The cast of "Argo" won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Ensemble on Sunday night over the teams behind "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook" and other popular and critical hits.
Many awards prognosticators were hoping that the actor's union could help clarify an Oscars race that has been labeled one of the closest in years. To that end, "Argo"s' victory potentially makes it the front-runner for Best Picture at next month's Oscars over Steven Spielberg's biopic about the 16th president and David O. Russell's shaggy romantic comedy.
Although Ben Affleck, the driving force behind the political thriller, was snubbed by Academy Awards voters for his directing work, the film has gone on to earn the Golden Globe for Best Picture and the Producers Guild Award in recent weeks.
Unlike the Oscars, the SAG Awards honor the best of both television and film.
(Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Ben Affleck, pictured left)
Also read: SAG Awards 2013: Best Lines of the Night
On the small screen, the lords and ladies on "Downton Abbey" scored the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama Series, while the multi-generational cast of "Modern Family" scored a statue for Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy Series.
"Shut the French windows," Phyllis Logan, who plays the servant Mrs. Hughes on the PBS show, said while accepting the award for "Downton" over the heavily favored casts of "Mad Men" and "Homeland."
For its part, "Modern Family" triumphed over "30 Rock" and "The Office," two NBC shows that are having their final seasons on the air.
The Screen Actors Guild Awards only honor performances, but guild voters have been reliable predictors of which actors will ultimately be honored on Oscar night. All of the major film award winners last year went on to win Oscars, except for Screen Actors Guild lead-actress winner Viola Davis of “The Help," who lost to Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady.”
(Jennifer Lawrence pictured right)
But the Academy Awards are still weeks off, even though the campaigning is at a fever pitch.
On Sunday, Jennifer Lawrence battled pneumonia to pick up a SAG Award for Best Leading Actress for her work as a grieving widow in "Silver Linings Playbook." Her win over Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty," likely makes her the favorite to perform a similar feat at the Oscars on Feb. 24.
In an often dryly humorous speech, Lawrence took a break from the levity to thank Russell. The "Silver Linings Playbook" director has said he made the movie about two mentally ill people who find love, to help his son feel better about the personal issues he has struggled with.
"You helped more than your son," Lawrence said.
Daniel Day-Lewis did not have to contend with any upper respiratory tract infections on Sunday, but he did have to battle scene-stealing work from the likes of Denzel Washington as an alcoholic pilot in "Flight" and Bradley Cooper as a bipolar man in "Silver Linings Playbook," to win his statue for Best Actor.
Despite the steep competition, he picked up his third SAG award for playing the title character in "Lincoln." Day-Lewis said when he decided to take on the monumental role, he remembered both the Hippocratic oath, urging doctors to first do no harm, and his profession's tortured history with Lincoln.
"It was an actor that murdered Abraham Lincoln and therefore it is only fitting that it is an actor who every now and then tries to bring him back to life," Day-Lewis said.
On the small screen, Bryan Cranston won Outstanding Actor in a TV Drama Series for his work as a chemistry teacher turned meth dealer in AMC's "Breaking Bad."
"It is so good to be bad," Cranston said.
Cranston won his first SAG honor over fierce competition from Jon Hamm as a philandering ad executive in "Mad Men" and Steve Buscemi as a corrupt political boss in "Boardwalk Empire." He also bested Damian Lewis, whose work as a terrorist mole in "Homeland" has already earned him Emmy and Golden Globe honors.
Claire Danes, Lewis' co-star on the Showtime series, proved more lucky. Her work as a bipolar agent on "Homeland" earned her a Best Actress in a TV Drama Series Award.
Danes, who recently gave birth to a son, said that the adage that it takes a village to raise a child also applies to artistic endeavors, saying that she shared the award with her cast.
(Anne Hathaway pictured right)
Alec Baldwin won the leading actor in a comedy statue, making it his eighth SAG award for his work as a cutthroat executive on "30 Rock." The NBC sitcom is finishing up its seven seasons on the air next week.
"It was the greatest experience I've ever had," Baldwin said, while reflecting on the show's end.
His co-star Tina Fey won her own statue minutes later, marking her fifth SAG award for her work as a television writer on "30 Rock."
"Thank you for letting me in this union," Fey said.
She also paused to thank one of her rivals for the statue, "I share this with my sweet friend Amy Poehler...Amy I've known you since you were pregnant with Lena Dunham," Fey said.
Poehler was nominated for her work in "Parks and Recreation." Dunham, the 26-year old wunderkind behind "Girls," was not nominated for a SAG, but she picked up a Golden Globe earlier this month while Poehler and Fey gazed on from the audience.
On the film front, Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Hathaway won supporting actor honors for their work in "Lincoln" and "Les Misérables," respectively.
Jones was honored for his performance as radical Republican Senator Thaddeus Stevens, an ardent abolitionist and sometime ally of Abraham Lincoln, but was not on hand to pick up his statue.
Hathaway earned her award for her performance as an impoverished mother forced into prostitution in the hit musical. The actress took the podium to thank her co-stars in both "Les Misérables" and "The Dark Knight Rises," saying what an actor learns on one job applies to all the others.
Julianne Moore's performance as vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in HBO's "Game Change" was a hit with SAG voters, earning her Best Actress in a TV Movie or Mini-Series award even though the woman she played came up short on election night.
Kevin Costner's work as a feuding patriarch in "Hatfields & McCoys" earned him a leading actor statue in the TV Movie or Mini-Series category, although he was not in attendance.
(Ty Burrell and Sofia Vergara pictured left)
Though the SAG awards are primarily concerned with the films and television shows of the present, the ceremony paused to salute an acting icon's work. Dick Van Dyke received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his performances in such classics as "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Mary Poppins" and "Diagnosis Murder."
"Aren't we lucky to have found a line of work that doesn't require growing up," Van Dyke said in a speech that paused to recognize co-stars like Mary Tyler Moore and to poke fun at his iffy Cockney accent in "Mary Poppins."
“Skyfall” and “Game of Thrones” got the SAG Awards rolling on Sunday night, picking up honors for their stunt teams before the show even officially started. The crews of the two films received their honors on the red carpet outside the ceremony.
Although the honors are still popularly known as the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the makeup of the membership body is fundamentally altered from last year. Last March, the Screen Actors Guild merged with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists after members of the two unions overwhelmingly approved joining together.
SAG-AFTRA co-presidents Roberta Reardon and Ken Howard introduced a clip featuring testimonials from the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Morgan Freeman about the virtues of becoming the largest union in the entertainment industry.