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Awards

SAG Awards: Matt Damon, Helen Mirren and the five biggest snubs and surprises

Matt Damon in ‘The Martian’

Matt Damon in a scene from “The Martian.”

(20th Century Fox)

SAG Awards nominations can seem like one more guild prize in a season full of them, a rubber-stamping of movies everyone knew were going to power through to the Oscars anyway.

But sometimes, some days, there are actual surprises. Like full-on, grow-food-out-of-potato surprises. An apt metaphor, as when this year’s nominations were announced Wednesday morning, “The Martian” was entirely snubbed, while the breed of people who wrote some of its memorable lines were surprisingly celebrated, with the Hollywood screenwriter tale “Trumbo” picking up three nominations.

SAG Awards 2016: Full coverage | PHOTOS: Top nominees | List of nominees | Snubs, surprises and reactions

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It was far from the only surprise. SAG Awards morning saw many favorites ignored and a whole bunch of Cinderellas sent to the ball. The consequences are great, not just for this show but the larger Oscar season. As the awards pundit Sasha Stone said on Twitter, “I’m going to have to science the ... out of this one.”

Here, then, are five of the biggest snubs and surprises on a wacky SAG Awards morning.

The ensemble: Every year an Oscar best picture dark horse slips in. Usually, it’s one, if that (see under: “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in 2012.) But three or even four? That’s unheard of.

Yet that’s pretty much what happened Wednesday, as “Trumbo, “Straight Outta Compton,” “The Big Short” and “Beasts of No Nation” all landed ensemble slots. Every one of those movies is considered a medium-range shot for big prizes this season at best, and a few of them -- “Trumbo” tops the list -- were pretty much thought out of the game. (The only awards front-runner in the ensemble list was “Spotlight,” which experienced its own brand of snub Wednesday morning -- more on that in a second.)

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The big implication in this category is Oscar’s best picture. Since the Motion Picture Academy expanded beyond five nominations in 2009, the SAG Awards ensemble prize has been highly predictive of Oscar’s top prize. It’s matched at least four out of five every year but one, and even in that one year, it landed three out of five. (The reason is simple: The acting branch is the academy’s largest.) Yet none of the long-shot quartet were thought solid favorites to land a nom. The idea that two or three of them will end up on the list? It’s wacky, and should send shudders down the spine of all bubble picture contenders that didn’t end up with an ensemble slot.

Women in gold: Clearly the guild likes Helen Mirren. They really, really like her. SAG voters on Wednesday gave her not one but two nominations, for her lead role as the Southern California World War II refugee Maria Altmann in “Woman In Gold” and her supporting turn as Hedda Hopper in “Trumbo.” Neither were thought likely, and the upsets -- particularly on the lead front -- had a domino effect. Not on the list, for instance, was Charlotte Rampling for “45 Years,” a veteran actress thought a sure thing for a SAG nomination.

Meanwhile, the rest of the lead list saw another upstart, Sarah Silverman as an addict in the little-seen indie “I Smile Back,” take a slot. Whom did she potentially push out? Jennifer Lawrence, who has been earning raves for her turn as a real-life housewife-turned-businesswoman in “Joy.” This is not an insignificant feat. Lawrence is well-liked by SAG -- at 25, she’s already been nominated for lead twice, winning three years ago for “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Nominations from another planet? Matt Damon is beloved for his turn as space-stranded botanist Mark Watney in the fall blockbuster “The Martian.” The rest of the cast is well regarded too, including Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor on the ground and Jessica Chastain and Michael Pena in space. Yet come Wednesday morning, there was not a single nomination for any of them -- not ensemble, not supporting, nada. (This should, incidentally, be concerning for those at Fox and elsewhere hoping for a best picture win: You have to go back more than 20 years, to the 2nd SAG Awards ceremony ever, to find a movie that failed to land a single SAG nomination and went on to win best picture; “Braveheart” did it that year.)

Most striking in all this is Damon, who was thought a front-runner to win a whole bunch of acting prizes this season. Is there a SAG Awards conspiracy theory to be written on the actor? At 45, he had has had dozens of worthy roles, but landed a relatively modest three individual SAG nominations -- and one of them was nearly 20 years ago.

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The upstarts shall lead: This was the year the studios returned to the awards game in a big way. Every lot in town had one big contender, many of them more. The biggest? Fox, which has three legitimate candidates -- “Joy,” “The Revenant and “The Martian” -- before you even get to its art house division, Fox Searchlight. Yet on Wednesday, Fox landed a grand total of one, for Leonardo DiCaprio in “Revenant.” Who got in instead? Upstarts, upstarts everywhere. Netflix with “Beasts,” landing two nominations. Broad Green Pictures with two, for two different movies, Silverman in “I Smile Back” and Michael Shannon in “99 Homes.” Bleecker Street with three, courtesy of “Trumbo.” Sure, Universal had a good day courtesy of “Compton” and two noms for “Steve Jobs.” Still, it used to be that the established players made waves on big nomination mornings and the newbies sat on the sidelines. No longer.

Spotlighted. So about that “Spotlight” snub. This was a year when some of the best male performances came in the form of Boston Globe journalists: Mark Ruffalo as investigative reporter Mike Rezendes, Liev Schreieber as top dog Marty Baron, John Slattery as the gruff Ben Bradlee Jr. and Michael Keaton as grizzled investigation chief Walter Robinson. The only question was who would be bumped to lead and who would stay in supporting. (Keaton, for instance, was thought to a supporting actor until the New York Film Critics made him a lead.) But the idea that none of them would be nominated in any individual category -- and by their peers, no less? Yet that’s what went down Wednesday morning, as exactly zero of the male actors garnered individual nods. (Rachel McAdams got the lone individual nomination, for supporting actress).

The one silver lining for “Spotlight” when the SAG Awards ceremony takes place next month is that the big ensemble winner tends to do poorly in individual male categories -- three of the past four winners didn’t get any noms either. Weirdly, the only ensemble winner that did get one was “Birdman” -- for Michael Keaton.

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT

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