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Burning Questions: Can You Skip the Precursors?

Michael C here to take stock of the performers left in the dust by the recent rush of precursors. 

With the announcement of the Golden Globes and SAG nominations behind us the first round of the elaborate Kabuki dance known as Precursor Season is concluded. A week ago we could let our imaginations run wild with the possibilities of our favorite performances making good. Now if an actor hasn’t heard his or her name called by either group? Well, as George C. Scott once said to Peter Sellers, their chances have been quickly reduced to a very low order of probability.

So how low is low? What are the chances of a performance getting nominated without a Globe or SAG nomination? 

Approximately 1 in 20. That's what my remarkably un-scientific research tells me. For this I took a look at the last 10 years. If you go back too far the stats become less relevant. Plus, 10 is a nice round number and if I wanted to do complicated math I wouldn’t be a movie blogger. So, 10 years = 200 nominated performances. and out of those only 12 failed to receive either a SAG or GG nod first. They are:

Nominated Without Precursor LoveLead Actor

  • Javier Bardem – Biutiful
  • Tommy Lee Jones – In the Valley of Elah
  • Clint Eastwood - Million Dollar Baby 


Lead Actress

  • Laura Linney – The Savages
  • Samantha Morton – In America


Supporting Actor

  • Michael Shannon – Revolutionary Road
  • Alan Alda – The Aviator
  • Djimon Hounsou – In America 
  • William Hurt - A History of Violence 

Supporting Actress

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal – Crazy Heart
  • Marcia Gay Harden – Mystic River
  • Shohreh Aghdashloo – House of Sand and Fog


12 out of 200 is 6% meaning roughly 1 in 20, or about one a year on average. So contenders have their work cut out for them, or at least their publicists do, if they want to get a ninth inning rally going. 

How to best spot those contenders that are flying under the radar? I admit this might be a Beautiful Mind-like exercise in finding patterns where none exist, but here are the lessons I can draw from recent history, plus the 2011 contenders who may benefit:

5 out of 7 of the surprise supporting nominations were for films that also landed nominations in the lead categories, and one of them - Michael Shannon - came close. Only Tommy Lee Jones represented his film’s sole nomination so you need the film to do some of the work for you.
Advantage: Carey Mulligan, Ezra Miller, Judy Greer

Playing Favorites
None of the surprise names in the lead categories were receiving their first nomination. In the big categories don't underestimate the proven vote-getters.
Advantage: Woody Harrelson, Ryan Gosling, Michael Shannon

Category Confusion
A few of these unexpected names were the result of a slot opening up when supporting contenders like Kate Winslet jumped to lead.
Advantage: Nobody. Category placement seems pretty solid this year, no? 

Of the 12 curveball nominations listed above only 3 (Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt and Tommy Lee Jones) were from films released prior to Thanksgiving, and none were released prior to September.  Once voters get to the bottom of those screeners currently piling up next to the TV there is bound to be a late-breaking favorite or two.
Advantage: Gary Oldman, Max Von Sydow, Patton Oswalt

Nail It
Of course, when all is said and done it doesn’t hurt to deliver a performance that absolutely tears the house down. I can recall the impact in the theater when Michael Shannon tore through his brief screen time in Revolutionary Road like a wild animal. When that kind of electricity is coming off the screen prognosticators can be forgiven for keeping that person in their predictions no matter what the odds.
Advantage: Vanessa Redgrave, Oliva Colman, Andy Serkis


So if you want to keep rooting for your favorite underdog, there's your sliver of hope. And personally, I think I will keep on clinging to my hopes of a groundswell for Bruce Greenwood's performance in Meek's Cutoff regardless of any logic to the contrary.

Is there an important angle on this I missed? Let me know in the comments. You can follow Michael C. on Twitter at @SeriousFilm or read his blog Serious Film

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Reader Comments (50)

Sophie Okonedo was nominated for SAG, wasn't she?

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFranco

I personally think, amongst these choices, that Redgrave or Shannon have the best shots. Supporting Actress is decidedly a 7-person race, and one with some non-traditional performances (Bejo, McCarthy) and some in films that are very divisive (McTeer). And who doesn't love Vanessa Redgrave-it could be a case where they finally get through all of their screeners around balloting time and think, "wow, that was impressive." And though I have to say I love Redgrave and am continually impressed, I would feel far worse for her if her performance was playing outside of a NY or LA theater (the same will be said if Tilda Swinton, Glenn Close, or Janet McTeer-all actresses I also love-don't get nominated).

