E: Well. Turns out that 2016 is going to be quite an interesting and unusual year.
On Wednesday and Thursday of this past week, the Screen Actors Guild and the Hollywood Foreign Press announced the nominees for their annual award shows. While they’re hardly the only Oscar precursor awards out there – they’re both preceded and followed by a plethora of guild and critics awards — they’re probably the most important in terms of figuring out which movies, performances and achievements the Hollywood community views as its best in a given year.
And what they tell us is that this year is kinda nuts. Movies and performances are popping up out of nowhere. Films that had been lauded across the board are nowhere to be seen. Publicists who campaign actors in lead and supporting categories based on their degree of fame and their best chances at a nomination or win are finding themselves cut out of the equation as awards bodies make their own varying choices. And I say bring on the crazy.
It’s not typical, first of all, for there to be so much difference between the two voting bodies. Of course there’s always a certain amount of difference (the Globes lean toward epic romance and SAG loves popular actors and quirk, for example) but it’s usually not so pronounced. The HFP gives out ten nominations for best picture, split between Musical/Comedy and Drama. Of those ten films, just two overlap with SAG. Two out of ten. That’s so odd, and it suggests that no one can really agree about what last year’s best films were.
Beasts of No Nation
The Big Short
Straight Outta Compton
Golden Globes: Drama Comedy/Musical
Carol The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road Joy
The Revenant The Martian
You have to admit, it’s strange that these groups don’t have more in common.
What might be even odder is that one of the two SAG nominees not honored with Golden Globe nominations, Straight Outta Compton might have been considered an actual musical, and so a more obvious fit for the category than the head-scratching inclusions of The Big Short and The Martian. What says comedy more than a movie about the 2008 mortgage crisis? Tell me. Does this look like a comedy? Either that film is wildly mismarketed, or there’s something deeply fishy going on. (Which may simply be that the Hollywood Foreign Press really liked The Big Short or The Martian, but not more than, say, Mad Max or The Revenant, and wanted to include them all.) And granted there’s a lot of snark from Matt Damon in The Martian, but no. Just no. The musical/comedy category is always just a little goofy, but that’s usually them picking black tragi-comedies like Sideways and The Squid and the Whale and Silver Linings Playbook over broad ones. It’s not since 2010’s The Tourist that they’ve produced such a truly baffling slate.
When you look at the movies that overlap and the ones that got excluded, the picture gets even more interesting. The Big Short (financial crisis) and Spotlight (reporters uncovering the Catholic sexual abuse scandal) have to now be considered front runners, having made both short lists, but neither of them is exactly obvious as a crowd pleaser. Films that pundits thought might gain wider traction, ones that have appeared on end of the year lists and won critics awards, include Bridge of Spies (Spielberg’s cold war thriller), Brooklyn (immigrant romance), Creed (critically adored continuation of the Rocky series), The Danish Girl (true story of sex-change pioneer made by The King’s Speech‘s Tom Hooper) and Suffragette (English women’s rights movement). Pixar’s much lauded Inside Out failed to transcend the animation/live action barrier (something I thought was very possible in Comedy); Michael Caine’s starring vehicle Youth, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs and Quentin Tarantino’s western The Hateful Eight also stand outside the circle.
Another element which makes these slates of contenders particularly unusual is their diversity. I’m using that word here as a sort of blanket to cover everything that’s not solely about a white man; it’s absolutely pathetic that this should be so, but the movie industry and the awards race most years is one of the most chauvinistic and bigoted group on the planet, creating a world where women and ethnic minorities don’t exist. Though this wasn’t true of the Golden Age of Hollywood, you’d be lucky to get one of five or 2 out of nine best picture nominees which starred a woman, and you’d have to wait years between nominations for movies that starred an African American. And you can just forget about Asian Americans altogether.
But not this year. Look at the SAG slate: Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation (both tremendously well reviewed) have largely African American casts. It’s less of a surprise that there’s no movie with a female lead in the bunch, but compare that to the (admittedly white) Golden Globes. Carol, Joy, Room, Spy and Trainwreck all tell women’s stories; though I have yet to see it, Mad Max (winner of the Boston and NBA critics awards) apparently has a strong female co-lead, potentially tipping the Globe slate to more than half-female centered. That’s unheard of, even for the Globes which tend to be far more gender inclusive than the male dominated Oscars.
And don’t even get me started on the acting nominations. Normally by October, there’s at least one performer who’s crowned the Oscar-winner by critics and pundits and people in the know, if not more. Julianne Moore in Still Alice, Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine, Daniel Day Lewis for Lincoln, and Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart were all presumed winners long before the nomination ballots hit mailboxes. Sometimes it’s a combination of the right role and the right timing, as with beloved and not-previously rewarded actors like Moore and Bridges, or Julia Roberts with Erin Brockovich and Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. I can’t think of a year when not one performance category was locked in by December, yet here we are in such a year. Normally there’s confusion about who’s going to be nominated, but weirdly less about who could win. This year, to my great excitement, all bets are off.
For those four important categories, this is what we know. In best actor, we see Bryan Cranston, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender and last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne on both lists. This isn’t a guarantee of an Oscar nomination (look at Fassbender in Shame, Mila Kunis in Black Swan or Daniel Bruhl in Rush), but it’s still good news. Normally there’s a wider range of candidates in the men’s race (since, as noted above, most movies that Hollywood makes and the even smaller subset that it awards tell men’s stories) so I’ll be very interested to see how this shapes up. Possible candidates for that fifth slot (or for spoiler positions) include Matt Damon (The Martian, GG comedy), Johnny Depp (Black Mass, SAG), and Will Smith (Concussion, GG drama) as well as outside contenders like Michael Caine (Youth) and Ian McKellan (Mr. Holmes).
