Judi Dench in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." (Ishika Mohan/20th Century…)
Fox Searchlight, the art house imprint of 20th Century Fox, is frequently a major player in the awards season, winning the best picture Oscar with 2008's "Slumdog Millionaire." But the studio's strong showing in nominations for the Screen Actors Guild awards Wednesday morning was, nevertheless, much better than many people had expected.
Although the studio's acclaimed "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was ineligible for SAG consideration because the movie was made without a union contract, Fox Searchlight's "The Sessions," "Hitchcock" and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" all received nominations, with the latter film being shortlisted for the actors' guild prestigious top ensemble honor. In total, Fox Searchlight notched five nominations.
"There are a lot of very happy emails going back and forth this morning," said Nancy Utley, the president (with Steve Gilula) of Fox Searchlight. "It is extremely gratifying for a company our size to have three different films recognized."
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"The Sessions," writer-director Ben Lewin's story of a middle-aged disabled man who hires a sex surrogate to lose his virginity, was nominated for lead actor for John Hawkes, who plays the disabled Mark O'Brien, and supporting actress for Helen Hunt, who costars as sex therapist Cheryl Cohen Greene.
The movie received very favorable reviews but has not been a hit at the box office, grossing less than $5 million in domestic theaters following its Oct. 19 premiere.
"Hitchcock," director Sacha Gervasi's account of Alfred Hitchcock's personal and professional struggles making "Psycho," earned a SAG lead actress nomination for Helen Mirren, who costars as Hopkins' longtime wife and collaborator, Alma Reville.
The film has received mixed reviews and has grossed less than $1.8 million at the box office since debuting Nov. 23.
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Easily Fox Searchlight's biggest commercial hit of the year, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was nominated for ensemble, putting the comedy about British pensioners living in India in the elite company of "Argo," "Les Misérables," "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook."
SAG's ensemble honor is considered one of the better predictors of the Academy Award selections for best picture. Maggie Smith also was nominated for supporting actress for "Marigold Hotel," which drew largely favorable reviews and has grossed more than $46.3 million in the United States, and almost double that overseas, since being released this spring.
Utley said the ensemble "Marigold Hotel" nomination was "huge" and came even though the film's British cast was largely unable to do a lot of awards promotions in the United States. She said the studio will now focus on whether to mount a more aggressive Oscar campaign for the film. The film's cast of senior citizens may have a strong fan base among Oscar voters, whose median age is 62, according to an L.A. Times study completed before the 2012 Academy Awards.
"We will try to figure out how to capitalize on the momentum and move forward," Utley said. The SAG ensemble nomination, she said, "will make the film be more seriously considered as a best picture contender."