The first thing to say about the 2014 Screen Actors’ Guild nominations is the same thing that needs to be said about any list of nominations. My personal taste and that of the voting body doesn’t always align. I think some worthy actors got snubbed in favor of some actors who didn’t necessarily need the reward. Whatever. There are worse crimes.
The second thing to say is that the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards are best described as a barometer: of the awards season mania to come, of the preferences of the Screen Actors’ Guild, of the discourse around the year’s most discussed movies and television shows.
The third thing to say is…there isn’t much to say about the nominations themselves. But I’m going to say some things anyway.
On the film side, the most surprising omission was Robert Redford for his silent solo performance in All is Lost. The most gratifying inclusions were Barkhad Abdi for his sympathetic portrayal of a Somali pirate in Captain Phillips and Daniel Bruhl for his physical and emotional transformation in Rush. The SAG seems to really like Lee Daniels’ The Butler, even though a decent percentage of the nominated Best Ensemble turned in overwrought caricatures rather than actual performances. The Christmas Day release date for Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street seemed to hurt its chances. Overall, this list effectively reflects the wide range of excellence on display at the movies this year.
The television nominations are more dispiriting. One inherent disadvantage is that the SAG doesn’t distinguish between Lead and Supporting performances in TV shows. Why not? It’s a mystery. As a result, Peter Dinklage will compete for his minor role in this season of Game of Thrones against show-dominating heavyweights like Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad and Kevin Spacey of House of Cards. The same goes for Maggie Smith of Downton Abbey against Kerry Washington of Scandal. It’s an annual absurdity, and it needs to be corrected for the sake of respecting the medium of television on the same level as film.
And despite the massive proliferation of notable new shows this year, Spacey was the only actor to pick up a nomination for a series that debuted in 2013. No Orphan Black, no Rectify, no Hannibal, no The Americans, no Orange is the New Black. It would have been unreasonable and mathematically impossible to expect recognition for all of these shows, but it’s not particularly forward-looking to exclude all of them.
Perhaps the most intriguing and baffling story of these television nominations is the comprehensive rejection of Mad Men, formerly a darling of every awards body known to man. The show has assembled a mystifying backlash despite continuing to be more thoughtful, challenging and provocative than most other shows on television combined. Despite the deceptively repetitive nature of Don Draper’s story this season, Jon Hamm had his best season yet, and the entire ensemble positively fizzed and glistened with the addition of compelling new regulars like Kevin Rahm, Harry Hamlin and James Wolk. Even January Jones, a longtime critical punching bag, asserted herself with unexpected radiance and nuance. While it’s certainly valid to complain about some of the choices on Mad Men this season, the notion that the show is in some way less worthy of awards appraisal in its old age is simply wrong. A few years ago, Mad Men was the undisputed champion. Now, it’s the underdog. Oh, the times, they are a-changin’.