The first major precursor award nominations were handed out this morning as the Screen Actors Guild revealed their 15th set of nominations.

This marks the end point of the first phase of the Oscar race as many of the critics awards have been handed out and the more reliable industry awards are starting to trickle in.

This is a perfect time to take a look at the locks, likely nominees, longshots and losers of the Oscar season thus far.

Best Picture

The Locks:

Slumdog Millionaire is the most certain nominee in this category after sweeping through the critics awards, picking up Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Director and then a surprise SAG nomination for its star, Dev Patel. This one is getting the broadest support of any candidate for Best Film.

Nearly as certain is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which this morning picked up three SAG nominations (Brad Pitt, Taraji P. Henson, Ensemble) when many thought it might not get any. These nods go along with a pretty healthy stable of critics awards and Golden Globe nominations.


Milk is as close to a lock as could be but its virtual shutout at the Golden Globe awards means you can't quite call it a certainty.

Had The Dark Knight gotten a Golden Globe or SAG nod that wasn't for Heath Ledger then it too would be a lock. It didn't so it's not.

Frost/Nixon seems like it should be a lock, but it just isn't getting the type of enthusiasm that we're seeing for "Button" or "Slumdog". The Academy's adoration of Ron Howard certainly gives it a great shot, but it's just not quite a lock, Golden Globe and SAG Ensemble nominations notwithstanding.


The Wrestler is the fastest riser of this Oscar season. What at first seemed like a nomination for Mickey Rourke and nothing else has turned into a contender in all categories. Its lack of SAG nods for anybody but Rourke hurts, but the buzz is starting to become overwhelming.

Like The Wrestler, Rachel Getting Married has a shot of its lead propelling it to a nomination for the top prize, but it seems less likely than its male-dominated counterpart.

Wall-E should be a lock or even a likely nominee by all rights. It's won as many critics awards as any film this year, including the prestigious Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award. Problem is, it's animated - and ever since the creation of the Best Animated Feature category, no toon's had a chance. So this one is still a longshot at best.

The hardest film to figure out this year is Revolutionary Road. Just when you want to count it out, it gets a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. Just when you want to write it off again, Kate Winslet gets it a SAG nomination. Who knows where this will end up, but right now it's a longshot.

Another Kate Winslet film, The Reader, just keeps hanging around. Despite lukewarm reviews, it managed a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture and Winslet just earned a SAG nomination for her role in the film. Its director, Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot), is an Academy fave and its subject matter, The Holocaust, is surefire awards bait, so don't count this one out.


The biggest loser in this category is Doubt. Here's the sum total of its precursor love so far - A Broadcast Film Critics Award nomination. That's it. That's the list. What seemed like a lock about a month ago now has no shot at a Best Picture nomination.

Australia, Baz Lurhrmann's sprawling adventure piece that was supposed to revive the Hollywood romantic epic may as well have been called "DOA". It's made little money, gotten very middling reviews and hasn't gotten any sort of precursor nomination whatsoever. Seeya in another ten years, Baz.

Best Director


Because Best Picture and Best Director usually sync up, Slumdog Millionaire's Danny Boyle and Benjamin Button's David Fincher have to be considered locks.

In addition to those two, throw Christopher Nolan into the lock column as well. Other than Heath Ledger's performance, Nolan's direction was the most heralded component of this film, and that should lead him to his first nomination in this category.


Building on Best Picture, Gus Van Sant (Milk) and Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon) are likely nominees in this category. The Golden Globe shutout hurts Van Sant, but he's gotten as much precursor love as anyone and Ron Howard could probably release his home movies in the theaters and get an Oscar nomination.

Stephen Daldry got a surprise Golden Globe nomination for directing The Reader. His Oscar pedigree with noms for The Hours and Billy Elliot, could help him into the director-whose-movie-didn't-get-nominated-for-best-picture slot.


Benefiting from The Wrestler's growing buzz is its director, Darren Aronofsky. He's been hailed as a great talent for years, and it seems he's finally made the movie to match. He hasn't gotten any real precursor love yet, but don't be shocked by his sneaking into a Director's Guild nomination.

Sam Mendes is nearly as hard to figure out as his film, Revolutionary Road. He got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director but that's pretty much it. Hard to call him much more than a longshot despite the prestige of his lone award.

It may be an animated film, but Andrew Stanton has been getting significant precursor attention for directing WALL-E. Don't be shocked to see him lock up a surprise DGA nomination and move squarely into contention.

His film may be a quirky British Comedy that nobody saw, but that didn't stop Mike Leigh from winning the New York Film Critics Circle award. He's a very long-acclaimed director with two Oscar nominations in this category (Vera Drake and Secrets & Lies) to his credit. There's a chance this could be his third.


Just like, Doubt, John Patrick Shanley has gotten no love from the precursor awards. Looks like directing his adaptation of his play may have been a mistake.