As for Shannon, I'm thinking he's a potential nominee because of the flip side of this coin-there's almost always one actor who got a SAG/GG nomination and still didn't get nominated for an Oscar (there have been 12 in the last ten years). And Leo DiCaprio seems to fit the bill of a lot of these make the first two-thirds but don't make it to the final race-he's in a roll that had a lot of buzz for the film, but then people start questioning its difficulty (Mila Kunis, Russell Crowe, and Zhang Ziyi all spring to mind). I think Shannon has enough goodwill in Hollywood to make it for Take Shelter if DiCaprio's star falls.

And again, I gotta say I love this series (though I wonder why there wasn't room for poster boy John Hawkes in the "Playing Favorites" section.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Excellent analysis. The only thing I might add is that for an out-of-nowhere nomination it seems like you need a particularly weak category. This year, I would say that really hurts any of the lead performances, and helps the supporting. Of all the ones you listed above, the one (if any) I would look to for a surprise nomination would be Max Von Sydow.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergwynn1984

Franco -- she was so i've removed that one in editing.

Michael -- you asked if you overlooked any angle. This is quite thorough but i think another thing worth noting is the SAG ensemble nomination. Some of these performances were nominated for that, just not individually so that might be another key. i.e. we can see that fellow actors liked it even if the performers weren't individually nominated.

December 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

It's so refreshing when they skip the precursors!

Bardem won at Cannes, not a precursor but the most important festival in the world. I wish voters would pay more attention to them. Maybe then Binoche and Dunst would get a chance.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy -- agreed. but looking at that list i was pleasantly surprised to have predicted quite a few of them ;) who will i dare predict this year? Hmmmm.

December 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Laura Linney's nomination for The Savages is one of my favorite Oscar moments ever. They still need to give her the actual award, though.

Even though it was wrong, the Academy not nominating Andrew Garfield last year made sense because of their ageism when it comes to younger male actors, but should Jonah Hill really get nominated next month... Do. Not. Want. I do think that of the SAG+GG nominees this year, he's the one that's most likely to miss out.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJan

Oh! I bet you'll go with Vanessa which is a classy move. I'm dying to see that performance!

Last year I predicted Bardem. Not because of his win at Cannes but due to his character's illness.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

For a nomination confusion, I think maybe Keira Knightley has a chance for supporting actress huh?

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertombeet

I say Viola Davis is supporting, not lead, dammit. Advantage: Elizabeth Olsen, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Kirsten Dunst.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

I really want Keira to get in too, but the problem is she’s not even mentioned by any critic groups at all.
If Shannon gets nominated at the Oscar, that would make him twice to be Oscar nominated without any help from GG or SAG. That would be quite a feat.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMikhael

Mikhael -- He'd end up being the Mike Leigh of actors. i.e. much more beloved by Academy members than any of the other vaguely crossovery groups. Funny how their are those reversals. Chris Nolan has the opposite problem. Beloved by DGA (3 noms) not so much by Oscar's director's branch (0 noms in that category)

Kurtis -- BOO! ;) I've long said that if Viola goes supporting it supports every vicious thing anyone's ever said about that movie being yet another whitey movie about black civil rights... which i really don't think it is. If only Tate Taylor would have reduced the storyline of Emma Stone there wouldn't be this issue because the movie totally and continually wants to be about Viola Davis (beginning and ending and narrated by her) but Emma's story keeps distracting.

December 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

William Hurt in a History of Violence!

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersimsimer

All I want for Christmas is an Oscar-nominated Gary Oldman. If there's anything right with the universe, he'll get in without GG and SAG's help.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonny

In thinking about Vanessa Redgrave's chances (because she simply must get in), I've wondered if the acting branch of the Academy is perhaps more traditional, older, or good at playing favorites than the SAG voting pool. It must skew towards older, more famous individuals, yes? Any chance that they'll favor someone as established as them, like they did with Tommy Lee Jones and Alan Alda, instead of going for the relative newcomers that currently populate the Supporting Actress lists?

