The most wide-open movie awards season in years got wider Wednesday, with the announcement of the 2012 Screen Actors Guild nominations.
The Southern-fried dramedy The Help led all films with four nominations including the coveted best ensemble award. Michel Hazanavicius' silent film The Artist was runner-up with three: best ensemble, male actor (Jean Dujardin) and supporting female (Berenice Bejo).
SAG winners will be announced Jan. 29 in a nationally televised ceremony in Los Angeles. Actor Seth Rogen (50/50, The Green Hornet) will host the show.
SAG awards are considered precursors to how the Oscars will tilt since the actors' voting branch is the academy's largest, total nearly one-quarter of the total electorate.
Over the past decade, five winners of the SAG ensemble award proceeded to claim the best picture Oscar: No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, Crash, Chicago and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The other five SAG winners over that period were nominated for the best picture Academy Award.
Just being nominated by the guild pushes Bridesmaids and its star Melissa McCarthy into serious Oscar consideration, despite the academy's aversion to rewarding comedies. That is, unless they're directed by Woody Allen whose Midnight in Paris also made the SAG ensemble cut. The Help, The Descendants and The Artist were already considered solid bets to make the academy's short list.
Wednesday's nominations also revived chances of Clint Eastwood's biopic J. Edgar being an Oscar player, after mixed reviews and tepid box office appeared to set it aside. Co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer earned SAG nods, playing FBI legend J. Edgar Hoover and his companion Clyde Tolson.
Other surprises included Demian Bechir's best leading male actor nomination for A Better Life, and supporting nods for Jonah Hill (Moneyball) and Nick Nolte, in the little-seen mixed martial arts drama Warrior. No argument that Jessica Chastain deserved a nomination for any of her six lauded performances this year; SAG voters settled on her turn in The Help.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.