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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Momentum hasn't SAGged

Paul Haggis’ acclaimed melting pot drama Crash took the top award for Outstanding Cast Ensemble at the 12th annual Screen Actors Guild awards on Sunday night. This is an important boost for the movie, coming just two days before the nominations for the Academy Awards are announced.

The SAGs have grown in stature over the last few years because they are voted for entirely by actors, who also make up the largest voting block of the 5,000+ member Academy. In the past, recipients of the SAG have, with only a few exceptions, gone on to win in the corresponding Oscar category.

Character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman continued his seemingly unstoppable march to the Oscar podium by claiming the Lead Actor prize for his role as Truman Capote in Capote. Hoffman, who also won the dramatic Golden Globe in addition to fifteen critics’ prizes, has the advantage over chief competitors Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) and fellow Globe winner Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line).

Phoenix’s Walk the Line co-star Reese Witherspoon established herself as Oscar frontrunner by claiming the Lead Actress prize for her superb performance as singer June Carter. Witherspoon was a bit of a surprise choice as many had expected the gong to go to Felicity Huffman, who plays a pre-op male to female transsexual in TransAmerica. Both actresses won Golden Globes so although Witherspoon has gained an early lead, the contest is far from over. Huffman is older, has a fiercely dramatic and unique role and has quickly won over the acting community, mainly by her humility, good humour – and a multi-award winning lead role on hit TV show Desperate Housewives.

British actress Rachel Weisz is almost a certainty to win the Supporting Actress Oscar having added the SAG to a Golden Globe for her haunting performance in The Constant Gardener. Weisz has the edge over her closest competitor Michelle Williams, who has been a consistent nominee for her moving and expressive performance in Brokeback Mountain. Paul Giamatti, who won an award as part of the ensemble of Sideways last year, won the Supporting Actor prize for Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man. Giamatti was the most prominent Oscar snubee last year so there is demonstrably muscular support for his campaign this year. The SAG has given Giamatti a slight advantage in an unpredictable and exceptionally strong category this year. George Clooney won the Supporting Globe for Syriana and there is also huge support for Matt Dillon’s revelatory performance in Crash.

On the TV side, the casts of Lost and Desperate Housewives won the Ensemble awards for the second year running. Kiefer Sutherland won the Lead Dramatic Actor for 24 whilst another of last year’s Sideways winners, Sandra Oh, won the Lead Dramatic Actress statue for medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. Sean Hayes (Will and Grace) won Lead Comedy Actor whilst multiple nominee Felicity Huffman now has a SAG to add to her Lead Actress Emmy for Desperate Housewives.

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