Because of the poverty of meaty leading roles for women, the lead actress category is usually the easiest to predict. Typically there are 6 actresses vying for 5 slots. Not so this year, however. Clear contenders (and nominated for both major awards) are Cate Blanchett in Carol, and less well known (but highly touted) Brie Larsen for Room. Nominated as a child for her work in Atonement, Irish actress Saorise Ronan holds on to her slot as her film, Brooklyn, fades. Helen Mirren, beloved of critics and awards bodies, managed a nod from both groups for the somewhat dubiously received Woman in Gold, and it’s hard to count out Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, her third collaboration with writer/director David O’Russell, especially since she was nominated for both their previous outings. SAG shocked with their inclusion of Sarah Silverman in a rare dramatic role (as depressed mother in I Smile Back), while both groups pushed out indie favorite Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) and Carey Mulligan, whose Suffragette now seems destined for the dustbins of history.
This is where things get really interesting, especially when you look at the large, ten woman Golden Globe slate. It’s easy to point out instances where a lead performance was relegated to the supporting category; Jaimie Foxx in Collateral Damage (because Cruise was a bigger star, but also to avoid competition with his own starring role in Ray), Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense (for his age, and because Bruce Willis is a bigger star), Ethan Hawke in Training Day (Denzel Washington was a bigger star and also obviously going to win best actor). There was no reason to consider Jim Broadbent or Jennifer Connelly supporting actors rather than co-leads in Iris and A Beautiful Mind, but they were campaigned that way, and beat out the competition in easier slates. And sometimes, great actors have won lead acting statuettes for roles that were clearly supporting (Washington in Training Day, Kate Winslet in The Reader, Frances McDormand in Fargo). Very occasionally the awards community balks at this strange calculus, as with Keisha Knight Castle in Whale Rider, who was justly nominated for lead instead of the supporting category where she was campaigned.
Why am I bothering you with this obscure Oscar history lesson? This might just be one of those years; Hollywood can’t quite decide what to do with Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander from Carol and The Danish Girl. You’d have to look back to Thelma and Louise for a movie where two actresses were nominated as leads in the same film. Unknown before 2015’s Ex Machina (but following it with strong and memorable turns in Testament to Youth and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Vikander might win the supporting category for her work in The Danish Girl, but not even secure a nod if she’s campaigned as a lead. But no matter what her publicists do, Oscar voters can make their own choices about where she belongs.
Now, SAG nominated Vikander and Mara for supporting, along with Kate Winslet for her role in Steve Jobs. If they stay in that category, those three seem to be a lock. (I’ve heard that Winslet, too, can be considered a co-lead, but it seems that no one is protesting her inclusion in the supporting list.) If you’ll notice, the Hollywood Foreign press nominated It Girl Vikander twice, as a lead in The Danish Girl and for her supporting work in Ex Machina. Having an unexpectedly fantastic awards season, Helen Mirren makes both lists for her role in the inside Hollywood McCarthy era drama Trumbo. Can she replicate this impressive trick at the Oscars? Complicating matters further are Jennifer Jason Leigh, who won the NBR critics award for her supporting work in The Hateful Eight, and SAG nominee Rachel McAdams as Boston Globe reporter Sacha Pfieffer in Spotlight. Interestingly, the critically adored women of The Big Short (Marisa Tomei, Karen Gillen, Melissa Leo and Margot Robbie) have been left out of the awards conversation, just as they were the movie’s trailers.
Yep. All this basically means that the women’s races are as clear as a muddy riverbank after a storm surge.
Classically, supporting actor is the most crowded of categories, and this year proves no exception, especially with large ensemble casts like The Big Short (Bale, Carrell, and Pitt, Gosling and Finn Witrock), Joy (Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper) and Spotlight (Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo along with Jon Slattery, Billy Crudup and Liev Schreiber). Of these films, however, only The Big Short got awards love this week. Many Oscar watchers considered the race to be solidly in the lap of last year’s also ran Michael Keaton or of two time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo, so acclaimed were their Spotlight performances — which makes it even more shocking that both men were snubbed by both SAG and the HFP. This doesn’t mean they can’t be nominated for an Oscar, but it makes a win highly unlikely.
One clear stand out on these two lists is Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies (also nominated by both bodies for his work in PBS drama Wolf Hall); I’ll be curious to see if he’s the new front runner. In something of a surprise, the fantastic and beloved Idris Elba turns up on both lists for his work in Netflix’s Beasts of No Name, a searing film many feared wouldn’t find traction both because of its difficult subject matter (child soldiers) as well as its funding and straight-to-streaming release. Both these slates also boast television nominees pulled largely from the streaming services. Oscar is less fond of new media than either SAG or the Globes, but this year may signal a big change. In another surprise, Michael Shannon (villain extraordinaire previously nominated for his work in Revolutionary Road) gets the nod from both bodies for his work in the little-seen financial crisis drama 99 Homes. Potential contenders include SAG nominee Jacob Tremblay (who as a child actor faces a difficult road to Oscar), Love & Mercy‘s Paul Dano and pop culture punching bag Sylvester Stallone, who seems to have returned to his excellent 70s form with Creed.
Of course, as you can see when you compare the two lists, there’s category confusion just as there is in the women’s races. While SAG considers Christian Bale’s work supporting, the Globes decided his was a leading role. (SAG might be treading the more conventional path here.) The Hollywood Foreign Press also put Short’s Steve Carrell into the leading category.
To sum it up? The Globe and SAG nominations were perhaps helpful in letting us know what isn’t going to overpower the competition, but more than anything else, they’ve shown us that nobody knows what’s going on. And that this is hopefully going to be an unusually interesting and suspenseful awards season, with lots more twists and confusion to come.