REPORT:0002

SAG Awards

Sunday March 11 8:44 PM ET

Guild Awards Offer Oscar Lead-In

By DAVID GERMAIN, AP Movie Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Albert Finney's turn as a curmudgeonly lawyer in ``Erin Brockovich'' earned him the honor for best supporting actor Sunday at the Screen Actors Guild awards, the final tuneup for the Oscars.

Finney was not at the ceremony, so presenters Laura Linney and Kate Winslet, who also are nominated, accepted on his behalf.

The guild honor could give Finney a boost at the Academy Awards, for which he also has a nomination. Finney has been nominated for an Oscar four previous times, but has never won.

The union's awards and the Directors Guild of America honors, which were presented Saturday, traditionally are barometers for the Academy Awards.

Ang Lee won the directors' prize for ``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,'' which bodes well for his Oscar prospects March 25. Since the award was first given in 1949, only four Directors Guild recipients have failed to win the Oscar.

Lee beat Steven Soderbergh, nominated for both ``Erin Brockovich'' and ``Traffic,'' Cameron Crowe for ``Almost Famous'' and Ridley Scott for ``Gladiator.''

Lee, Scott and Soderbergh have four of the Oscar directing nominations. The fifth Oscar nod went to Stephen Daldry for ``Billy Elliot.''

Before Saturday's ceremony, Soderbergh said he would not offer academy voters any guidance on which of his movies he would prefer them to support. Some in Hollywood feel that could cost Soderbergh an Oscar because his votes might be split between ``Erin Brockovich'' and ``Traffic.''

Others say Soderbergh's two nominations will not cancel each other out because Oscar voters generally support the one achievement they think is most deserving.

``I don't see why this is any different, just because he's nominated for the two movies,'' said Scott Greenstein, chairman of USA Films, which released ``Traffic.''

In SAG's six previous awards shows, 10 of the 12 winners in lead-acting categories went on to win Oscars. Because of a tie one year, the guild has honored 13 performers in supporting categories, with seven also winning an Oscar.

Last year, Kevin Spacey won both the guild prize and the best-actor Oscar for ``American Beauty.'' Annette Bening won the guild's lead-actress honor for ``American Beauty,'' while Hilary Swank took the Oscar for ``Boys Don't Cry.''

Supporting honors at both the guild ceremony and the Academy Awards last year went to Angelina Jolie for ``Girl, Interrupted'' and Michael Caine for ``The Cider House Rules''

The guild honors performers in five movie and eight television categories.

Martin Sheen, who plays the president on ``The West Wing,'' and Allison Janney, who plays the press secretary, won the best-actor and best-actress honors for TV drama.

Janney told the audience that she considered quitting once when her acting career wasn't going well. She said she went to a career-counseling office to take an aptitude test to find out what else she might do.

``They told me I would make an excellent systems analyst,'' Janney said. ``I still don't know what that is. I'm so proud to be able to say I'm a working actress.''

The lead-actress nominees in movies are Joan Allen for ``The Contender'' Juliette Binoche for ``Chocolat,'' Ellen Burstyn for ``Requiem for a Dream,'' Linney for ``You Can Count On Me'' and Julia Roberts for ``Erin Brockovich.''

Lead-actor contenders are Jamie Bell for ``Billy Elliot,'' Russell Crowe for ``Gladiator,'' Benicio Del Toro for ``Traffic,'' Tom Hanks for ``Cast Away'' and Geoffrey Rush for ``Quills.''

For the Oscars, Del Toro was nominated in the supporting-actor category.

The guild supporting-actress nominees are Judi Dench for ``Chocolat,'' Kate Hudson for ``Almost Famous,'' Frances McDormand for ``Almost Famous,'' Julie Walters for ``Billy Elliot'' and Winslet for ``Quills.''

The ceremony also includes a category for best performance by a movie's entire cast. Nominated are the casts of ``Almost Famous,'' ``Billy Elliot,'' ``Chocolat,'' ``Gladiator'' and ``Traffic.''

The guild was presenting its lifetime achievement award to husband-and-wife acting team Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

(Shown below with Kate Winslet, sister Summer, and Co-star Anna Paquin.)

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