by Claudia Puig, USA TODAY
The membership of the Screen Actors Guild skewed traditional and even a tad conservative Wednesday by honoring respected acting veterans such as Maggie Smith and Alan Arkin, along with the entire cast of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and foregoing riskier choices like Joaquin Phoenix for The Master or any members of Django Unchained, which takes a darkly comic look at slavery.
The actors guild did embrace a lower-profile film and lesser-known actor John Hawkes for his role as a partially paralyzed man in The Sessions, along with a comeback performance for his co-star, Helen Hunt, as a sex therapist. They were nominated for best male actor and best female actor in a supporting role.
The guild also honored well-known actors traditionally seen in lighter, comic roles or blockbuster action performances - among them Bradley Cooper, nominated for lead actor for his dramatic part as a cuckolded husband with bipolar disorder in Silver Linings Playbook, Anne Hathaway for her supporting part as the tragic Fantine in Les Misérables, and Hugh Jackman for his lead role as the principled Jean Valjean in Les Mis.
The SAG nominees presented few surprises and plenty of indicators for the upcoming Oscar race. Though it doesn't dispense a "best picture," SAG's "outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture" category is closely watched because it often correlates with Oscar's best-picture contenders and could predict at least five of the Academy Award nominees for the top prize.
There were predictable choices and one minor surprise in the top SAG category. Nominees Argo, Les Mis, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook were among the expected selections. The British retirement comedy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, having come out earlier in the year - in May - was more of a long shot.
Notable absences in the category included Zero Dark Thirty (which did garner a nod for lead actress Jessica Chastain), while Life of Pi, The Dark Knight Rises and Django Unchained were completely shut out. No nominations went to the lower-budget but much-admired film Moonrise Kingdom. And another audience and critical favorite, Beasts of the Southern Wild, was declared ineligible because it broke the guild's rules on using only professional actors.
Though Phoenix did not get a nomination for The Master, his co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman made the cut for best supporting actor. Phoenix's omission could indicate that the 2,100 guild members were put off by actor's antics in the past few years in the wake of his 2010 mockumentary, I'm Still Here. Or it might just have reflected the membership's mixed reaction to the enigmatic Master.
There were no real surprises among the other choices for best actor in a lead role, which included Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln and Denzel Washington in Flight.
For best female actor in a lead role the contenders ranged from relative newcomers like Jennifer Lawrence for her role as a troubled young widow with a penchant for dancing in Silver Linings Playbook to veterans such as Helen Mirren for her role in Hitchcock as the director's collaborator wife.
Marion Cotillard was the only nominee for a foreign film. In the French-made Rust and Bone she plays a Marineland animal trainer who loses her legs in an attack by a killer whale. Naomi Watts was also nominated in the lead category for her role as a mother of three who faces a terrifying tsunami in The Impossible, a film that has gotten perhaps the least buzz among the selections
In the category of female supporting actor, Nicole Kidman was probably the biggest surprise for her part as the sexy girlfriend of a creepy convicted killer in The Paperboy. Sally Field also was nominated for her performance as Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincoln.
Among supporting actors, Javier Bardem's quirky Skyfall villain might have been the closest thing to a surprise in a category that included Alan Arkin as a movie exec in Argo, Robert De Niro as Bradley Cooper's eccentric gambling father in Silver Linings Playbook, and Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln.
Copyright 2012 USATODAY.com