"12 Years a Slave" and "Lee Daniels' The Butler" earned a total of seven nominations Wednesday for the 20th Screen Actors Guild Awards, solidifying their status as front-runners as the road to Oscar gold begins in earnest.
The films are hallmarks of an extraordinary year for black cinema, rich with critical acclaim and box-office success, and Wednesday's nominations could signal more accolades to come – and perhaps even Academy Award recognition.
The SAG Awards, one of the leading Oscar bellwethers, honored "12 Years a Slave" with four nominations – more than any other film. The unflinching portrayal of slavery in early America earned a nod for best ensemble cast – the SAG Awards equivalent of best picture. There were nominations as well for male actor in a leading role for Chiwetel Ejiofor and supporting nods for Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o.
"The Butler" earned three SAG nominations including best ensemble cast, male actor in a leading role for Forest Whitaker and a supporting nod for Oprah Winfrey.
Despite Hollywood's fascination with youth, the SAG Award nominations honored plenty of films veterans, including Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bruce Dern and Judi Dench.
Surprisingly absent, however: A nod for Robert Redford, 77, for "All Is Lost." His riveting performance as a stranded solo sailor has garnered a lot of attention this awards season, and just last week he won best actor honors from the New York Film Critics Circle.
The SAGs also saw new names added to the roster of nominees, including a first-ever nomination for media mogul Winfrey.
Nyong'o, 30, was nominated for her performance in her very first feature film. Barkhad Abdi, 28, who was nominated for his role as a ruthless Somali pirate in "Captain Phillips," was driving a limo in Minneapolis before he landed the pivotal role. And after six decades in the business, actress June Squibb, 84, garnered her first SAG nomination, for "Nebraska."
Also honored: The late James Gandolfini — who previously won three SAG Awards for his leading role as mob boss Tony Soprano — earned a posthumous nod for a supporting role that showed off a softer side in the romantic comedy "Enough Said."
Rounding out the ensemble cast nominees were "August: Osage County" and "Dallas Buyers Club," which both earned three nods apiece, and "American Hustle," which also picked up a supporting nomination for Jennifer Lawrence. (Just earlier this year, Lawrence took home the SAG Award for her leading role in "Silver Linings Playbook.")
Vying with Ejiofor and Whitaker for male actor in a leading role honors were Dern for "Nebraska," Hanks for "Captain Phillips" and Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club."
Contending in the female actor in a leading role category along with Dench for "Philomena" and Streep for "August: Osage County" are Cate Blanchett for "Blue Jasmine," Sandra Bullock for "Gravity" and Emma Thompson for "Saving Mr. Banks."
In the supporting categories, Fassbender, Gandolfini and Abdi are nominated along with Daniel Bruhl for "Rush" and Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club." Nyong'o, Lawrence and Winfrey will vie against Squibb for "Nebraska" and Julia Roberts for "August: Osage County."
On the TV side, the ensemble casts of "Boardwalk Empire," "Breaking Bad," "Homeland," "Downton Abbey" and "Game of Thrones" were nominated in the drama category. "Arrested Development," "Veep," "Big Bang Theory," "Modern Family" and "30 Rock" were honored with nominations in the comedy category.
"Breaking Bad" and "30 Rock" both ended their TV runs this year, raising the possibility that the drama and comedy could do especially well this awards season as a kind of parting gift. ("Breaking Bad" has never won a SAG ensemble award.)
The TV nominations also made history: "30 Rock's" Alec Baldwin and "Nurse Jackie's" Edie Falco have each racked up a record 20 SAG nods apiece over the course of their careers. Both were nominated Wednesday for their leading roles in their respective comedy series, and Baldwin was additionally nominated as a member of the ensemble.
The SAGs are the first major awards nominations of the season. (The Golden Globes will announce its nominees Thursday morning.) But they are seen as a critical indicator.
Many SAG nominees, and winners, go on to nab Academy Award nominations and even the grand prize: the Oscar. For example, three of the 2012 SAG Award winners — Lawrence, lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis for "Lincoln" and supporting actress Anne Hathaway for "Les Misérables" — all went on to take home the Oscar.
The SAG Awards will air live Jan. 18, 2014 at 5 p.m. PST on TBS and TNT from the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles. Rita Moreno will be honored during the ceremony with a Life Achievement Award.
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