- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

LOS ANGELES — “The Dark Knight” won the Screen Actors Guild Award for best movie stunt ensemble on Sunday, while “Heroes” took the same prize for television.

The honors were announced on the red carpet arrivals area before the SAG Awards, one of Hollywood’s last big ceremonies on the road to the Feb. 22 Academy Awards, whose nominations have lined up to make the SAG honors a real prelude to the Oscars.

Just three days before the SAG Awards, the Oscar acting categories came out virtually in sync with the guild picks, with 18 out of 20 performers competing for the same prizes at both shows.

The lead-acting categories are almost identical for the two ceremonies, with the same people in the running. The only difference: Kate Winslet is nominated as best actress by SAG for “Revolutionary Road,” while Oscar voters picked her in that category for her other 2008 drama, “The Reader.”

Among other lead-acting nominees for SAG and the Oscars: Meryl Streep for “Doubt”; Anne Hathaway for “Rachel Getting Married”; Sean Penn for “Milk”; Mickey Rourke for “The Wrestler”; and a Hollywood power couple, Brad Pitt for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Angelina Jolie for “Changeling.”

The two supporting categories each have only one difference between the two shows. For supporting actress at SAG, Winslet was nominated for “The Reader,” but her slot at the Oscars was taken by Marisa Tomei for “The Wrestler.” Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire” had a SAG supporting-actor nomination, but he missed out at the Oscars; Michael Shannon of “Revolutionary Road” grabbed a spot instead.

SAG supporting-actress nominee Taraji P. Henson, who’s also nominated for an Oscar for her work in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” was among the first stars to arrive. Henson signed autographs for fans and posed for photos before talking to media on the red carpet.

“The fans are why I am who I am,” Henson said. “If I don’t show love to the fans, they won’t show love to me.”

The late Heath Ledger loomed large at last year’s ceremony, his death coming just five days before the SAG Awards. Actors spoke reverently of him, and Daniel Day-Lewis dedicated his best-actor win for “There Will Be Blood” to Ledger.

This time, Ledger is viewed as a near lock to win the supporting-actor honor for his ferocious reinvention of Batman villain the Joker in “The Dark Knight.”

Other SAG supporting-actor contenders include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis for “Doubt”; Robert Downey Jr. for “Tropic Thunder”; Penelope Cruz for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”; and Josh Brolin for “Milk.”

Nominated for overall cast performance are four of the five best-picture Oscar contenders: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” ”Frost/Nixon,” ”Milk” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” The fifth SAG cast nomination went to “Doubt,” while “The Reader” has the fifth Oscar best-picture spot.

While individual categories at SAG are a solid forecast for who might win at the Academy Awards, the overall-cast category has a spotty record at predicting the Oscars.

“No Country for Old Men” won at both SAG and the Oscars last year. But winners in those categories have lined up at both shows just six out of 13 years since SAG added the cast honor.

Airing live on TNT and TBS, the 15th annual SAG Awards will include a lifetime-achievement honor for James Earl Jones.

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