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

^Just to add: I think Coriolanus might benefit from the "December" argument as well. It seems like nobody has seen Coriolanus, at least based on sites like this.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

NAT: I agree that The Help is very minimally a "whitey" movie when compared to others (*choke*, The Blind Side), and charges of racism are silly, but no matter how much the film wants, in its soul, to be about Viola's character, it nevertheless surrenders to become Emma's film, and efforts to make it a co-lead project (like that weepy coda that lets Viola walk into the sunset) feel tacked-on. The campaign for lead feels, to me, like forced justification for the movie's failed efforts to give Viola proper attention. Additionally, Viola is leagues better than Octavia Spencer in the film, and is the one deserving of supporting gold. But, pushed into lead, Viola will lose to Meryl Streep, and Spencer, a classic, if entertaining, black stereotype, will be the only one walking away with the trophy. I think it's sad that, in the end, a humane and tradition-breaking black performance will lose while one that's essentially not much different than Hattie McDaniel's will win. In 20-freaking-11. THAT's where this movie reflects a lack of progress.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

Kurtis: Streep? Hmm. It's not solid yet, though we might know if the same person takes the Globe and SAG. If two different people take those prizes, though, it's between those two for the Oscar.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I am so saddened about how things have been turning out for Elizabeth Olsen. Her performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene deserves to be recognized with an Oscar nom!

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

On the subject of Davis (which I admit seems to be entirely in the eyes of the beholder)...

The question I keep asking about the character of Aibileen to justify my continued belief that Davis's role is supporting: What do we know about Abileen's existence outside of her experiences as a maid in white households? Apart from the fact that she has a dead son and that she goes to church, very, very little (similar arguments can be applied to the other virtually faceless members of "the Help" crew, by the way, which makes it hard for me to see this as anything other than a Whitey film, albeit to a less offensive degree than some of its predecessors). The writers have paid so little attention to the Aibileen's inner-life that it's impossible for me to consider Davis a "lead actress." I know that the narration starts and ends with her, but is that enough to make up for the fact that we really haven't learned very much about her over the course of 2+ hours that fall between these bookends? I say no.

As it stands right now, the supporting actress category feels so formless. I predict that we get *2* previously unheralded performances in the oscar mix.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWill

Marcia Gay Harden already did the no SAG, no Globe, but Oscar nomination thing twice.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoan Holloway

simsimer -- you're right! I added Wililam Hurt to the mix.

December 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Yes! Awesome right up, was actually thinking about this the other day.

Nathaniel… I’m still in awe of your track record with these ‘surprise nominees’; Harden, Pedro, Linney, Maggie-freakin-Gyllenhaal!!!, Bardem. You also had Hurt and Shannon in there till the last minute if I remember right. Incredible.

Between Shannon, Redgrave and Mulligan who you think has the best chance of sneaking in last minute?

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyanSt

Will- seems like the odds are against there being two new nominees. Looking over both supporting categories in the past ten years, only once has someone that both the SAG and GG nominated not made it onto Oscar's shortlist: Maria Bello in 2003. Since SAG/GG agreed on 4/5, it'd be really surprising to see two new people pop up..

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Evan -- no. Mila Kunis was also left off after both nominations.

December 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Ryan T -- thank you. i really regret taking Hurt out. and it was so last minute. I should never second guess my longterm hunches. ;)

December 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Just saw The Help...maybe Bryce Dallas Howard and /or Allison Janney can surprise in BSA, particularly BDH...I really wanted Viola to be a lead, but, alas, from my view, she's more of an ensemble/ supporting player.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSoSueMe

^ If Bryce Dallas Howard got nominated, I would vomit. Not really her fault, but that character was the epitome of a one-dimensional, flat character. Ew. (But there's no way she'd get nominated anyway).

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

i still think the one person who can ride through to an oscar nomination without help with a golden globe or sag nomination would be vanessa redgrave. but then again, didn't they reward her an honorary oscar this year?

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkent

In absolute lock-step with Kurtis O's comment. Wow.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMayukh

In with Elizabeth Olsen - out with Glenn Close. Please, please, please, PLEASE!

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathon

Nathaniel- but Kunis was dropped for Weaver, who had been nominated by the GG. I was talking about a GG/SAG nominee who didn't make the Oscar short list in favor of a completely new nominee.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Make that Weaver/Steinfeld (depending on whichever award you're comparing the Oscar short list to).

