Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Screen Actors Guild nominations kick off industry awards

Emma Stone and Edward Norton were each nominated by the Screen Actors Guild for their performances in Birdman, which was also nominated for best ensemble.

The nominations for the Screen Actors Guild Awards were announced Wednesday morning – bright and early if you are on the West Coast, reasonably mid-morning out East, and if you are an East Coaster out West for the week, well, it is just a weird way to start the day. Regardless, let us dive right in.

The importance of the Screen Actors Guild Awards to the Oscar race is that these are the first major industry awards to announce nominees. Critics and awards-giving bodies are good for consensus, but industry voters – the folks nominating for SAG – are many of the same people voting on the Academy Awards nominees and winners. So this gives us a more concrete idea where we are heading. In that respect, a few things were confirmed this morning, and a few things stood out as surprises.

The Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees:

The Imitation Game
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Theory of Everything

Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Edward Norton, Birdman
JK Simmons, Whiplash

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Naomi Watts, St. Vincent

First, the surprises and my favorite nomination of the morning, Jake Gyllenhaal is nominated for best actor for his performance in Nightcrawler. It is a seedy, dirty, impressive little film from first-time feature director Dan Gilroy, and Gyllenhaal is amazing in it. As a freelance “journalist” exploiting the worst traits of the modern news media, Gyllenhaal is scary good. The movie has done well by independent standards and is back in theaters for a limited run. If you get a chance, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Jennifer Aniston is a surprise best actress nominee at the Screen Actors Guild Awards for her performance in Cake.

Over in the best actress category, the big surprise is Jennifer Aniston’s nomination for Cake, which I have not seen. Considered by many to be a week year for actresses – though it really is not if you know where to look – the category is ripe for an upset nomination or two. Aniston gets in at the expense of Marion Cotillard, who had been picking up steam for her performances in The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night.

Robert Duvall is the big surprise in supporting actor and not necessarily a pleasant one. The Judge was a widely panned, largely forgotten box office failure. Duvall’s nomination seems more like proof that well-respected older actors with a lot of friends and fans in the industry can be nominated for less-than-stellar work in subpar films. I would have rather seen maybe Alec Baldwin for Still Alice or an outside shot such as Michael Fassbender for Frank or Chris O’Dowd for Calvary.

In supporting actress, Naomi Watts gets in for St. Vincent, a film that had mostly been positioned as a nomination vehicle for Bill Murray. With a crowded best actor field, that was always unlikely to happen, but Watts’ nomination at least shows some support for the little film that has found some success in theaters.

Even without an individual acting nomination, The Grand Budapest Hotel sneaks into the top category for best ensemble – which includes Murray, so he was not entirely shut out today. This nomination keeps the film firmly in the conversation for the Academy Awards, not an easy feat for a quirky independent film released early in the year. Such is the respect Wes Anderson garners.

Overall, the rich got richer as Birdman earned four nominations on the morning, while Boyhood, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything each pulled down three nominations, including for best ensemble. All four are expected to be major Best Picture players at the Oscars. The only possibly irksome thing here is the nod for Theory of Everything, which is really a two-hander between Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones more than a true ensemble piece. Something such as Foxcatcher is probably more deserving of ensemble recognition.

Tomorrow, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will announce its nominees for the Golden Globes, and we will have a whole new list of nominees from which to tease out information. Things will start to move pretty fast from here.

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