Celebrities made their way down the red carpet at Saturday's 20th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, where Oscar-watchers are paying close attention to a showdown between "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle."
The two films are among the five nominees for outstanding cast, the night's biggest honor. Coming two days after Academy Award nominations, the SAG Awards are particularly monitored for predicting Oscar momentum.
The atmosphere at the SAG Awards is particularly collegial. The awards are chosen by and given to actors — an arrangement that caused nominee Oprah Winfrey ("Lee Daniels' The Butler") to remark in surprise to E! on the red carpet: "It must mean I'm an actor!"
Don Cheadle, nominated for the series "House of Lies" simplified the evening to The Associated Press: "I have fun at this because there's food and booze."
The awards were set to begin at 8 p.m. EST from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
Actors make up the largest branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, so SAG members have perhaps more sway in determining Academy Awards winners than any other group.
This year, the five nominees for SAG's top honor, outstanding performance by a movie cast, are: "12 Years a Slave," ''American Hustle," ''Dallas Buyers Club," ''August: Osage County" and "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
Obviously, SAG and the academy don't always agree: Neither "August: Osage County" nor "The Butler" were nominated for best picture, and "The Butler" was snubbed entirely. The effects-heavy, sparsely peopled "Gravity" was predictably overlooked by SAG (except for a best actress nomination to Sandra Bullock), while it garnered 10 Oscar nods.
But the SAG Awards will give a window into support for Oscar favorites "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle." In individual honors, SAG favored "12 Years," nominating Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong'o. Jennifer Lawrence, for supporting actress, is the lone "American Hustle" nominee.
The SAG outstanding cast awards have lined up with Oscar best-picture winners, including "Argo," ''The King's Speech," ''Slumdog Millionaire" and "No Country for Old Men." But SAG diverged in the past with picks like "The Help," ''Inglourious Basterds" and "Little Miss Sunshine." The actors did foretell one of the biggest Oscar upsets in 2005, choosing "Crash" over "Brokeback Mountain."
At the SAG Awards, winners almost uniformly express gratitude for an honor chosen by their peers. The speeches are often good, too, and can help stoke Oscar support.
Among the nominees Saturday night are Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine"), Forest Whitaker ("Lee Daniels' The Butler"), Meryl Streep ("August: Osage County"), Tom Hanks ("Captain Phillips"), Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks") and Bruce Dern ("Nebraska"). James Gandolfini was nominated posthumously for his supporting performance in "Enough Said."
Among SAG's TV drama ensemble contenders are HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" and "Game of Thrones," AMC's "Breaking Bad," PBS's "Downton Abbey" and Showtime's "Homeland." Comedy series ensemble nominees include NBC's "30 Rock," Netflix's "Arrested Development," CBS's "The Big Bang Theory," ABC's "Modern Family" and HBO's "Veep."
SAG's lifetime achievement award will be given Rita Moreno, the 81-year-old "West Side Story" actress whose career has spanned Broadway, television and music.
Associated Press writers Beth Harris and Anthony McCartney in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle
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