At first glance, the five movies nominated for the best-cast prize at this year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards — the most important Oscar bellwether to date — couldn’t be more different: The Help, Midnight in Paris, The Descendants, The Artist, and Bridesmaids. But they do have something in common: They all premiered last spring or summer, in theaters or at festivals like Cannes or Telluride. Meanwhile, several touted holiday releases — The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Young Adult, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close — have been largely overlooked in the awards season so far.
What happened to the days when all the Oscar movies came out at the end of the year? In 2003, the five Best Picture nominees — Chicago, The Hours, The Pianist, Gangs of New York, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers — had been released on Dec. 18, 2002, or later. But back then, the Academy Awards ceremony took place at the end of March. With the Oscar season now a month shorter, waiting until Christmas — just three weeks before the nomination ballots are due — might not work.
”The movie has to do its job — be stimulating, provoking — but people need a chance to see it, and they need a chance to talk about it,” says actor-filmmaker Kenneth Branagh, a Best Supporting Actor candidate this year for My Week With Marilyn (released Nov. 23). ”It’s such a squash of traffic at the end of the year that it’s difficult, particularly for challenging material.” Indeed, after The Fighter went on to score seven nominations last year despite skipping the major-festival circuit, many studios tried to repeat that strategy, but their movies got lost in the shuffle.
One of the most surprising nonstarters is David Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo, which opened Dec. 20. ”It’s the kind of film that sticks with you for a while,” says Trent Reznor, whose Golden Globe nomination for Best Score was one of only two nods for the thriller. ”I think that if it had come out a couple months earlier, you’d be seeing [it on] different lists right now.” Stephen Daldry’s 9/11 drama Extremely Loud (released Dec. 25) and Martin Scorsese’s family film Hugo (Nov. 23) were also ignored by the SAG Awards. ”There was nothing we could do to get it shown any earlier,” says Hugo producer Graham King. ”Certainly with SAG, we’ve paid the penalty for that. But I don’t look at it and go, ‘Oh my God, we didn’t get SAG; now we’re going to have a tough time with the Academy.’ ” He may end up rethinking that position: No film in the past 15 years has won Best Picture without a SAG nomination.
For a summer smash like Bridesmaids, the trend is certainly welcome. ”We genuinely do expect nothing,” says producer Judd Apatow of the film’s sudden awards-show attention. ”So just the fact that we’re allowed in the same room as Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio and we can try to get drunk enough to talk with them makes it worthwhile.”