Last year, the Oscars nominated 17 of the 20 performances up for Screen Actors Guild Awards and they nominated all five of the SAG contenders for Best Ensemble. Because of the shared voters between the groups, SAG has a reputation as the ultimate Oscar precursor. Indeed, the guild has forecast as many as 19 Oscar-nominated performances (2009, 2006).
However, this year it previewed only 13 Oscar nominated roles, the lowest since the third SAG Awards in 1996. And just two Best Ensemble nominees (“The Big Short” and “Spotlight”) number among the eight Best Picture nominees. That is a new low in the seven years in which there have been eight to ten Best Picture nominees (five for 2014 and 2010; four for 2012, 2011, 2009; three for 2013).
Oscar-nominated performances that were snubbed by SAG have historically fit three templates:
Firstly, SAG does not duly consider late releases as it votes earlier than the Oscars — November 18 to December 7 versus December 30 to January 8. Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper,” 2014) and eventual Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained,” 2012) were burned at SAG by Christmas openings. Late momentum this season explains the Oscar nominations for Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”), Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (“The Hateful Eight”).
Next, whereas the entire acting branch of the academy votes for the Oscar acting nominees, SAG appoints a nominating committee each year that comprises under two percent of its membership. Members may only serve on the committee once every eight years and they do not take the privilege and responsibility lightly, by watching as many films as they can. SAG often nominates standout supporting performances in smaller films, but the Oscars are prone to fill those slots instead with supporting performances from films with lead acting frontrunners. This season, Best Actor frontrunner Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”, also a late release) has pulled in supporting actor Tom Hardy at the last minute. Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine,” 2013) and Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook,” 2012) respectively rode the coattails of Best Actress winners Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence.
Finally, SAG and the Oscars have different balloting systems. SAG voters simply mark five names per category and Oscar voters rank their choices; the former system favors performances that are liked by all and the latter favors those that are loved by some. Foreign and divisive arthouse films prevail more often at the Oscars than SAG. Marion Cotillard (“Two Days, One Night,” 2014) and Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master,” 2012) respectively pushed out Jennifer Aniston (“Cake”) and John Hawkes (“The Sessions”).
This year, Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”) may have been too late for SAG, but her film had such limited exposure that she was even snubbed by BAFTA on her home turf. The few who saw it were passionate and she has five critics’ awards to show for it. SAG nominee Helen Mirren (“Woman in Gold”) was in a film that had grossed almost 90 times as much domestically at the time of Oscar nominations, so she had exposure, but no critics’ nominations.
In the seven years of the modern Oscar era (in which the Best Picture field is expanded), these three explanations have accounted for twenty-six of the twenty-nine discrepancies between SAG and the Oscars (as detailed below).
Of the other three, Oscar Best Actress nominee Quvenzhane Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) was ineligible at SAG. This year, Best Actor nominee Matt Damon (“The Martian”) bumped SAG contender Johnny Depp (“Black Mass”) while Best Supporting Actor nominee Mark Ruffalo (“Spotlight”) got in over SAG-cited Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”), Michael Shannon (“99 Homes”) and Jacob Tremblay (“Room”).
Damon and Ruffalo are proven SAG favorites and star in Best Picture frontrunners. And as with 17 of the 20 SAG nominees this year, their films opened in October or November. “The Martian” grossed $600 million worldwide; “Spotlight” was nominated by SAG for Best Ensemble — these films were extremely visible. Nominations at SAG actually should have been easier than at the Oscars because of SAG’s bias toward early and widely-seen contenders.
It used to be unthinkable that contenders of this caliber could have scored Oscar nominations without SAG bids first. But this year’s SAG nominating committee seems to have been composed of an entirely different set of voters than the Oscars, not so different from the Golden Globe or Critics’ Choice Awards. While copying or tweaking the SAG nominations was a wise Oscar prediction strategy previously, it may be foolish going forward.
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Jacki Weaver (“Animal Kingdom”) replaced Mila Kunis (“Black Swan”) for 2010 Best Supporting Actress.
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