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SAG, WGA awards lead into Oscar

Weekend to offer Hollywood hints, honors

"Mystic River," with actors Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne and director Clint Eastwood, is a leading SAG Award nominee.

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LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- The race for this year's Oscars takes its final turn this weekend when two top industry groups give out film honors that offer a hint of who might take home Academy Awards, the U.S. film industry's top awards.

The Screen Actors Guild, which represents film actors and actresses, picks winners for the year's best performances on Sunday, one day after a ceremony in which the Writers Guild of America names its favorite screenwriters.

Gregg Kilday, film editor for show business newspaper The Hollywood Reporter, recalled two years ago when Sissy Spacek for "In the Bedroom" captured early critic and industry actress honors only to see Halle Berry claim the SAG trophy for "Monster's Ball" and go on to win the best actress Oscar.

"They can throw a curveball" into the handicapping game, he told Reuters.

After strong showings at the Golden Globe Awards in January and the Directors Guild of America two weeks ago, fantasy film "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" is widely considered the frontrunner for the best film Oscar.

But SAG does not name a best film. Instead, it picks a favorite film cast. Last year, SAG named the "Chicago" actors -- Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones, among them -- as best ensemble. "Chicago" went on to win the best movie Oscar.

One reason SAG and the Academy Awards correlate is that actors make up the largest voting block in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars. This year, the actors branch of the Academy has roughly 1,300 members, or 22 percent, of Oscar's 5,800 voters.

"The awards line up because you are dealing with peer groups," said Tom O'Neil, host of award site


In the best ensemble cast grouping, SAG has nominated "Return of the King" against other Oscar best film rivals horse race drama "Seabiscuit" and crime thriller "Mystic River."

In a pair of surprises, independent films "The Station Agent" and "In America" filled out the five SAG nominees for ensemble acting, but were replaced in the best film Oscar race by Russell Crowe's "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" and director Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation."

Among actors, Bill Murray as an aging actor struggling with his marriage in "Lost in Translation" and Sean Penn as a Boston thug dealing with his daughter's murder in "Mystic River" are favorites at SAG and Oscar with the race too close to call.

Charlize Theron (right) is believed to be the front-runner for best actress for her performance in "Monster."

Charlize Theron is the top pick for best actress for her breakout performance as a female serial killer in "Monster," but industry insiders say veteran Diane Keaton in comedy "Something's Gotta Give" has the strongest chance at an upset.

The SAG supporting actor race is less clear with Tim Robbins of "Mystic River" challenged by Benicio Del Toro in drama "21 Grams" and Alec Baldwin in casino tale "The Cooler."

Renee Zellweger of Civil War epic "Cold Mountain" is picked to win best supporting actress, but any of her competitors -- Holly Hunter in "Thirteen," Patricia Clarkson of "Pieces of April," Maria Bello in "The Cooler" and Keisha Castle-Hughes for "Whale Rider" -- could easily steal Zellweger's show.

Finally, Writers Guild winners, too, share many winners with Oscar, and at the WGA awards on Saturday, the key race will be for adapted screenplay where "Return of the King" writers will face the scribes of "Seabiscuit," "Mystic River," "Cold Mountain" and independent hit "American Splendor."

The best original screenplay group is filled with five independent films led by frontrunner Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation," along with the writers of "In America," "The Station Agent," and dark horses "Dirty Pretty Things," and "Bend It Like Beckham."

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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