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SAG Awards: 'The Big Short' and 'Beasts of No Nation' find favor over 'The Martian'

After watching SAG Awards voters ignore "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Selma" in the last two years, Paramount awards consultants learned a valuable lesson when it comes to selling its late-arriving December movies to this particular group.

No screener. No nominations.

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For the Record
Dec. 11, 2:30 p.m.: This article says that Screen Actors Guild Awards voters received free Netflix subscriptions in order to watch the streaming service’s film “Beasts of No Nation” for consideration. On Dec. 11, Netflix reported that it did not provide free subscriptions to SAG voters.
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For "The Big Short," Adam McKay's dark comedy chronicling the 2008 mortgage debt meltdown and the Wall Street outsiders who saw it coming, the studio began manufacturing DVD screeners for awards voters in October. The DVDs went out the morning of the movie's gala AFI Fest premiere in November, an expensive gamble for a movie that hadn't yet been screened in public.

The effort paid off Wednesday with a nomination for top cast performance and for supporting actor Christian Bale, giving the December movie a leg up on its Christmas Day competitors — "The Revenant," "Joy" and "The Hateful Eight."

Roughly 2,200 randomly selected Screen Actors Guild members vote for the group's film nominations. Studios schedule screenings for these members in Los Angeles and New York, which include a maximum of four events featuring Q&As with the cast and filmmakers. One awards consultant, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the subject, estimates that even the most popular movies draw fewer than 1,000 voters to theaters.

"If you don't have a DVD, you might as well not run a campaign for SAG," the consultant says. "And that's a shame. Movies deserve to be seen on a big screen, the way the filmmaker intended.”

Because SAG votes so early, it's best to think of these nominations as a snapshot of the Oscar race — taken two weeks ago. Those recognized should feel great. But some probably shouldn't get too comfortable. A few thoughts on those nominated and those ignored:

"Beasts of No Nation": The ensemble nomination for Cary Fukunaga's war drama was one of the day's biggest surprises, if only because there are just three actors — Idris Elba, Abraham Attah and Kurt Egyiawan — cited for its cast. The only other SAG ensemble nominee to sport such a paltry number: 2004's "Million Dollar Baby" with Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman.

The "Beasts'" ensemble nomination stands as a tribute to Fukunaga's challenging film about child soldiers in Africa as well as Netflix's savvy marketing and the wide availability of the movie on the streaming service. (SAG voters get free subscriptions.) Elba's inclusion in the supporting actor category cements his standing as a likely nominee with the academy too.

The Oscars will again be pretty white, but not uniformly so.

"The Martian": If the inclusion of "Beasts" was a surprise, the omission of Ridley Scott's space survival saga "The Martian" came as the morning's biggest shock. A nomination for the movie's sprawling name-brand ensemble, including Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor, had been taken as a given, and Damon was expected to land a lead actor nod.

Instead, the blacklist drama "Trumbo" and its lead, the popular Bryan Cranston, made it in for a Hollywood history movie whose subject matter possesses an obvious attraction to movie-loving voters.

Damon, meanwhile, seems to be penalized again for his ability to make his acting look effortless. It's not really that easy, people. But that understated style usually doesn't win awards.

Sarah Silverman: "I Smile Back," the Silverman-topped drama featuring the comedian in a raw turn as a reckless woman dealing with depression, has taken in $58,738 since opening in a few theaters in October and has just a 55 Rotten Tomatoes score. But obviously enough SAG voters saw the movie and liked her committed performance ahead of the likes of Jennifer Lawrence ("Joy"), Lily Tomlin ("Grandma"), Carey Mulligan ("Suffragette") and Charlotte Rampling ("45 Years").

Again, the calendar probably doomed Lawrence and Rampling. That and SAG loves an actress suffering against type. (Remember Jennifer Aniston for "Cake" last year.)

Leonardo DiCaprio: The bear-battling "Revenant" star was the one actor to break the DVD curse, probably because of the thinness of this year's lead actor field. Move DiCaprio one step closer to his Oscar coronation ceremony.

Sylvester Stallone: No love for Rocky or Ryan Coogler's rousing franchise reboot "Creed"? Again, it's partly the case of a late-arriving DVD. But don't put Stallone on the ropes. Not yet

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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SAG Awards: Snubs, surprises and nominee reactions

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Updated, 6:50 p.m.

This column was updated with the print edition version.

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