know SAG’s response to “American Sniper” just yet, but Sienna Miller could have an impact as the wife of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.

Supporting Actor:
Likely Nominees: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”; Edward Norton, “Birdman”; Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”; Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”; Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
Possibilities: Josh Brolin, “Inherent Vice”; Tom Wilkinson, “Selma”; Miyavi, “Unbroken”

Supporting actor has really come down to two showy performances: Simmons and Norton. While more subtle work doesn’t always garner awards attention, Ruffalo and Hawke are respected actors who do great work in their films. The fifth slot likely belongs to Duvall, the standout of “The Judge.” SAG loves Duvall — they nominated him for “Get Low” when Oscar failed to. But even those who don’t love “Inherent Vice” think highly of Brolin’s work as a hippie-hating cop. Possible spoilers are brewing with Miyavi and the great Wilkinson but “Selma” has to overcome the no-screener obstacle.

Actor:
Likely Nominees: Michael Keaton, “Birdman”; Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”; Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”; Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”; Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”
Possibilities: Timothy Spall, “Mr. Turner”; Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”; David Oyelowo, “Selma”; Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Jack O’Connell, “Unbroken”; Oscar Isaac, “A Most Violent Year”

By far the most competitive category, made up of great performances that actors adore. If screeners had gone out in time, I would consider Oyelowo more of a sure thing — still, don’t wouldn’t count him out for Golden Globe or Oscar noms. Comedy is tough to be recognized for, but Fiennes is great in “Grand Budapest” and if SAG responds to the movie, it could be a surprise nominee. The same could be said of O’Connell and Isaac. Spall and Gyllenhaal have smaller movies with passionate fanbases, and could displace one of the expected nominees — most likely Carell or Cooper.  Keaton, Redmayne and Cumberbatch are the only safe bets in this race.

Actress:
Likely Nominees: Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”; Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”; Hilary Swank, “The Homesman”; Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”; Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
Possibilities: Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”; Amy Adams, “Big Eyes”; Jennifer Aniston, “Cake”; Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child”

The prize is Moore’s to lose, but Witherspoon will provide some serious competition. Jones and Pike are fresh discoveries (though both have been working for years) in strong female roles during a year that lacked them. The remaining spot is likely going to Swank, who gets a meaty role and is appreciated by her fellow actors — SAG recognized her for “Conviction” when Oscar failed to. Cotillard is fantastic, but few have seen the Belgian film she stars in. Audiences are enjoying Aniston’s transformative work, but it’s unclear if “Cake” screeners have gone out. And Adams is beloved, but if she couldn’t score a nom for “American Hustle” last year, she might have an even harder battle with the coolly-received “Big Eyes.” So how great would an out-of-left-field choice like Slate be? Actors love her, “Obvious Child” was an indie hit — don’t count her out.

Ensemble:
Likely Nominees: “Boyhood,” “Birdman,” “Into the Woods,” “Foxcatcher,” “The Imitation Game”
Possibilities: “Selma,” “Unbroken,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Interstellar”

No matter how many times it’s said, best ensemble at SAG does not translate to best picture at the Oscars. Just ask “American Hustle,” “The Help” or “Inglourious Basterds.” SAG tends to go for big and starry, which is why “Birdman,” “The Imitation Game” and “Into the Woods” are sitting pretty. “Woods” also has the benefit of being a musical, which SAG voters love — remember the two nominations for “Nine”? Breaking the big ensemble rule is “Boyhood,” which is just too adored to overlook. The last spot is a tough call. If screeners had gone out for “Selma,” it would be a sure thing. Paramount had the same problem last year with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but that didn’t affect its Oscar recognition. Hopefully enough voters went to screenings to see the film. “Unbroken” has played well to SAG crowds, but who knows how the epic fares on home TVs. “Interstellar” is a big hit with a great cast, but if Christopher Nolan couldn’t get ensemble love for “The Dark Knight” or “Inception,” it seems unlikely. “Theory” has two surefire acting nominees and while it’s seen as a two-hander, that might be enough. Sometimes voters like to throw in a wild card, and few are wilder or more fun than “Grand Budapest.” But I suspect the last slot will go to another small ensemble with the superbly acted “Foxcatcher.”

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