LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The cast of the 1970s crime caper "American Hustle" took the top prize from the Screen Actors Guild on Saturday in a key test of the film's Oscar mettle in the competitive race for Academy Awards in six weeks.
"American Hustle" from director David O. Russell has been hailed for its performances, although it won no individual acting awards on Saturday and only Jennifer Lawrence was nominated for her supporting role. It prevailed over another presumed Oscar frontrunner, "12 Years a Slave."
Bradley Cooper accepted the best ensemble cast award on behalf of a line-up that included Christian Bale and Amy Adams in addition to Lawrence, and praised Russell, with whom they have all worked previously.
"He is an actor's director," said Cooper. "That notion is tossed around; he is the embodiment of it. He's the reason why all of us wanted to become actors when we were children."
Australian Cate Blanchett won best actress for her role as a socialite who suffers a reversal of fortune in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," while best actor went to Matthew McConaughey for his turn as an unlikely AIDS activist in "Dallas Buyers Club."
Both actors are the clear frontrunners for best acting Oscars after winning Golden Globes last Sunday. Screen Actors Guild are honors that actors relish, however, because they come from their peers.
"I've been able recently to find some characters that I've humbled myself to their humanities and then get feverishly drunk on their obsessions," McConaughey said in recognizing the much ballyhooed ascent in his career.
McConaughey's co-star Jared Leto won best supporting actor for his turn as his transsexual side-kick, while another first-time winner Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o was recognized for her supporting role as the hardworking slave Patsey in "12 Years a Slave."
In what is widely considered one of the best years for quality film in recent memory, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and other guild awards to be handed out in the next two weeks could collectively steer the race in favor of one film for the industry's highest honor, the best picture Oscar, on March 2.
"American Hustle" stands out in the competitive field for receiving Oscar nominations in all four acting categories, while space thriller "Gravity" is basically a one-woman show starring Sandra Bullock and is most recognized for its technical innovation.
Both films led Oscar nominations announced on Thursday with 10 nods each.
But "12 Years a Slave," a brutal depiction of American slavery in pre-Civil War times, cannot be ruled out and has nine nominations, including Nyong'o.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you Steve McQueen," Hollywood newcomer Nyong'o said to the British director who chose her after auditioning 1,000 actresses.
"Thank you for taking a flashlight and shining it under the floorboards of this nation and reminding us what it is we stand on."
In a bit of unscripted drama, actress Rita Moreno, 82, received the lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild on Saturday and dropped an expletive as soon as she hit the stage to accept it.
"I am so (expletive) thrilled," said Moreno. She later added, "I am sorry about that word...actually I am not."
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)