The race for this year’s Oscars takes its final turn this weekend when two top industry groups give out film honors that provide a hint of who might take home Academy Awards, the highest of all Hollywood accolades.
The Screen Actors Guild, which represents film actors and actresses, picks winners for the year’s best performances 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 “In the Bedroom” star Sissy Spacek 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 awards two weeks ago, fantasy film “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” is widely considered the front-runner 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 entertainment award Web site GoldDerby.com.
Handicapping the racesIn the best ensemble cast grouping, SAG has nominated ”Return of the King” against two other Oscar best film nominees, horse racing 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 individual performers, Bill Murray as a middle-aged 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 for both SAG and the Oscars, with the race too close to call.
“(SAG) is a Murray audience rather than a Penn audience, but the irony is that Penn is considered the actor’s actor,” O’Neil said.
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.
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,” Civil War epic “Cold Mountain” and independent hit “American Splendor.”
The best original screenplay group is filled with five independent films, led by frontrunner 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.”