Wherein the Screen Actors Guild rewards its own (Sunday night) and I think about it much more than I ever planned to. Note that I’m only looking at the movie awards. I have no idea who should or will win in the television categories.

Outstanding Performance By a Male Actor in a Leading Role:

  • Demian Bichir (A Better Life)
  • George Clooney (The Descendants)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar)
  • Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
  • Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

This is the 9th year in which George Clooney has received a SAG Award nomination going all the way back to his E.R. days. The Descendants represents his 12th and 13th nomination overall if you double count the years he was nominated in both Lead Actor and Ensemble categories. Perhaps significantly though, all four of Clooney’s SAG wins were shared with his E.R. ensemble. None were solo wins and none were for motion pictures. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt has five total nominations from four different years with a single win as part of the Inglorious Basterds ensemble. Take away Clooney’s TV days and Pitt has one fewer nomination but one more win. Pitt also has two solo nominations to Clooney’s four (one for supporting in Syriana).

Both men are obviously well liked by the club and both men gave performances in 2011 that matched or bettered their career best. As a man forced to contend with a dying wife and the realization that she’d been cheating on him, Clooney demonstrated a vulnerability and a fragility at odds with the easy charm of his usual persona. On the other hand, Pitt hit home runs in two different films. In The Tree of Life, he turned down his superstar wattage to convincingly essay a conflicted everyman and father who loves his family but lacks the emotional equipment to fulfill all of their needs. In Moneyball, he turned the wattage back up and was still convincing as a roguish outsider consumed with winning a game despite the odds being heavily stacked against him. Of course, Pitt was only nominated for the latter film, but it’s hard to believe the residue from the former won’t carry over even for the vast number of people who disliked The Tree of Life.

A win for Leonardo DiCaprio (4 ensemble nominations plus 3 lead and one 1 supporting nomination in 5 different years) seems less likely, but it’s possible. J. Edgar was not at all well-liked even in a town that generally gives Clint Eastwood a free pass.

Demian Bichir who was previously only nominated as a part of the ensemble from TV’s Weeds seems like the longest of long shots, but don’t discount the fact that enough people watched screeners of A Better Life to land Bichir an Oscar nomination as well. That’s more than DiCaprio (whose spot was surprisingly though deservingly taken by Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) can say.

That leaves Jean Dujardin with the best chance at spoiling either a Clooney or Pitt love fest on Sunday night. Do not discount the fact that people love The Artist and SAG is no exception, nominating the film in Supporting Actress and Ensemble categories as well. The fact is, Dujardin carries the most beloved film of 2011 on his shoulders and it won’t matter that he already gave the same eyebrow-and-grin-based “I’m so fucking handsome and I know it but you don’t mind that I know it because I’m having such a fun time and I really am so. Fucking. Handsome” performance in two OSS 117 spy movies because barely anyone on this side of the Atlantic saw them. Those who did don’t rate them because they’re spoofs of a genre that isn’t taken seriously while The Artist is a pastiche of one that is. You can enjoy The Artist and still feel smart, which is a huge part of any award.

Should Win: Dujardin is fine, but he’s basically playing the same two or three notes he played in OSS 117. I’m going with Brad Pitt by a nose over George Clooney. Both men were great and both men offered something we haven’t seen from them before, but Brad did it twice with two very different roles and in two better movies.
Will Win: I want to say Clooney, he’s gotten most of the love so far this season, but I’m having a hard time letting go of the sense of inevitability represented by The Artist. I’m going to go with Jean Dujardin.

Outstanding Performance By a Female Actor in a Leading Role:

  • Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)
  • Viola Davis (The Help)
  • Meryl Streep (Margaret Thatcher)
  • Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
  • Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)

Here we have five performances in movies that range from pretty good (My Week with Marilyn) to kind of terrible (Albert Nobbs and The Help), but luckily for the actresses involved, this isn’t about the movies but, about their performances. Having said that, if a movie is bad enough to leave a bad taste in the voters’ mouths (like the taste of shit pie for example), then it could conceivably have an effect. Luckily for Viola Davis, most people are able to look past the fact that The Help rather offensively capitalizes on the need for white people to absolve themselves of guilt over the struggles of the Civil Rights Era. The fact is, it’s a juicy part for a black actress (a segment of the talent pool that doesn’t get a lot to choose from year in and year out) and Davis hits the thing out of the park. She’s wonderful. As much as I hate the movie, she has a real shot at winning and I’d sleep well at night if she did. Prior to this year’s nominations for lead and as part of The Help ensemble, Davis previously got a supporting nomination for Doubt and one as part of that film’s ensemble.

For her part, Glenn Close gives a really nice performance in a film that has gone begging for admirers. She could’ve really hammed it up as a woman pretending to be a man, but her minimalism is a wonder of restraint. It’s too bad Albert Nobbs just isn’t very good. It’s not offensive like The Help is, but it’s not as entertaining either. It’s hard to believe that this is Close’s first nomination for work in a feature film (including this year, she has six other nominations for her work television and one win), but SAG didn’t start handing these things out until 1995, well past Close’s ’80s prime.

This is Tilda Swinton’s 4th SAG nomination and her first for lead. After her surprise Oscar supporting actress win for Michael Clayton, she should never be counted out and she could well turn out to be a spoiler, but I don’t think this is her year.

For my money, Williams gives the performance of the year as not only the icon Marilyn Monroe, but more importantly the woman pretending to be the icon Marilyn Monroe. She nails them both without ever sliding into caricature. Plus we get a chance to see her be funny and sexy when she’s so often serious and suffering. This is Williams’ 4th SAG nomination and her first as lead.

