"Up in the Air," which announced itself as an awards season front-runner earlier this week with six Golden Globe nominations, earned three nominations from the Screen Actors Guild on Thursday but didn't make the cut on the group's top award.
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" and "Inglourious Basterds" joined "Up in the Air" in receiving the most nominations.
SAG handed individual nominations to "Up in the Air's" three main stars: George Clooney for lead actor and Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for best supporting actress. But it kept the downsizing dramedy off the shortlist for its best cast award, seen by many as SAG's version of best picture. Instead, the group nominated "Precious," "Inglourious Basterds" "The Hurt Locker," "Nine" and "An Education."
But despite the three spots for "Up in the Air," the Jason Reitman film could face a hurdle.
SAG nominees for best cast do, as a group, deviate from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' nominees for best picture. But since 1995, the first year in which SAG handed out the prize, no movie that has been omitted from the SAG best cast shortlist has gone on to win the Oscar for best picture. (1995's "Braveheart" was not nominated for best cast, but went on to take top honors at the Oscars.)
The reason is simple: Actors constitute the largest branch of the academy, making up more than 20% of its total membership.
With Thursday's nominations, "Precious," "Basterds" and "The Hurt Locker" continued their momentum toward Oscar's top 10. The other two nominees -- "Nine" and "An Education" -- are seen by some as bubble candidates for a best-picture nomination, and the SAG award is likely to improve their chances.
There were several other eyebrow-raisers on the SAG shortlists. In the group's best actor category, Clooney joined three other Oscar front-runners: Colin Firth ("A Single Man"), Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart") and Morgan Freeman ("Invictus"). But Daniel Day-Lewis, who received a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of a troubled film director in Rob Marshall's musical "Nine," was left off the list, as was Globe nominee Tobey Maguire, seen as a longer shot for a best actor Oscar nomination.
Instead, Jeremy Renner, star of the critically acclaimed war drama "The Hurt Locker," received a nomination from his fellow actors, regaining the momentum for his Oscar candidacy.
And the supporting actress category brought a minor upset when Diane Kruger, playing a femme fatale of German cinema in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," landed a nomination, while Golden Globe nominee Julianne Moore ("A Single Man") was left off the list.
Other nominees in the category matched the Globes: Farmiga, Kendrick, Mo'Nique ("Precious") and Penélope Cruz ("Nine").
An actor overlooked by SAG will also sometimes land an Oscar nomination, but it's highly unusual for one to win a statuette. Only one performer in the history of the SAG Awards, Marcia Gay Harden in 2000's "Pollock," has won an Oscar without being nominated for a SAG.
In other categories, the best actress realm saw no surprises, as Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side") and Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious") dispelled what few doubts remained about their Oscar candidacies and joined favorites Meryl Streep ("Julie & Julia"), Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and Helen Mirren ("The Last Station") on the SAG shortlist.
Bullock said in a statement that "the longest relationship I have had has been with the Screen Actors Guild, and I am so happy that, after all these years together, familiarity did not breed contempt."
Best supporting actor also yielded no upsets, with the five nominees identical to the Globes' selections: Matt Damon ("Invictus"), Woody Harrelson ("The Messenger"), Christopher Plummer ("The Last Station"), Stanley Tucci ("The Lovely Bones") and Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds").
A CGI-heavy action tent pole, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," earned a rare nomination from SAG, scoring a spot for outstanding performance by a stunt ensemble, together with "Public Enemies" and "Star Trek."
On the television side, best ensemble in a drama series nods went to "The Closer," "Dexter," "The Good Wife," "Mad Men" and "True Blood," while the comedy nominees in the category were "30 Rock," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Office" and newcomers "Glee" and "Modern Family."
There were several anomalies in the television race. Christina Applegate landed a nomination for best actress in a comedy series even though the show she starred in, "Samantha Who?," is no longer on the air. And a tie led to six nominees in the category of best actress in a drama, with Patricia Arquette, Glenn Close, Mariska Hargitay, Holly Hunter, Julianna Margulies and Kyra Sedgwick all nominated.
The SAG Awards are the only accolades devoted strictly to actors -- "Peers honoring their peers," as SAG president Ken Howard said. They will be held Jan. 23 at the Shrine Exposition Hall and will air on TNT and TBS.
Nominees were announced early Thursday by Chris O'Donnell and Michelle Monaghan in the SilverScreen Theater at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.
Monaghan said she got up at 3 a.m. to get ready for the event -- and was already planning her outfit for her presentation at the awards. "Oh, I'm always thinking about frocks, sister," she said with a laugh.
Times staff writer Amy Kaufman contributed to this article.