Maybe Clint Eastwood shut himself out by directing two films in one year, maybe it's because Changeling didn't get great reviews and Gran Torino has been more recognized for his performance. Whatever the case, doesn't look like Eastwood will pick up a nomination this year.

Best Actor


Sharing is a wonderful thing, and Sean Penn (Milk) and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) have been doing just that with just about every precursor award so far this year. Both are stone cold locks.

You may not know it, but Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) has won about 950,000 acting awards in his career. None of these have led him to an Oscar nomination, but after this morning's recognition by the Screen Actor's Guild, Langella has a shot to add an Oscar to his mantle of stage acting awards.


Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) earned overwhelming raves for his performance in this March release. Like all things released before the fall, the buzz faded and he was ignored for much of the early precursor season. That all changed in recent weeks as he's been picking up mentions from critics society's all over the map and just notched a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination.

A couple of actors better known for their looks than their chops haven't quite done enough to get their names into the lock category. Neither Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) nor Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road) has very many precursor awards but the former notched both a Golden Globe and SAG nomination while the latter a Golden Globe nod of his own. Still, that's just about all either of them has gotten.

Clint Eastwood hasn't gotten much precursor love (though he did win the National Board of Review Award) but how can anybody count out a screen legend in a well-reviewed performance he's claiming is his final appearance onscreen? More importantly, how can the Academy resist?


A couple or comedic roles have garnered a bit of precursor attention. Dustin Hoffman (Last Chance Harvey) and Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges) both receive Golden Globe nominations for their work and Gleeson has piled up a few other nominations as well. The former's clout and the latter's growing collection of nods give them an outside shot at moving up the ladder.

Another comedic figure with a shot is Josh Brolin's portrayal of the tragic clown George W. Bush. He's gotten some light critical recognition for his efforts and even though nobody saw or seemed to like the film, he drew raves for his portrayal of Dubya.


Benicio Del Toro playing Che Guervara in an epic directed by Stephen Soderbergh seemed like a cinch for a nomination a few months ago when Del Toro won the Best Actor award at Cannes. Now it's just a four-and-a-half hour film dumped in two theaters with no chance at anything.

Hugh Jackman was buzzed about for months for his show-stopping performance in Australia. Then the movie came out and nobody saw it and the few who did didn't like it very much. It seems he'll have to take solace in, ya know, actually hosting the Oscars.

Best Actress


What a strange year for Anne Hathaway. She starts out presenting for the first time at the Oscars after a career breakthrough in The Devil Wears Prada. Then she stars in a blockbuster with Steve Carell. Then her boyfriend allegedly cons old ladies out of money by pretending he has ties to the Vatican (Nigerian e-mailers think he needs a better story) she gets obscenely great raves for Rachel Getting Married, she hosts the best episode of SNL this year and not she's a lock for an Oscar nomination for her role as Kym in Rachel Getting Married. Too bad "Bride Wars" is the thing that's going to kick off her 2009.

Despite middling reviews for Doubt and several scathing reviews for her performance therein, Meryl Streep, will break her own record for nominations this year. She's picked up a Golden Globe and SAG nod so far, and she's friggin' Meryl Streep after all!


Due to the abhorrent lack of good roles for women in Hollywood, this category is usually the easiest to predict. Not this year. Check this out:

Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) has won far more critics awards than anybody in this category. Even Anne Hathaway. Problem is, she stars in a light British comedy that exactly 17 people saw - not exactly Oscar bait. Her bigger problem is that she missed out on a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination.

The only movie with a smaller audience than Happy-Go-Lucky was Frozen River starring Melissa Leo. 14 people saw this one. That hasn't kept its lead from racking up some solid precursor nominations including a SAG nod. Unfortunately, she missed out on a Golden Globe nod!

Kate Winselt is Kate Winslet. She's like 15-years-old and already has 47 nominations (okay, maybe it's closer to 33 with 5 nods) and this year she's got the enigmatic Revolutionary Road earning her both a Globe and SAG nod. But guess what? Those are about the only awards she's gotten and she's far more likely to get nominated in the supporting category for The Reader. Aghhh!!

A few years ago, in a little-known decision, the Academy passed into a law a rule stating that Cate Blanchett must be nominated every year no matter what. This year, that rule will be put to the test because her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button notched her a BFCA nomination and nothing else. Still, you can't count her out.

The albatross of the Golden Globe nominations is Kristin Scott Thomas (I've Loved You So Long...). She's got a solid pedigree with The English Patient on her resume and the added difficulty of performing the role in French. Plus, she's got that Globe nod. It's about all she's got, but it's a pretty big cog.

The surest thing in this section is probably Angelina Jolie who earned great buzz coming out of Cannes and has been piling up the awards this season, including a Golden Globe and SAG nomination. Still, her tabloid status demotes her a bit, as unfair as that may seem, in the eyes of Academy voters.


Unfortunately for Meryl Streep, Academy rules prohibit an actor from being nominated twice in the same category (Funny, isn't the award for "Best Performance"?) otherwise Streep might have a shot at a nom for her role in the half-a-billion dollar behemoth Mamma Mia! As it stands, she's just a lock to win a Golden Globe.

