SAG Award Film Nominations: ‘Martian’ Shut Out, ‘Trumbo’ Triumphant

Does the surprise-filled list reflect an early timeline, a wide open race or a bit of both?

The Martian Matt Damon
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

As ever, film nominees for the annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, announced Wednesday morning, were a reflection of an earlier time frame in the awards season. Three nominations for “Trumbo,” a feather in the caps of early hustlers Sarah Silverman (“I Smile Back”) and Michael Shannon (“99 Homes”), ensemble love for “Beasts of No Nation” and “Straight Outta Compton,” etc., seem in part reflective of the crunch of an early December voting deadline.

But even still, “The Martian” was shut out entirely. “Black Mass” couldn’t squeeze into the ensemble category. Neither Michael Keaton nor Mark Ruffalo got in for “Spotlight.” You could say on one hand that this list feels somewhat irrelevant and will prove to have less crossover with the eventual Oscar nominees than ever, or you could chalk it up to the simple fact that this is a truly wide-open race on the whole. I propose the answer lies somewhere in between.

Looking at the ensemble field, there are always outliers. Films that had no legitimate designs on major Oscar love like “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Bridesmaids,” “Nine,” “Hairspray,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Bobby” and “The Station Agent” have made it into the field in the past. But what’s the outlier here, really?

“Beasts of No Nation?” Perhaps, but the campaign for that film has remained impressively mobilized with countless A-lister-hosted screenings and events throughout the season.

“Trumbo?” The truth is you could have seen this coming — and I sort of did — given the amount of actors on this cast that SAG-AFTRA simply adores (Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren, singled out in their own categories, John Goodman, Diane Lane, etc.). But the subject matter could obviously appeal to the Academy so maybe this isn’t merely guild love we’re talking about here.

“Straight Outta Compton?” Honestly, the film might have turned the corner to become Universal’s best Oscar shot in recent weeks, as “Steve Jobs” has been damaged in the wake of a box office stumble. And it’s one of the films that played most consistently through the roof at guild screenings throughout the fall.

“The Big Short” and “Spotlight” have already established themselves as best picture players and were the safest bets going into the morning.

Now, where to begin in the separate categories? Helen Mirren in “Woman in Gold” is the most out-of-the-blue selection, and again, highly reflective of the early timeline; the screener was one of the first to make the rounds, and that no doubt helped. Silverman, meanwhile, really worked the screening circuit. I expect both to fall off the list, however, as we’re still over a month away from Oscar ballots being due. Maybe Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”) will find the right pocket of support in that time. Maybe “Joy” can find its base and Jennifer Lawrence can get into the mix. (Or maybe that film is simply D.O.A. and its snubs here are reflective of as much. Nevertheless, I imagine Fox is miffed at having hustled to get screeners out in time.)

SAG-AFTRA honors all category placement submissions, so Rooney Mara (“Carol”) and Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) landed in the studio-preferred supporting actress field. But they have leading notices elsewhere and at least one, maybe both, will turn up lead Golden Globe nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. tomorrow. So could category confusion thin out their Oscar votes and allow someone else to bubble up? With the presence of Rachel McAdams (“Spotlight”) and Mirren (“Trumbo”) here, not to mention Jennifer Jason Leigh in “The Hateful Eight” (The Weinstein Co. opted out of sending screeners, pretty much sealing its fate), there are obviously other contenders knocking at the door.

One major supporting actress hopeful who was passed over is Jane Fonda. Her “Youth” performance, however electric, might simply be too brief to register as much as the punditry would have thought.

As for the gentlemen, Bryan Cranston was the “surprise” show in lead, but again, “Trumbo” is a film that landed right in the sweet spot of the timeline and is full of beloved actors. However, Will Smith worked screenings for “Concussion” fairly consistently during balloting, so what to make of his absence? “The Martian” has had plenty of time to build (and has been all but crowned in some circles), so where is Matt Damon? Fox’s decision to push the film as a comedy at the Golden Globes, all but assuring he’ll win the category there, suddenly looks like a fortuitous strategic stroke.

In supporting, Jacob Tremblay’s nomination has to be considered a win for Team “Room.” Though SAG-AFTRA tends to show love for child actors (Dakota Fanning in “I Am Sam,” Freddie Highmore in “Finding Neverland,” etc.), so this could end up specific to the guild, particularly in such a wide-open category.

See More: SAG Nominations: Biggest Snubs and Surprises

Shannon is having a great week, beginning with a best supporting actor win for his “99 Homes” performance from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association on Sunday. And now, a SAG nomination. I’m suddenly reminded of his surprise Oscar nod for “Revolutionary Road” seven years back, which, as much as it was owed to his outstanding work in the film, was also a reminder that a passionate, consistent campaign can pay dividends. And he has that behind him this year, perhaps even more so after this morning.

Christian Bale looks to be the acting representative for “The Big Short” on the Oscar trail now, and it makes sense, given the mannered nature of the performance and how much his character pops. But what to make of Sylvester Stallone’s miss for “Creed?” To be frank, that campaign didn’t seem to wake up until the week before release, so perhaps in the long view, he’ll be alright.

Finally, it’s difficult to take umbrage with the stunt ensemble nominees: “Everest,” “Furious Seven,” “Jurassic World,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.” In fact, “Mad Max” feels like it should be part of the rally cry to force a category into being at the Oscars.

It’s gotten to the point where studios — at least those wise to what’s up — are becoming unmoved by a SAG-AFTRA “snub.” Often enough, it just doesn’t matter. And since the SAG-AFTRA merger, the entire complexion of the group has shifted somewhat. The fickle nature of a nominating committee that tends to sit back and wait for screeners can no doubt be maddening, and added to the early December cut-off, it just makes it extra difficult for late-breaking movies; indeed, “The Revenant” was the only film to screen after October and still pick up a nomination. On one hand, it can render these proceedings a bit irrelevant. On the other, it does allow for a little more color and complexity in the race. So maybe it’s all a wash in the end.

The 22nd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will be held on Jan. 30.