Screen Actors Guild noms: '12 Years a Slave' leads while 'The Butler' surprises -- BREAKING

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Good news for 12 Years a Slave and The Butler … not so good for The Wolf of Wall Street.

The harrowing drama about a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into bondage on a Southern plantation had a leading four nominations at the Screen Actors Guild Awards this morning: best ensemble, lead actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor, and supporting bids for Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o.

Among the notable snubs were Robert Redford, the lone actor in the survival saga All Is Lost, and The Wolf of Wall Street, which got zero nominations.

The big surprise was The Butler, the blockbuster drama about a black man who spends a lifetime working in the White House under eight presidents. It hasn’t been present in many of the critics awards this season, but came on strong with three nods from the actors union: best ensemble, lead actor for Forest Whitaker, and supporting actress for Oprah Winfrey.

Also with three nominations each, including best ensemble: August: Osage County and Dallas Buyers Club.

Contenders for the SAG Awards were announced in both film and television fields this morning. The guild awards are closely watched as an Oscar bellwether since actors are the single largest voting bloc within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

A nod here can cement an actor’s chances, while a snub can sometimes reveal a fatal lack of momentum. There’s no Best Picture prize, but the Screen Actors Guild’s Best Ensemble award is typically seen as a key stepping stone in that race for that Oscar.Sometimes the SAG nominations can introduce an actor to the conversation who hasn’t been there before, such as Demián Bichir in A Better Life two years ago. Not much awards attention had been directed at him previously, but after his SAG nod for Best Actor he ended up catching the Academy’s attention, which landed him a nomination alongside eventual winner Jean Dujardin of The Artist.

The SAG Awards ceremony will take place on Sat. Jan. 18, with a live broadcast on TBS and TNT.

The full list for television is featured on the next page, with EW Prize Fighter analysis of the film race below…

FILM

Ensemble Cast
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
August: Osage County
Dallas Buyers Club
The Butler

Overlooked: Saving Mr. Banks is the shock absentee here, along with Captain Phillips — both films that have been considered major Oscar players. There can be as many as 10 nominees for the Academy’s best picture race, so this doesn’t mean they are out — just less of a sure-thing. The Wolf of Wall Street, which just started screening in the past two weeks, may have suffered from its late start (although the film had no shortage of anticipation.) What it didn’t do was get its screener discs out in time, so many voters may have overlooked it. Her earned a lot of love from critics groups last week, but it’s got more subtle performances, just like Inside Llewyn Davis. This year, the SAG nominating committee went for BIG.

Lead Actor
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Forest Whitaker, The Butler

Overlooked: Redford. That has to hurt. Again, this low-key performance may have been overshadowed by more colorful rivals. This is the most competitive race of the season, with at least eight viable contenders. Academy members tend to count Dern, Ejiofor, and Hanks as sure-things, and McConaughey has now erased any doubt I had that he might get in. Some voters were daunted by the description of Dallas Buyers Club, which sounds grim when described in short — two men dying of AIDS smuggle experimental drugs into the country in the 1980s. But the movie has a defiant spirit and word of mouth continues to build among voters. With those four in, the last spot is a question mark. Would it be Leonardo DiCaprio’s monster performance as a crooked stock broker in The Wolf of Wall Street, or Christian Bale’s dumpy, balding, con-artist loser in American Hustle? Those were the flavors of the week recently, but Whitaker has proven to be indelible. This vaults him in among the Oscar final five — if Redford, DiCaprio, or Bale want to get in, they’ve got a fight on their hands.

Lead Actress
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Overlooked: This is probably the Best Actress list you’ll hear on Oscar nominations morning. These five have long been the frontrunners, and will probably stay that way. Amy Adams for American Hustle is the one missing here who has the best chance to catch on, but it’s hard to imagine which one she could bump. Kate Winslet for Labor Day and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Enough Said could have benefited from a mention here.

Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Overlooked: No love for Uncle Walt! Tom Hanks’ folksy take on Walt Disney from Saving Mr. Banks is a surprise omission, while Daniel Brühl’s work as the calculating Formula 1 racer Niki Lauda is the unexpected addition. His performance earned a lot of praise, but as Rush has faded from the overall awards consideration, Brühl’s name hasn’t come up as much. Like Whitaker, he made an impression early and that has clearly stayed with voters. Leto remains the frontrunner here, but newcomer Barkhad “Look at ME — I’M the captain now!” Abdi has shown with this nod that he has what it takes to make it into the Oscar race. Those who really needed a boost, but didn’t get it: Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street, Bradley Cooper for American Hustle, and Will Forte for Nebraska.

Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey, The Butler

Overlooked: No mention of Scarlett Johansson for Her. She delivers a purely vocal performance in that romantic-comedy as a computer operating system who seems remarkably alive, and has made not only Joaquin Phoenix’s character swoon, but many critics, too. There has been a push to see her recognized for an acting prize, and she received one from the Rome Film Festival. It has made for an interesting theoretical conversation — although a nomination would have still been a surprising and controversial choice. Octavia Spencer’s grieving mother in Fruitvale Station was also passed over. Again, subtlety wasn’t the preference this year. That also goes for Julianne Nicholson from August: Osage County, the one actress in that film who didn’t have her teeth embedded in the scenery.  SAGs five will probably come close to what the actors’ branch of the Academy chooses in this category.

NEXT PAGE: TELEVISION NOMINEES

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