LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood's red carpet will finally roll out for Sunday's Screen Actors Guild Awards in what could end up being the only big party in an awards season stripped of stars and marred by a bitter industry strike.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) hands out its annual movie and television awards at a ceremony packed with all the designer dresses and gushing thank-you speeches that have been missing so far in Hollywood's traditional three-month-long celebration of itself, leading to the Oscars on February 24.
Tom Cruise, Kate Hudson, Russell Crowe and John Travolta headline a list of presenters, while George Clooney, Angelina Jolie and Cate Blanchett are among the nominees expected to don bow-ties and ballgowns for SAG's red carpet parade into the Shrine auditorium in Los Angeles.
"I think there is huge excitement about the Screen Actors Guild awards because it has the blessing of everyone and because actors are the most glamorous group," said Tom O'Neil, columnist for award-watching Web site TheEnvelope.com.
"It may may be the closest we get to full star participation and a fancy awards show this season," he said.
The Golden Globes were reduced to a dull, celebrity-free news conference, and the People's Choice Awards became a pre-taped video clip show this month when actors refused to cross picket lines of striking Hollywood writers in a three-month dispute with major movie and television studios.
But the Screen Actors Guild has been a firm ally of the Writers Guild of America during the labor conflict. In return, the WGA said it would allow its members to write for the SAG awards show and would not mount protests outside the event.
No such deal has been reached with organizers of the Oscar ceremony, casting doubt on whether the movie industry's biggest showcase will go ahead in its usual form.
The SAG winners are expected to give a clearer indication of those bound for Oscar glory because actors make up the largest group of the roughly 6,000 Academy Award voters.
Britons Daniel Day-Lewis, for the early 20th century oil drama "There Will Be Blood," and Julie Christie, who plays a woman with Alzheimer's Disease in "Away From Her," are favorites to take the top SAG acting honors. Both have won Golden Globes and received Oscar nominations this week.
Experts said Spanish actor Javier Bardem looks unstoppable in his supporting role as a cool-headed killer in the Coen brothers movie "No Country For Old Men" after winning the Golden Globe, many critics prizes and an Oscar nomination.
The supporting actress category, which includes Blanchett playing Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There," and Tilda Swinton for the legal thriller "Michael Clayton" is less predictable.
SAG's most-nominated movie with four nods is the true life wilderness drama "Into The Wild," which was written and directed by actor Sean Penn and which disappointed with only two Oscar nominations.
Joining it on the list of nominees for best ensemble cast in a film -- SAG's top award -- are "No Country for Old Men," musical "Hairspray," crime thriller "American Gangster" and western "3:10 to Yuma."
"There Will Be Blood" -- which along with "No Country for Old Men" leads the Oscar field with eight nominations -- was shut out of the SAG ensemble cast hopefuls, along with period romance "Atonement."
The Screen Actors Guild also hands out television awards. "The Sopranos," "Boston Legal," "Grey's Anatomy," "The Closer" and "Mad Men" are competing for best TV drama ensemble cast.
"Entourage," "Desperate Housewives," "30 Rock," "The Office" and "Ugly Betty" are nominated for best comedy cast.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Stuart Grudgings