That leaves Meryl Streep also gives another wonderful performance and, like Williams, she does it by playing a familiar face. This is Streep’s 13th SAG nomination of which two are wins. She has to be considered the favorite in any race she’s in, but at the same time I can’t help feeling she has to push back against the notion she’s already been rewarded enough and that the role of Margaret Thatcher was well within her admittedly gigantic wheelhouse.

Should Win: All five women did great work, but my favorite female lead performance of the year is Michelle Williams in a landslide. All other things being equal, she’s my pick.
Will Win: I think Meryl Fatigue and the fact that The Iron Lady is a big ugly mess will disqualify Streep this year. For most experts that means it’s Viola Davis’ year. I’m going to go out on a limb though and predict Michelle Williams for SAG and for the Oscar.

Outstanding Performance By a Male Actor in a Supporting Role:

  • Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn)
  • Armie Hammer (J. Edgar)
  • Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
  • Nick Nolte (Warrior)
  • Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

I don’t have much to say about this category other than to express surprise that Albert Brooks isn’t in it. In retrospect, I guess it shouldn’t have been so shocking that Oscar would later make the same error of omission.

I think Kenneth Branagh did better work than he’s been given credit for as Laurence Olivier and he’s a more important ingredient to the film working as well as it did, but he feels like a long shot. Armie Hammer? If DiCaprio doesn’t have a chance, then what chance does Hammer have? As for Jonah Hill, I think Brad Pitt overshadows him even though it’s the contrasting combination of the two that really make Moneyball spark. I have a feeling about Nick Nolte that he’s perceived as being kind of a pain in the ass. He did a fine job in a movie that amounted to about 13 sports movie clichés rolled into one, but he did overdo it a bit there at the end. That leaves Christopher Plummer who has gotten most of the critical love and who was wonderful in a movie that didn’t quite come up to his level. Part career achievement but entirely deserved, this is Plummer’s to lose and that’s as it should be.

Should Win: Christopher Plummer.
Will Win: Christopher Plummer.

Outstanding Performance By a Female Actor in a Supporting Role:

  • Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
  • Jessica Chastain (The Help)
  • Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
  • Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
  • Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Among the legions of people who love The Artist, few seem to be planting the flag at Bejo’s door. Even if I’m right about Dujardin taking best actor (and let’s face it, I’m probably not), I don’t think she has a chance here. McTeer was even better than Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, but again, it was a terrible movie. Though Chastain gave the better performance in The Help than Octavia Spencer and had the better character in the film (not to mention also giving better performances in at least three other films in the same year), Spencer got more screen time and most of the laughs. Melissa McCarthy was equally attention-getting in Bridesmaids and she’s terrific, but she’s central to the one scene that has been used to unfairly characterize the entire picture: the sink-shitting scene. Never mind that Octavia Spencer one-upped her by shitting in a pie and feeding it to someone. Somehow that has been deemed acceptable by taste makers. I guess that’s bbecause it was all in the name of civil rights and that makes it ok.

Should Win: Melissa McCarthy.
Will Win: Octavia Spencer.

Outstanding Performance By a Cast in a Motion Picture:

  • The Artist
  • Bridesmaids
  • The Descendants
  • The Help
  • Midnight in Paris

I think this award is going to boil down to level of enthusiasm for the pictures in question so let’s just cross The Descendants and Midnight in Paris off the list right now. I’d love it if Midnight in Paris won. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year and it has a raft of wonderful performances, but I’m just not seeing it happening. The Descendants has a real shot if there’s more love for it than I think there is, but I’m not seeing it. Will audience enthusiasm for The Artist overcome the fact that its ensemble cast is its weakest draw? Seriously. Everyone’s second favorite performance in the film is the goddamn dog for chrissakes. More likely I think, overall affection for The Help and its large, mostly excellent ensemble will win the night. It’s possible that Bridesmaids‘ strong and varied comedic performances will prevail, but I just don’t see it overcoming the entirely misguided attitude that it’s nothing but Hangover With Girls.

Should Win: Midnight in Paris by virtue of it being the best picture on the list. At the same time, I won’t lose any sleep if it’s Bridesmaids instead.
Will Win: The Help. It’s certainly not the actor’s fault that their film stinks so I won’t really begrudge them a win here, but I hope it’s not a sign of things to come on Oscar night.

7 Responses to “The 2012 SAG Awards: Who should win and who will”

  1. I am strongly supporting Brad Pitt this year. Great year by all means and yes, both his roles were so different and at the same time he managed to do an outstanding job.

    With Moneyball he carried a lot of the film which is fine and expected. But it was really impressive for me. Don’t get me wrong, good job for Sorkin and the rest of the team but Pitt turned one of his finest performances and I think he deserves it.

    And I will be very upset if Midnight loses the ensemble award since I believe that one of the best parts about the movie is Allen letting his actors do what they do best.

  2. I really did think Clooney was terrific, but yeah I give the edge to Pitt. LOVE the MiP Ensemble but I think Bridesmaids is deserving as well. Sadly, I really think it’s The Help’s to lose.

  3. In 2003 there were 2 frontrunners: Sean Penn and Bill Murray. But the SAG chose a third one, Johnny Depp (I’m sure I am the minority but i think He should have won the Oscar too. Murray and Penn were indeed terrific, but Depp created an ICONIC character in a underappreciated genre, and this is very very difficult). Brad Pitt is the Johnny Depp of 2011 and he should win but…..

  4. These things are unknowable, but I wonder if Clooney and Pitt could split the vote between a set of similar-minded voters. If that happens, Dujardin or Bichir have a great chance.

    Am I unfairly discounting Leo?

  5. No, i think Leo hasn’t got a chance. Bichir would be an interesting choice though.

  6. I still think Streep has a chance to win because of her name regardless of what critics think of The Iron Lady.

  7. I will not be stunned if she does win. In a way I’ll be more surprised by Davis, but I had to make an official pick.

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