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Critics, Globes Add Fuel to Campaign Fires With Industry Groups on the Horizon

The season ebbs and flows as we move into the holidays.

Straight Outta Compton
Courtesy of Universal

Even before there was zero overlap among the major categories awarded by the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angles Film Critics Assn., the awards season felt very wide open. Now, with nominations for the SAG Awards, the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics Assn.’s Critics’ Choice Awards in the bank, that seems even more to be the case.

SAG-AFTRA, for instance, inflated the profile of contenders like “Beasts of No Nation,” “Straight Outta Compton” and “Trumbo” with ensemble nominations, while the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. ignored them for Globes best picture recognition, hewing closer to critical faves like “Carol” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” “The Martian” and “Joy” showed industry weakness, with SAG-AFTRA shutouts, only to turn around and do just fine with the HFPA.

Meanwhile, the Academy — a completely different organization with an entirely different perspective — lies in wait. The only legitimate clues in the lead-up to Oscar nominations every year come from industry guilds and societies, and often, those announced in January (DGA, PGA, etc.) are more noteworthy, as early deadlines keep the SAG Awards in its own unique bubble.

Still, there are notable happenings. For instance, Focus Features’ blunder in pushing Alicia Vikander for supporting actress in Tom Hooper’s “The Danish Girl” couldn’t be more evident now. She won the L.A. critics supporting prize for “Ex Machina,” yet the group refrained from tacking on her work in Hooper’s film as part of a collective kudo.

Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA honors studio choices of categories, so Vikander was nominated there for supporting actress in “The Danish Girl,” but the HFPA nominated her twice, for lead in “Danish” and supporting in “Ex Machina.” Suddenly her performance in the latter, which Focus likely did not perceive as a threat, has a tailwind. And the category confusion on “The Danish Girl” could lead to further dilution.

While “Carol’s” Rooney Mara is likewise nominated for supporting by SAG-AFTRA and for lead by the HFPA, at least she doesn’t have a different performance drawing votes away. Both performances were nominated for supporting actress by the BFCA on the heels of a reminder note from the org stating that honoring studio placement would be preferred.

Another curiosity is the rise of “99 Homes” star Michael Shannon. Seven years ago, he was a surprise nominee for “Revolutionary Road.” This year, he’s unexpectedly strong in a supporting actor race that could hardly be more competitive. He won the L.A. critics prize, and has gone on to net SAG-AFTRA, Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations.

Universal Pictures, meanwhile, is in an interesting place. “Steve Jobs” failed to pick up SAG ensemble or Golden Globe best picture nominations, while “Straight Outta Compton,” as noted, was recognized by the guild. These two very different portraits of pioneers in very different fields also have very different box office profiles; “Compton” is the highest-grossing film (domestically) ever directed by a black filmmaker (F. Gary Gray), while “Jobs” bottomed out when it expanded too wide, too fast.

Neither was nominated in the BFCA’s 10-strong best picture field, however.

And what of the “Spotlight” cast conundrum? Rachel McAdams and the ensemble were recognized by SAG-AFTRA, but none of the men on the roster made the cut. The HFPA, meanwhile, failed to nominate any of the actors, while still handing the film best picture, director and screenplay noms. McAdams and Mark Ruffalo were then both nominated by the BFCA, so things are considerably scattered. Is the decision to campaign everyone in the supporting category leading to vote-splitting? Perhaps. Muddying the waters further were the New York critics, who gave Michael Keaton their lead actor prize.

Finally, there’s “The Big Short,” which really took flight, landing a LAFCA prize for editing as well as two SAG, four Golden Globe noms and seven mentions by the BFCA (aided greatly by a shot at superfluous recognition in comedy-specific categories). The film kick-started the buzz by screening for industry audiences in October, before the press ever got a look. That’s a tactic that seems to have paid off.

But remember, these are but the early gasps of the season. Once the various industry groups weigh in with nominations next month, we’ll have a clearer idea of what members of the Academy — many of whom won’t get to the bulk of these films until settling in with screeners over the holidays — might have to say.