My point is that if one of the GG/SAG nominated supporting actresses is dropped, it'd probably be to make way for both Woodley and McCarthy (each nominated by one of the bodies) rather than somebody new.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

-First off, 2003 was really a strange year of acting nomination, many of the 'surprised nominees' were from that year.

-About Viola Davis role in The Help, I think we don't need to know character's background/ inner life to consider he/she a lead. We don't know much about the Driver in Drive, yet he's definitely leading. I think what counts is if a character who advances the main storyline to go forward, he/she is a lead; hence Viola Davis and Emma Stone are co-leading in The Help.

-I also think that out of actors who didn't get the SAG and Globes nods this year, Vanessa Redgrave has a big chance of nominating for Oscar.

-How about Ed Harris for Pollock in 2000? And Clint Eastwood didn't nominate in either Globes or SAG in Million Dollar Baby.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertombeet

I guess you could make an argument the character was one-dimensional, but Bryce Dallas Howard was 100% committed all the way...loved her gestures, cadence...she added subtle nuances to a broad character...little things most likely not in the script...she sold the comedy and she was fearless and more than believable in her unlikability...so far, her best work.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSoSueMe

I would love to see Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, and Vanessa Redgrave get nominations. And as for your proposal of Bruce Greenwood in Meeks Cutoff for Supporting Actor- what a great idea!

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Tombeet - I only went back ten years for the stats and Pollock was eleven years ago so no Ed Harris. You are correct about Eastwood and I've updated accordingly. Conveniently he supports all my conclusions, a previous nominee in a popular late December release.

December 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterMichael C.

Nat - The Ensemble angle is an interesting one.

if you don't count those names which were included in the SAG ensemble category - Alda, Morton, Hounsou, Eastwood, and Harden - then you are down to just 7 names that bucked the odds.

So the question then becomes who's advantage does that play to? Corey Stoll? Judy Greer? Bryce Dallas Howard? Those would all be shocking.

December 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterMichael C.

The Jack Russell Terrier from Beginners deserves a nomination. Just sayin'. It's all in the eyes.

December 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathon

I doubt Vanessa Redgrave's gonna make the cut. As it is so far, Coriolanus is a little-seen film that hasn't been momentously raved about by the few who have seen it. And even if that weren't the case, I don't think the Academy likes Vanessa Redgrave enough to single her out in a film that many seem to forget is actually apart of this Oscar season. If f she really was an Academy staple, they would've probably given her the nomination for Atonement. It wasn't as if Saoirse Ronan delivered some tour de force performance that automatically guaranteed her a spot: it was a moderately well-received if not somewhat tepidly greeted performance if I remember correctly. I do think there's a surprise somewhere in Best Supporting Actress but I'd be shocked if that surprise concerned Redgrave.

My fingers are crossed for Melissa McCarthy, who thankfully escaped the unfair Zack Galifanakis/"oddball" character-lumping that really could've hampered what is so much more than a delightful, hysterical performance. She impresses me more and more in her last scene with Kristen Wiig and the fact that she's still an extant presence more than half a year since her film was released clearly means she's got more than enough goodwill behind her. She played an actual person rather than just a series of gags and ticks, even though she probably could've gotten away with doing the latter seeing as how Galifanakis did (was there actually Oscar talk for whatever that performance was?!). Sure it's not the stuff that Oscar nominations are made of but I'd like to see Kate and Jodie try to be even a fourth as simultaneously amusing and endearing as Melissa McCarthy was in Bridesmaids.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

Matthew -- but i'm telling you if people see the performance. She's just great in it. and i dont even like shakespeare movies that much.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

OMG, just saw Young Adult. Jesus Christ, Charlize deserves a nomination for whatever the hell she just did. WHY ARE THERE ONLY 5 SLOTS?! UGH.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathon

I think Nessa is gonna be the odd person who makes it. Part of this is the strangeness and vulnerability of the McTeer slot. I wonder if people voting for that one because it fits with another predestined Oscar nominee in Glenn Close, and we'll see the film's stock get hit hard once it actually opens. And if Coriolanus' campaign is smart it'll put all its effort behind Redgrave, and she could roar forward at just the right time.

