This morning's SAG nominations, which you can read in full here, came with plenty of surprises, from the inclusion of Demian Bichir as Best Actor for the little-seen A Better Life to the nod for Melissa McCarthy of Bridesmaids, always a surprise no matter how many critic's awards she wins. With nominations and awards and top 10 lists coming fast and furious this time of year, it's always tempting to take the latest batch of awards as the new gospel in predicting the Oscars. And the SAG Awards have historically correlated very closely with the Academy's eventual choices-- last year's SAG winners correlated down the line to the Oscar winners in each category, including The King's Speech as Best Ensemble. But in years without a huge Best Picture frontunner-- this year is turning out to be like that-- SAG can be more scattered; they gave their Best Ensemble prize to Little Miss Sunshine, for example, the year that The Departed took home Best Picture.
So then, what can we learn from this morning's SAG nominations? It's hard to know for sure, of course, but here are 5 things I picked up on that might give us a clue about where the awards season is headed from here. WIth the Golden Globe nominations coming tomorrow morning as well, we're likely to learn a lot in the next few things.
1. Melissa McCarthy really might get a Best Supporting Actress nomination. SAG has been willing to go for oddball choices in the past that didn't pan out for the Academy, but this nomination in addition to McCarthy's accolades from critic's awards and what seems like a guaranteed Golden Globes nod gives her more momentum than ever before. Nobody saw her excellent year carrying her this far, but she really shows no sign of stopping.
2. War Horse might be in trouble. Steven Spielberg's war epic doesn't even open until the 25th, and has plenty of good reviews to go around, but a movie with this huge a cast should have been able to find traction with SAG, who nominate films even without impressive ensemble acting just because they love it. And, as was pointed out on Twitter today, no film has won Best Picture without a SAG ensemble nod since Braveheart in 1995. War Horse looked at one point like a Best Picture inevitability, but we now have to look to how it does at the box office over the holidays to see where it might go from here.
3. The Help is apparently Jessica Chastain's best bet. The actress who has appeared in no fewer than six films this year has the kind of problem that isn't really a problem: too many good performances in too many movies. She's won a handful of breakthrough awards and Best Supporting Actress prizes from critic's group willing to reward her entire body of work, but until today it's been unclear if she'd be nominated for Take Shelter, The Tree of Life or The Help. SAG seems to have gone with her biggest film and the one most likely to get a corresponding Best Picture nomination, so it now seems she'll be competing against her Help co-star Octavia Spencer in this category. We'll start worrying about vote-splitting later on.
4. The Artist is definitely a powerhouse. How do you know when something is hugely popular? When it's a movie basically about one man and it still gets a Best Ensemble nomination. When it gets a Best Supporting Actress nomination for someone like Berenice Bejo, who is perfectly fine but nothing spectacular. The Artist has been slowly emerging as a Best Picture favorite in the last few weeks, and though it still seems like a challenge for a silent French film, today's nominations just solidify its status.
5. Nick Nolte/Glenn Close/Leonardo DiCaprio/Midnight in Paris is still in this thing after all. As inevitably happens with the rush of last-minute releases at the end of the year, a lot of contenders seemed to be slipping in their momentum, whether because they were released earlier in the year (Midnight in Paris) or simply part of films that didn't get any attention (Nolte, DiCaprio, Close). All of them got a boost by showing up among these nominees, although their fields are all crowded, and there's still time for the Academy to ignore them. Again, the Globes will provide a lot of publicity when they announce nominees tomorrow, so those will tell us even more.