'The Help,' Jean Dujardin snag surprise wins at SAGs
Finally, an awards show with some surprises and spontaneity.
Sunday's Screen Actors Guild Awards featured some unexpected winners, including "The Help" for best overall cast performance and Jean Dujardin for best actor in "The Artist," alongside some of the longtime favorites in movies and television.
But there was a looseness and a playfulness that permeated the Shrine Exposition Center on Sunday night — maybe because it was a room full of people who love to perform, without the rigidity of one single host to lead them.
Unlike the great expectations that came with the sharp-tongued Ricky Gervais' reprisal at the Golden Globes a couple weeks ago or the much-anticipated return of Billy Crystal to the Academy Awards next month, there was no master of ceremonies at the SAG Awards.
And so there were three of the stars of best-cast nominee "Bridesmaids" — Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy — introducing their comedy with a joke about turning the name "Scorsese" into a drinking game, which became a running gag throughout the night. When HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" won the award for best drama series cast, among the first words star Steve Buscemi uttered in accepting the prize were "Martin Scorsese" — who just happens to be one of the show's executive producers.
One of the more exciting moments of the night was the announcement of Mr. Dujardin's name in the best-actor category for his performance in the silent black-and-white homage "The Artist." In winning the award for his portrayal of a silent-film star who finds his career in decline with the arrival of talkies, Mr. Dujardin boosts his chances at the Oscars. Little-known in the United States before this, the French comic bested bigger names including George Clooney ("The Descendants"), Brad Pitt ("Moneyball") and Leonardo DiCaprio ("J. Edgar").
Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer continued to cement their front-runner status in the actress and supporting actress categories, respectively, for their work in "The Help." Both women play black maids in 1960s Mississippi who dare to go public about the bigotry they've endured.
Meanwhile, Christopher Plummer picked up yet another supporting-actor prize for his turn as an elderly widower who finally comes out as gay in "Beginners." Mr. Plummer won at the Golden Globes and is nominated for an Oscar. He would become the oldest actor ever to win an Academy Award at age 82, two years older than Jessica Tandy was when she won best actress for "Driving Miss Daisy."
The win for overall cast for "The Help," when "The Artist" and "The Descendants" have been the favorites all along, makes the conversation more interesting but it isn't necessarily an indicator of how the film will do come Oscar time. The guild's ensemble prize, considered its equivalent of a best-picture honor, has a spotty record at predicting what will win the top award at the Oscars.
On the television side, comedy series awards went to "Modern Family" for best ensemble; Alec Baldwin as best actor for "30 Rock"; and Betty White as best actress for "Hot in Cleveland." The TV drama show winners were: Jessica Lange as best actress for "American Horror Story"; and Mr. Buscemi as best actor for "Boardwalk Empire."
Madonna's charity in Malawi to break ground on schools
Nearly six years after it was created, Madonna's Raising Malawi charity is set to break ground on the construction of schools in the impoverished country, but they will be run by the local community, not the superstar's organization.
According to organizers, work on the first school will start March 30 in the Kasungu area, about 80 miles from the capital of Lilongwe, and all of the schools should be built by June 2013. Raising Malawi is providing $300,000 to the nongovernmental organization buildOn to develop the schools. They'll serve about 1,000 boys and girls in the southern African nation.
"This remains a very big priority in my life and I am excited that with the help of buildOn we can maintain our ongoing commitment to move forward efficiently," Madonna said in a statement provided to the Associated Press.
Raising Malawi originally intended to build all-girls schools that the organization would run. The new plan calls for "simple structures" that will be more practical and better serve Raising Malawi's original mission, said Trevor Neilson, who is helping to direct the project as partner of the Global Philanthropy Group. The approach will allow the program to serve twice as many children as before, Madonna said.
Black opera pioneer Camilla Williams dies at 92
Black opera pioneer Camilla Williams has died in Bloomington, Ind. She was 92.
Ms. Williams' attorney, Eric Slotegraaf, said in a statement that the soprano died Sunday. Indiana University Jacobs School of Music spokesman Alain Barker said Ms. Williams died of complications from cancer.
The school said Ms. Williams became the first black female to appear with a major U.S. opera company when she debuted May 15, 1946, with the New York City Opera in the title role of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly."
She became the first black professor of voice at Indiana University in 1977 and retired in 1997.
• Compiled from Web and wire service reports.