When actors vote for awards, you can be sure of two things: They're going to love movies with sprawling casts (more parts = more work!) and showy roles that require physical transformation will typically beat subtler performances.
Those precedents were borne out again today when the Screen Actors Guild announced its SAG Awards nominees. The film ensemble cast award was dominated by movies sporting super-sized casts: "Lee Daniels' The Butler," "August: Osage County," "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle." That quartet was joined by the gang from "Dallas Buyers Club," which, essentially, has two juicy parts that required actors Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto to lose a collective hundred-plus pounds and, in the case of Leto, switch genders.
The inclusion of "Dallas Buyers Club" over the ensembles from "Saving Mr. Banks," "Nebraska" and "Blue Jasmine" stood as the day's biggest surprise if only because, aside from its two actors and Jennifer Garner (in a role that mostly required her to react to those two actors), you'd be hard-pressed to name any other cast member from the movie.
Conversely, you might be able to name many of the actors from "The Butler," but perhaps not for the right reasons. The film's bizarrely cast parade of presidents contained some truly awful performances (Alan Rickman's wooden Ronald Reagan leads the pack, with a bald Robin Williams impersonating Dwight Eisenhower right behind) that probably couldn't be helped because of the brevity of their screen time. Seeing this group nominated ahead of the outstanding ensemble from "Nebraska" (Bruce Dern and June Squibb did receive individual nominations) isn't surprising (again, SAG loves to buy in bulk), but that doesn't make it any less egregious.
As for the other movie categories ...
Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"
Tom Hanks, "Captain Phillips"
Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Forest Whitaker, "Lee Daniels' The Butler"
Analysis: We've written at length about the fierce competition in this category. Someone is going to be left out. Here it was Robert Redford for his remarkable solo turn in "All Is Lost." I'd still expect to see academy voters nominate him, though, probably at the expense of Hanks or Whitaker. The other three appear locks.
Leonardo DiCaprio's bravura turn as the debauched broker in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" remains an Oscar possibility too. Scorsese delivered the film too late for Paramount to send DVD screeners to SAG voters, and the screenings were rushed as well. The studio hopes "Wolf" can still be this year's "Django Unchained," a lengthy, over-the-top movie that polarizes audiences but produces enough of a passionate following to swing a best picture nomination. For that to happen, though, it will need to score some love from Golden Globe voters Thursday.
Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"
Judi Dench, "Philomena"
Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County"
Emma Thompson, "Saving Mr. Banks"
Analysis: These are also your Oscar nominees. Amy Adams has an outside shot of making the field for her work as a sexy '70s-era grifter in "American Hustle," but don't bet on it. All five women here have won Oscars and, soon, one will add another to the mantle. (Congratulations, Cate!)
Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"
Daniel Brühl, "Rush"
Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"
James Gandolfini, "Enough Said"
Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"
Analysis: Nominations for Bruhl, outstanding as race car driver Niki Lauda in "Rush," and the late, great Gandolfini come as welcome surprises. Gandolfini has been building momentum in this category, winning several critics' group prizes for his turn as Julia Louis-Dreyfus' sweet suitor in "Enough Said." The fact that television actors vote for SAG Awards certainly didn't hurt his chances, given his landmark work on "The Sopranos."
The omission of Hanks' turn as Walt Disney in "Banks" is a bit of a surprise, particularly given how strong the movie played at screenings for SAG nominating committee members. (SAG Awards nominations are voted on by randomly selected groups of 2,300 members, one voting for movies and one for television.) Make no mistake, though: "Banks" isn't in any danger at the Oscars. It remains a best picture lock.
Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"
Lupita Nyong’o, "12 Years a Slave"
Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"
June Squibb, "Nebraska"
Oprah Winfrey, "Lee Daniels' The Butler"
Analysis: As in the lead actress category, academy voters may well reward this same set of nominees. Margo Martindale could unseat her "August" co-star Roberts, and Octavia Spencer remains a distinct possibility for her powerful turn as the loving, grieving mother in "Fruitvale Station." If either make it, it will likely be ahead of Roberts, as Lawrence, Nyong'o and Squibb have been winning critics group prizes and Oprah is ... well ... Oprah, and, from what we understand, she has something of a following in Hollywood.