Many of the critics awards that have come out in the late going have singled out Michelle Williams' performance in Wendy and Lucy as the best of the year. It's probably a bit too little and too late for Williams; however, as she has failed to rack up any significant precursor awards.

Don't count out Kate Beckinsale for her role in Nothing But the Truth. She got a BFCA nomination for the film and it's been slowly gaining some buzz.


Australia is DOA and so are Nicole Kidman's Oscar chances.

Keira Knightley in The Duchess. Yeah. That didn't happen.

Best Supporting Actor


There's only one lock here and it's Heath Ledger. The most talked-about performance of the year is now getting the most awards. Ledger takes the title of Lock of the Year with regards to all Oscar nominations.


It's been a wild ride for Josh Brolin (Milk). He starts Oscar season like a house on fire, winning more awards than Ledger. Then he disappears and gets shutout by the Golden Globes. Then he bounces back with more awards including the all-important SAG nomination. He's very close to a lock.

Also very close to a lock is Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), a film that's gotten slammed for everything but the performances. The Golden Globe and SAG nominations mean PSH should make it back-to-back supporting actor nods.

It may be for a comedy, and he may have performed almost entirely in blackface, but Robert Downey Jr. has gotten a Golden Globe and SAG nomination for his role in Tropic Thunder. Oscar should be next.


Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) earned a SAG nomination for his part as older Jamal, but it was his first nomination in any way shape or form all year. Still, that's a pretty good lone nomination to have.

In Milk, James Franco gave the best performance of his career so far. It's been earning him a fair amount of praise and precursor love, but not enough to put him over the top, and certainly not enough to vault him past co-star Josh Brolin.

Hugging tight to Anne Hathaway's coattails is here movie dad Bill Irwin. He hasn't gotten a ton of love from the precursors, but just enough to entertain the possibility that the Anne Hathawave (see what I did there?) could sweep him into the Kodak.

Like everything else Revolutionary Road, Michael Shannon's Oscar prospects remain a mystery. He's yet to get a major precursor nomination or award, but he just keeps poppin up enough that you can't write him off. His role is crucial to the film and if it hits bigger than it looks like, he could reap the rewards.

Much less likely than his costar is Happy-Go-Lucky's Eddie Marsan. He hasn't gotten any widespread recognition, but he's been shortlisted by the Los Angeles Film Critics and a few other prestigious critics' societies. Hawkins' lack of a SAG nod could spell his doom, however.

The coolest Golden Globe nomination of the year was Tom Cruise for his work in Tropic Thunder. It certainly was a tremendous performance and everybody who came into the film talking about Downey, Jr. left talking about Cruise. The Globes were the only group to recognize this bald-capped role, but maybe that could push him over the top.


Ralph Fiennes can't catch a break. His big Oscar role was supposed to be for The Reader and then his only nomination comes in the form of a Golden Globe nod for his performance in The Duchess. Was that a misprint?

For one reason or another Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) has been campaigned in this category even though the name of his character is in the title of the movie. He hasn't gotten any sort of recognition for his performance, but he probably wouldn't have in the lead category either.

When Changeling failed to live up to expectation, John Malkovich's Oscar hopes went up in flames. Speaking of flames, he did get a tiny bit of recognition for his role in Burn After Reading, but that won't translate into an Oscar nod.

Best Supporting Actress


Penelope Cruz has won several dozen awards already for her role as Maria Elena in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona and those include a Golden Globe and SAG nomination. Como se dice "lock" en Espanol?

Both Viola Davis and Amy Adams should round out a grand slam of acting nominations for Doubt. Neither has won many awards (though Davis' are starting to pile up) but it's been pretty hard for anybody to snatch any prizes when Cruz is currently putting a second wing on her house contain all her new statues. Plus, they each got a Golden Globe and SAG nomination - and that's what really matters.

Kate Winslet's awards are kind of spread out, because some critics' societies gave her a lead award for her role in The Reader. That doesn't matter because she's entered as supporting for the Oscars and both SAG and the Golden Globes followed suit with the corresponding nominations.


Tarji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) got a SAG nomination but no Golden Globe, Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler) got a Golden Globe nod but no SAG, and Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married) has won more critics awards than anyone but Cruz and has the Anne Hathawave working in her favor. It's a toss-up between these three for that fifth slot.


Beyonce Knowles could get nominated for Cadillac Records. Stranger things have happened. Really, there are only seven ladies with a shot at a nomination here.


There's not mystery about this, Kathy Bates will not get nominated for Revolutionary Road. Unlike the sporadic love for the rest of the film, Bates has gotten ZERO love thus far.

Last year, Tilda Swinton broke what seemed like a four-way tie and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She'll have to be content with present the Best Supporting Actor award this year, because her chances for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are nil.

Story by Andrew Payne

Starpulse contributing writer