SAG Awards 2015: Snubs, surprises and assorted trends

Jennifer Aniston and Naomi Watts were among the surprises in this year's SAG Awards nominations

The Screen Actors Guild Award nominations Wednesday morning offered plenty of confirmation of existing awards contenders -- the “Boyhood” train kept rolling, “Birdman” and “Imitation Game” saw love all around and front-runners such as Julianne Moore and Michael Keaton got the requisite calls from their agents.

But there were also names we didn’t expect and movies that hadn’t tracked. Here are some of the unexpected lessons and trends from the first big guild announcement of the season.

Christmas blues: Almost all of the major nominees have been out there for weeks or even months -- “Boyhood,” Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” literally, and even “Wild” and “Cake” have been making the fest and screener rounds for some time. Movies entering the season late -- “Unbroken,” “Selma,” “American Sniper” and “Big Eyes” -- were almost completely snubbed. Guilds vote on people they like but also movies members have seen, and those films may not have gotten in front of that audience early enough for their performances to register. Of course, when it comes time for the Oscar nominations, that will all change. In other words, don’t read too much into the snub for “Selma’s” David Oyelowo.

Transformations pay: Do a different genre or even simply look different and fellow actors will reward you. That’s true for Steve Carell, who unsurprisingly landed a lead actor nomination for “Foxcatcher," and Jennifer Aniston and Naomi Watts, who surprisingly landed lead and supporting actress nominations. After years of drama, Watts went comedy in “St. Vincent”, and Aniston shed makeup and the sunny personality for her dark, pain-afflicted character in “Cake.” Even in a thin lead-actress year, though, it’s unclear if either can land an Oscar nomination. Aniston may have the best shot: Assuming Moore, Reese Witherspoon and Felicity Jones are locks in the best actress category, that would leave Aniston vying with two other actresses for the last lead spots (Amy Adams for “Big Eyes” and “Rosamund Pike” for "Gone Girl”). Get ready for Ross-and-Rachel jokes at the Oscars, and plenty of empty speculation about a “Friends” movie.”

Extra support: Watts’ SAG nomination pushed out Laura Dern, whose ethereal mother from “Wild” seemed to have the requisite ethereality to land one of these not exactly ethereal prizes. It’s hard to see her beating out Dern for an Oscar slot come next month, though you can bet the SAG Award nom will embolden “St. Vincent” distributor Weinstein Co. to try. Robert Duvall's judgy Duvallishness in “The Judge” leaped ahead of Tom Wilkinson’s presidential turn in “Selma” and Christoph Waltz as the husband creeper in “Big Eyes” (though, again, see under previous Christmas movie exception).

Workaholics: Aniston's and Watts’ noms are in part a function of them doing this a long time, alongside a lot of other people -- people who remember you when it comes time to vote. Jake Gyllenhaal, who landed one of the more surprising noms for his turn as an ambulance-chasing news stringer in “Nightcrawler,” fits the bill too. Sure, he was doing something darkly comedic and weird that we’ve never seen him do (or never really seen anyone do, for that matter) so you can file him in the transformation category. But he’s also been hitting those sets: Gyllenhaal has averaged more than one lead role each year for the last decade. If you’re out there shooting, there's a better chance they’ll be out there voting.

Wes’ world: Wes Anderson has extracted some bold and interesting turns from his performers over the years. But as far as we can tell, no actor in his movie has never been nominated for a SAG Award, and a film of his has certainly never landed a spot on the coveted, best-picture-auguring outstanding cast short list.  Partly that’s his indie status and partly that’s his stylized ways: If your actors all are all subsumed into a particular manner of moving and talking, it’s harder for people to see the acting in them. That changed this year, when "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and seemingly the largest cast in history was named for an ensemble award (seriously, you can trace every movie in Hollywood to within two degrees of its 17 nominees). Is the difference a growing recognition that channeling the Anderson spirit is a particular acting skill? The film's period setting? Something else? Either way, this solidifies the chances for an Anderson film to be nominated for a best picture Academy Award for the first time. Let's hope the Oscar stage is colorful enough.

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT

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