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SAG Award Nominations Analysis: Aniston, Gyllenhaal Boosted, ‘Selma’ Shut Out

It was a good morning for Jennifer Aniston and Jake Gyllenhaal, whose heralded performances in smaller films managed to break into crowded fields with nominations for the SAG Awards. Not doing as well today is Paramount, which found both their Oscar hopefuls, “Interstellar” and “Selma,” shut out of all categories.

With the SAG the first of the guilds to announce nominations for motion pictures, the SAG Awards are often seen as a great harbinger for the Academy Awards. Last year, all four SAG Award winners in film went on to Oscar glory. While there is no correlation between the SAG Awards’ best ensemble category and Oscar’s best picture, many continue to insist a connection exists. Last year, only three of the five film ensembles nominated went on to score best picture noms at the Oscars, with “August: Osage County” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” left off the Academy list. However, a SAG ensemble win often shows how is strong a film’s fanbase (see winners “Argo,” “The King’s Speech” and particularly “Crash”).

Other takeaways from the nominations: “Foxcatcher” performances are still very much in the conversation, “The Imitation Game” remains a player after being shut out of the Independent Spirit Awards and critics awards, and campaigning — particularly getting those screeners out — really pays off.

The lack of nominations for “Selma” and “Interstellar” could be largely attributed to the fact that screeners were not made available to members of the SAG Awards nomination committee — the 2,100 members selected at random who vote on the nominees, before voting on the winner is opened to all SAG-AFTRA members. Last year, Paramount’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” was similarly shut out without screeners and went on to fare just fine at the Academy Awards, scoring nominations for actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. In addition, a film like “Interstellar” is likely considered more of a directorial and filmmaking achievement than an actor’s film, so the lack of SAG Awards attention shouldn’t hurt it in the long run.

Also not faring well was Universal’s Oscar hopeful “Unbroken,” although it did receive a nomination in the stunt category. Again, this shouldn’t mean much for its chances at the Golden Globes and Oscars — the film’s main shot at an acting nom was in star Jack O’Connell, and the best actor field is one of the most competitive and crowded ever.

This year’s ensemble nominees included “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything.” Surprisingly, “Into the Woods” was left off despite being a big, starry ensemble and a musical — something SAG Awards voters love, as evidenced by ensemble noms for “Les Miserables,” “Chicago” and particularly the mediocre “Nine” (ironically, directed by “Into the Woods” helmer Rob Marshall — as was “Chicago”). The biggest surprise in this category is for “Theory” — although stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were predicted to be nominated in their categories, the film is generally viewed as more of a two-hander. Still, its studio, Focus Features,  pulled off a similar surprise last year with an ensemble nod for “Dallas Buyers Club.”

The supporting actor category went as predicted, with nominations going to J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”), Edward Norton (“Birdman”), Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”), Robert Duvall (“The Judge”) and Ethan Hawke (“Boyhood”). Supporting actress was also fairly predictable, with Meryl Streep (“Into the Woods”), Emma Stone (“Birdman”), Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game”) and Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”) all landing nods. The one surprise was the recognition for Naomi Watts — and not for “Birdman,” but for “St. Vincent.” She bested the likes of Laura Dern (“Wild”) and Jessica Chastain (“A Most Violent Year”) for the nom.

In that aforementioned competitive best actor category, Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”) and Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) were considered safe, with a lot of actors circling the last two slots. Steve Carell managed to affirm his position with a nomination for his transformative work in “Foxcatcher.” But the last slot seemed up for grabs, with everyone from Oscar Isaac (“A Most Violent Year”), Timothy Spall (“Mr. Turner”) and Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”) in contention. As previously mentioned, David Oyelowo (“Selma”) likely suffered from a lack of screeners. In the end, it was Gyllenhaal who landed the fifth spot for his funny, fierce turn in “Nightcrawler.”

In the unpredictable lead actress category, only Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”), Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”) and Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”) were considered certainties. There was strong critical support for Marion Cotillard for both “The Immigrant” and “Two Days, One Night” along with a lot of buzz for Hilary Swank in “The Homesman,” but both were left off — though I wouldn’t rule out either for Oscar consideration. Instead, “Gone Girl” breakout Rosamund Pike scored a nom. And in a show of hard work and good campaigning paying off, Jennifer Aniston managed to land a nod for the tiny indie “Cake.” This nom was perhaps the biggest boost to any one individual or film out of the entire lineup. In many ways, Aniston has already won.

Winners will be announced at the SAG Awards on Jan. 25, 2015, broadcast live on TNT and TBS.

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