Another week, another awards show, and the Oscar situation looks as up in the air as ever.
"Little Miss Sunshine" took the Screen Actors Guild's ensemble prize Sunday night, the group's equivalent of a best picture award. Top acting honors, however, went to obvious front-runners Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson.
"Sunshine," the low-budget, road-trip charmer, came out of the Sundance Film Festival and bested bigger studio competition in "The Departed," "The Queen," "Babel" (which took the best-drama statue two weeks ago at the Golden Globes) and "Dreamgirls" (which won the Globe for best musical or comedy).
The SAG win for "Little Miss Sunshine," coupled with its unexpected victory at the Producers Guild Awards, would seem to improve the film's prospects at the Oscars, where it's in the best-picture category with "Babel," "The Departed," "Letters From Iwo Jima" and "The Queen."
Three out of the past four years, the SAG ensemble winner has won at the Academy Awards -- "Crash," "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and "Chicago." They don't usually line up, though, and they differed two years ago when SAG honored "Sideways" and the Academy Award went to "Million Dollar Baby."
"I think we feel good. Does anybody not feel good? Raise your hand," said Greg Kinnear, who played the harried dad in "Sunshine," as he turned to co-stars Alan Arkin, Steve Carell and Abigail Breslin.
Asked what an Oscar would mean, Kinnear said, "It would mean a great deal to all of us. Making a movie isn't always a great experience, that's the facts. This really was a remarkable experience."
Whitaker won best actor for his thunderous turn as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland," with Mirren taking the best actress statue for her searing portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen."
Mirren seemed visibly stirred by her best-actress win (her second award of the night), beginning her acceptance speech at the Shrine Auditorium with a shaky, "Be still my beating heart, be still.
"When I did my costume fitting for 'The Queen,' I walked in and saw all those sensible shoes and those tweed skirts, laid out in a row, and I cried. I thought, 'I can't play anyone who chooses to wear those clothes, I just can't do it.' I learned to love the person who chooses to wear those clothes."
Earlier in the evening, Mirren won for best actress in a TV movie or miniseries for her portrayal of another queen in "Elizabeth I."
She was demure backstage about whether she wants the Oscar, and about the universal acclaim she's received for her performance. She pointed out that the last time she won a SAG award was for playing a housekeeper in "Gosford Park," which won the ensemble prize in 2002.
"So I do downstairs as well as upstairs," she quipped.
Whitaker, meanwhile, was soft-spoken and humble: "It's been an amazing ride, not a ride I'm used to. I've never had it."
Murphy won the supporting-actor award for his work as a tormented, drug-addicted soul singer in "Dreamgirls." His co-star, Hudson, received the supporting-actress award as the splashy musical's rejected diva, who steals scenes with her show-stopping numbers.
"I just want to thank you for noticing little ol' me, and for accepting me," said Hudson, a former "American Idol" contestant who looks more destined than ever for Oscar greatness.
Although this was an unusual dramatic role for Murphy, he couldn't help but joke onstage, accepting the award in a fake British accent.
"I've been acting for some 25 years now and this is a tremendous honor to me. No, I'm sorry," he said, cracking up. "It's just when the British people come up and get the awards, it's so smooth with their stuff. And I feel goofy up here 'cause I don't be winning stuff."
Backstage, Murphy said he and his "Dreamgirls" castmates were as surprised as everyone else that the film received a leading eight Oscar nominations but not one for best picture.
"We got eight nominations, that was a great thing. We were happy about that," he said. "I was so happy to be nominated, I wasn't feeling disappointment about anything. I was caught off guard that we didn't get nominated for best picture but I've just been happy, nonstop happy."
On the television side of the awards, "Grey's Anatomy" won best dramatic series on the heels of its Golden Globe victory and in the midst of its off-screen troubles involving homophobic slurs uttered by actor Isaiah Washington, who has since entered counseling.
"Grey's" co-star Chandra Wilson, in accepting the award for best actress in a drama, addressed the matter with humor: "It's about those 10 cast members sitting over there, and the other one in rehab."
America Ferrera, two weeks after her surprise Golden Globe win, took the prize for best actress in a comedy series for her starring role as a sweetly awkward fashion magazine worker in "Ugly Betty."
Discussing the unprecedented success for the show, which has a largely Hispanic cast, Ferrera said: "What's great is that Latinos are a huge part of the audience. It's wonderful for them to begin to see representation of themselves on screen, which is something I pined for when I was younger."
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