What film will win SAG Award for Best Ensemble?

The movie with the most nominations at the SAG Awards is “Birdman,” which picked up four bids including Best Film Ensemble. But does that mean it’ll win the top prize? Maybe, maybe not.

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The number of nominations is usually a good indicator of what will win the top Oscar, but not necessarily at SAG, where there are only six categories (including Best Stunt Ensemble). Last year, for instance, “12 Years a Slave” led with four bids, but “American Hustle,” which had three nominations, took top honors. The year before, “Argo” won Best Ensemble despite only two total nominations, defeating four-time nominees “Lincoln” and “Les Miserables.”

A more important factor to consider is the number of nominated actors. SAG voters like to get the most bang for their buck, so they tend to award the films with the biggest casts. Consider past winners like “Traffic,” “Gosford Park,” “Crash,” “Inglourious Basterds,” and “The Help,” which had huge cast lists.

This year’s nominated casts are smaller on average, so this factor overwhelmingly favors “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which includes a whopping 17 actors on its cast list, most of them big-name stars like Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton (also an Ensemble nominee for “Birdman”), and Jeff Goldblum, just to name a few.

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Then again, unlike true ensemble vehicles like “Traffic” and “The Help,” where screentime is divided more evenly among the actors, “Grand Budapest” has a smaller core cast, and a number of its A-list stars – many of them regulars in Wes Anderson movies – appear just in small roles or cameos.

The next largest cast belongs to “The Imitation Game” with eight. “Birdman” has seven. “The Theory of Everything” has six. And “Boyhood” has only four. Can any of them win?

The Imitation Game” benefits from the nature of its story, in which a group of geniuses try to crack the German Enigma code during World War II; though Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley are the most prominent actors in the film (and both earned individual nominations), the film involves the close collaboration of many characters, which draws attention to the cast’s group chemistry.

“Birdman’s” all-star cast is equally collaborative, and all seven of its actors are showcased in major emotional scenes. It doesn’t hurt that SAG is an actors’ organization, and “Birdman” is a film about acting: its characters are trying to stage a Broadway play against all odds.

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The Theory of Everything” may be at a disadvantage. Of its six cited actors, only Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones – nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively – are likely to make a strong impression on voters. Charlie Cox has a prominent supporting role as a man who simultaneously aids and comes between the Hawkings, but Simon McBurney, David Thewlis, and Emily Watson appear in limited scenes.

However, “Theory” was a surprise nominee in the top category, and its candidacy could be more important in indicating the film’s overall strength on the awards scene. “Dallas Buyers Club” was also a surprise when it was nominated last year, and afterwards it consistently outperformed our expectations on its way to six Oscar nominations and three wins.

That leaves “Boyhood.” Does it have any chance at all with only four cast members? Yes it does. A similarly beloved film, “Sideways,” won Best Film Ensemble 10 years ago with only four cast members. And given the nature of “Boyhood” and its production – all four actors committed 12 years of their lives to the intimate, character-driven project – industry actors could be especially inclined to reward that creative leap of faith.

What do you think? Could this award be a race between the biggest cast (“Grand Budapest”) and the smallest (“Boyhood”). Or does “Birdman” have the edge for telling a story about actors?

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