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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Star power makes a welcome return on Sunday as the Screen Actors Guild hands out its annual awards in the glitziest ceremony of a season clouded by a bitter industry strike.
Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe are among the celebrities expected on the red carpet at the Shrine auditorium in Los Angeles in the only awards show so far this year that resembles traditional Hollywood glamour.
Forecasts of heavy rain, the sudden death of promising actor Heath Ledger last week and the strike cloud hanging over next month's Oscars may dampen some of the enthusiasm at Sunday's party. Organizers have erected a vast tent over the arrivals area because of the rain.
But the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards gives actors, producers and studios an opportunity to celebrate after three months of a strike by screenwriters that has crippled movie and TV production and led to a star boycott of the Golden Globe and People's Choice Awards earlier this month.
The striking Writers Guild Of America allowed its members to write for the SAG awards show and said it would not mount protests outside the event because actors have been strong allies of the writers in their dispute with studios over better payments for work distributed over the Internet.
No such deal has been reached for the Oscars on February 24 although talks resumed last week between the WGA and major studios after a six-week break marked by growing hostility.
Winners at SAG are normally seen as key contenders for an Oscar since actors make up the biggest group of the 6,000 Academy Award voters.
But this year, SAG appears out of sync with the Oscars in the best picture race. British war romance "Atonement" and the greed and power drama "There Will Be Blood," which won eight Oscar nominations, are missing from SAG's nominees for its top prize of best cast ensemble.
Instead the true-life wilderness story "Into the Wild," which was written and directed by actor Sean Penn, leads the SAG field with four nominations. It received a disappointing two Oscar nods.
Joining the list of nominees for best ensemble cast is musical "Hairspray," western "3:10 to Yuma," crime thriller "American Gangster" and the latest Coen brothers movie, "No Country for Old Men."
Britons Daniel Day Lewis, who plays a malicious oil entrepreneur in "There Will Be Blood," Julie Christie, who plays a woman with Alzheimer's Disease in "Away From Her," and France's Marion Cotillard, who played singer Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose," are front-runners for SAG's best actor and actress awards after winning Golden Globes and Oscar nominations.
Spain's Javier Bardem is the man to beat in his supporting role as a cool-headed killer in "No Country For Old Men." But less predictable is the supporting actress category, which includes Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There," Tilda Swinton for the legal thriller "Michael Clayton" and Amy Ryan for "Gone Baby Gone."
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 Eric Beech