January 25, 2009 / 6:09 AM / 9 years ago

Hollywood actors could upset awards apple cart

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood stars toast their own on Sunday at a Screen Actors Guild ceremony that could produce surprises in an award season dominated by “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie pose for photographers as they arrive for the premiere of the film "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by director David Fincher in Paris, January 22, 2009. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Angelina Jolie and her partner, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway and Robert Downey Jr. are among the nominees for top acting honors.

The SAG Awards, in which 120,000 actor members reward their peers, are known for placing roadblocks on the path to Oscar glory.

“SAG has the potential to throw the Oscars into turmoil,” said Tom O’Neil, columnist for Web site www.TheEnvelope.com.

“The ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ actors are relatively unknown to American members of SAG, while ‘Doubt’ has all those respected A-listers who delivered really strong performances,” he said.

“Doubt,” a story of suspected abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, leads with five SAG nominations, including the top prize of best ensemble cast, but it did not win a best picture Oscar nomination last week.

Streep, who plays a vindictive nun, and fellow cast members Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis are all also nominated for acting awards.

“Benjamin Button” leads the Oscar field with 13 nominations but has just three chances of a SAG award.

Quadruple Golden Globe winner “Slumdog Millionaire,” the uplifting tale of a Mumbai slum dweller who makes good on a TV game show, has two SAG nominations for best ensemble cast and best supporting actor for Dev Patel.

David Poland, editor of Movie City News, thought neither “Button” nor “Slumdog” would win big on Sunday.

“I think the likelihood is that SAG won’t go for ‘Slumdog,’” Poland said. “People admire ‘Benjamin Button’ but they don’t love it. It is big and the acting is beautiful but it doesn’t hit them emotionally.”

“Frost/Nixon,” which recounts journalist David Frost’s interviews with disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon, and “Milk” about slain San Francisco gay rights activist Harvey Milk, are also in the running for best ensemble cast.

Late Australian actor Heath Ledger, who has won a slew of posthumous awards for his role as the Joker in Batman blockbuster “The Dark Knight,” is the front-runner for a best supporting actor SAG award.

Sean Penn, who plays Harvey Milk, is seen as the strongest best actor challenge to Mickey Rourke, who picked up a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for playing a washed-up athlete trying for a comeback in “The Wrestler.”

The strength of Hollywood’s gay community could play well for Penn’s chances, particularly after a bitter November 2008 referendum that outlawed same-sex marriage in California.

“It is exactly the kind of movie you would think SAG would go for,” said Poland.

SAG also hands out awards to TV actors. Tina Fey and her comedy show “30 Rock” are expected to continue their 2008 sweep, while “House,” “Boston Legal”, “Dexter,” “The Closer” and “Mad Men” are competing for best TV drama ensemble cast.

Editing by Alan Elsner and Mary Milliken

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