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SAG Awards: Early Voting Deadline Once Again Yields Surprises

As ever when it comes to the Screen Actors Guild’s annual nominations announcement, it’s worth keeping in mind the group’s early voting deadline. Unlike other guilds, which hold off on announcing until January, voting for the SAG Awards closes by mid-December. Often that means the nominations will reflect buzz from earlier in the awards calendar, preventing late-breaking movies from getting a foothold.

For instance, “Silence” hit so late that there was no time to send screeners to the organization. And this is a guild that lives and dies by its screeners. Most consultants will tell you that, for whatever reason, it’s nearly impossible to be recognized by members of SAG’s nominating committee without getting them the film.

So, with all that in mind, you end up with some interesting names every year — like Emily Blunt in “The Girl on the Train.” The film, which was a critical dud (though many found room to praise Blunt’s portrayal in their takedowns), was released in October. Viggo Mortensen was also singled out for best actor in “Captain Fantastic,” a summer release, as was the film’s cast in the ensemble category. It’s not that neither is a serious Oscar contender, but they could simply be fluctuations of an earlier time frame.

Nevertheless, the Mortensen nomination is noteworthy. It could just as easily have been Tom Hanks in “Sully” or Joel Edgerton in “Loving” who landed the nomination. Both films had plenty of time to get their messaging out to SAG. Mortensen and his fellow nominees — Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea,” Andrew Garfield in “Hacksaw Ridge,” Ryan Gosling in “La La Land” and Denzel Washington in “Fences” — might just be our Oscar five.

Blunt feels less likely to carry over in a heated best actress race, particularly one with “Elle” star Isabelle Huppert coming on strong in the final stretch before nominations. “Loving’s” Ruth Negga is still in the thick of it, as is “20th Century Women’s” Annette Bening, rather shockingly passed over by SAG this morning.

The supporting film categories did little to upend expectations. With Golden Globe and now SAG nominations, Octavia Spencer appears to be the one standing out from the cast of “Hidden Figures,” which also picked up an ensemble nomination. Many (including those working the film’s campaign) had been expecting Janelle Monae to be the breakout, particularly given the additive of her “Moonlight” performance.

Speaking of the ensemble field, the only noteworthy exclusion is “La La Land.” And that’s likely to give those pushing it to Oscar heights heart palpitations, as no film since “Braveheart” has won the Academy Award for best picture without a SAG ensemble nomination. That’s some steep history to overcome. It’s true that Damien Chazelle’s musical isn’t quite an “ensemble movie” like others, but that didn’t stop contenders like “Million Dollar Baby” from scoring cast recognition. It’s very surprising for such a well-liked movie to have missed here.

The other ensemble nominees were “Fences,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight,” and it’s likely a race between the three for the win. “Manchester” led the nominations with mentions in nearly every category (Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges filled out the supporting categories), so it’s a strong possibility. “Moonlight,” meanwhile, is pretty undeniable in this realm. But “Fences” also feels like something the actors will seize upon.

Stunt ensemble nominees were “Captain America: Civil War,” “Doctor Strange,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Jason Bourne” and — “Nocturnal Animals”? You can probably go ahead and bet on Mel Gibson’s war film there.

We’ll find out where the chips fall on Jan. 29.

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