And isn't it just the perfect time for another Vanessa Redgrave Oscar speech? I wonder how many people remember that this unintimidating older lady is actually a liberal firebrand who gave one of the classic angry speeches last time she won.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

Marsha -- i see your reasoning but i'm not sure McTeer is so vulnerable. The Globes of all places would've dumped her wouldn't they if she was vulnerable as she's hardly anyone's idea of a "star". I wouldn't be surprised to see her nominated even if Close is dropped.

December 19, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

You're probably right. One thing I've noticed in all this we shouldn't ignore the evidence staring us back, even for campaigns that seem to defy expectations. Things we keep expecting to drop off never do. (I kept expecting Cruz to lose out on a Nine nomination, or Blanchett for Elizabeth Turbo.) If Nessa gets a nod, it may more likely be at Shailene's expense.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

I wouldn't call this excellent analysis. I'd call this statistical analysis. How is this a discussion about art or acting (other than the brief discussion about how great Michael Shannon won). Explaining the Oscars through statistics is missing the point of it all. The Oscars are about art. When it becomes about math, it ceases to become meaningful, because the Oscars are simply a gateway to talk about art.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOrrinK

Excellent analysis, Michael!

This is my only thread for keeping hope alive to my favorite female performance this year: Elisabeth Olsen. I know that ship has sadly sailed now, but it would have been nice all the same.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGerry

@Evan.......Evan Rachel Wood was snubbed after SAG/GG/BFCA and replaced with Samantha Morton who had none of the above.

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPepe

Theron or Mara could be taking Close’s spot. It's a wrap! Everybody's hate Albert Nobbs.

December 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergabriel

Nice article. I do think though that the Broadcast Film Critics also do a great job of predicting the nominations, however they do tend to pick 6 nominations.

I do feel though that a good number of those noted above did receive other accolades. The only out of nowhere nominations I feel like are Alan Alda and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The NY and Los Angeles Film Critics seem to also have a good bearing on this surprise nods as seen below.

Javier Bardem- Cannes WIN, BAFTA nod, Satellite nod

Tommy Lee Jones- Satellite nod, London Film Critics nod

Laura Linney- Chicago Critics nod, London nod, Online Film Critics nod, Satellite nod

Samathan Morton- Broadcast Critics nod, Indie Spirit nod, Satellite nod

Michael Shannon- Chicago Critics nod, Online Film Critics nod, Satellite WIN

Alan Alda- BAFTA nod

Djimon Hounsou- Indie Spirit WIN, San Diego Critics WIN, Satellite WIN

William Hurt- Austin Film Critics WIN, Los Angeles Film Critics WIN, NY Film Critics WIN, Online Film Critics nod

Shohreh Aghdashloo- Los Angeles Film Critics WIN, NY Film Critics WIN, Indie Spirit WIN, Online Film Critics WIN, 3rd place National Society Film Critics

Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River- Broadcast Film Critics Nod, Central Ohio WIN, Chicago Nod, Satellite nod, Seattle Film Critics WIN,

Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock- Indie Spirit nod, NY Film Critics WIN, 3rd place National Society Film Critics

Maggie Gyllenhaal- Dallas Critics nod

I think the performances that are weak and may not be seen come Oscar time include,

Leonardo Dicaprio- poorly rated film, and there are a slew of other fine performances that should get in over his

Glenn Close- as much as it may seem like a career defining performance, it really isn't. I think Glenn wasn't expecting it either but Janet McTeer gives a superior performance and sadly the film is also poorly reviewed and unfortunately we never really get to know or feel anything for Albert. I think she is the weakest of the actresses contending and will likely fall. Considering she wasn't even given a Indie Spirit or Broadcast Nod and did not win any precursors. I think however that Glenn will likely be given a Best Song nomination to compensate.

I feel like the best supporting actor category this year is the weakest of the 4 acting categories and could get some surprises here. I don't see Jonah Hill making it and I don't see Max Von Sydow coming through for a mixed reviewed film. The only locks for now seem like Christopher Plummer, Albert Brooks and maybe Kenneth Branagh, otherwise its a pretty open category.

Best supporting actress also is a mixed bag too but I Vanessa Redgrave or Carey Mulligan could surprise into the race or even Judy Greer replacing Woodley or maybe even a super surprise of a foreign performance in the critically acclaimed A Separation with Sareh Bayat.
Also we shall see if Jessica Chastain will get in for Take Shelter or The Help.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercyrus
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