The Screen Actors Guild Awards may not have the stature of its older cousin, but it could prove a marvelous barometer of what to expect when the Oscars are handed out March 25.
The seventh annual awards ceremony, to be broadcast live beginning at 8 Sunday night on TNT, honors acting in the movies and TV. But because the Actors (as the SAG awards are called) are handed out so close to the Academy Awards, and because the winners of both have often been identical, the movie half of the SAGs receives the greater attention.
Never have the Oscars and Actors had fewer than two of the four individual acting awards (for best actor, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress) in common. Last year, Kevin Spacey, Michael Caine and Angelina Jolie took top honors in both ceremonies. The only difference was in the best actress grouping, where Annette Bening was defeated on Oscar night by Hilary Swank ("Boys Don't Cry"). What's more, the Actor for ensemble cast went to "American Beauty," which also won the Best Picture Oscar.
This year's SAG awards - which, to further the Oscar parallels, are also held in Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium - should continue the mirror tradition. The nominations are almost identical:
For actor in a leading role, the nominees are Jamie Bell ("Billy Elliott"); Russell Crowe ("Gladiator"); Benicio Del Toro ("Traffic"); Tom Hanks ("Cast Away") and Geoffrey Rush ("Quills"). Of the five, only Bell wasn't Oscar-nominated, although Del Toro was nominated in the supporting actor category.
Among actresses in a leading role, the nominations are identical: Joan Allen ("The Contender"); Juliette Binoche ("Chocolat"); Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream"); Laura Linney ("You Can Count On Me") and Julia Roberts ("Erin Brockovich").
For female actor in a supporting role: Judi Dench ("Chocolat"); Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand ("Almost Famous"); Julie Walters ("Billy Elliott"); and Kate Winslet ("Quills"). Only Winslet is not up for both awards.
Similarly, in the best supporting actor category, only Gary Oldman ("The Contender") is in the running for an Actor, but not an Oscar. The other four nominees are identical: Jeff Bridges ("The Contender"); Willem Dafoe ("Mark of the Vampire"); Albert Finney ("Erin Brockovich") and Joaquin Phoenix ("Gladiator").
The five films up for an ensemble acting award are "Almost Famous"; "Billy Elliott"; "Chocolat"; "Gladiator" and "Traffic."
Here's hoping the Oscar-impaired "Almost Famous," this critic's choice as the best picture of 2000, gets some of the recognition it deserves Sunday night. That's not a prediction, but it sure is a wish.
A caller this week, reacting to a piece I wrote for Wednesday's paper about superstar screen couplings and how well they have - or haven't - worked, wanted to know why I didn't include African-American actors.
Good question. The quick answer is, I should have. For while the lack of black superstars for much of the past century has often precluded such pairings - it's only in the past 30 years or so that African-American actors have become serious box office draws - there have been notable couplings recently. That would include Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in "Silver Streak" (1976), Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts in "The Pelican Brief" (1993), Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in "The Bodyguard" (1992) and, perhaps most notably, Washington and Houston in "The Preacher's Wife" (1996).
Of course, there have been other pairs who have made wonderful films together, even if they were never big box-office stars; certainly, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee deserve a place in movie history.