By DAVID GERMAIN
LOS ANGELES — This year’s Screen Actors Guild Awards appeared to be a dress rehearsal for the Academy Awards. Nominees in the four film-acting categories for tonight's 13th annual guild awards were virtually identical to contenders announced at the Oscar nominations last week, including front-runners Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson. With 19 of the 20 SAG nominees also earning Oscar slots, the guild awards are poised to give winners a chance to practice their academy thank-yous for Hollywood’s top prizes Feb. 25. ...
The lead-acting honors are favored to go to Mirren as British monarch Elizabeth II in ‘‘The Queen’’ and Whitaker as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in ‘‘The Last King of Scotland.’’ Mirren and Whitaker have dominated earlier film honors throughout the awards season.
Murphy and Hudson are solid bets to take home supporting prizes as soulful singers in the musical ‘‘Dreamgirls.’’
The category for overall ensemble cast, the guild’s equivalent of a best-picture award, include three of the best-picture Oscar contenders: the sprawling global drama ‘‘Babel,’’ the mob epic ‘‘The Departed’’ and the edgy road-trip comedy ‘‘Little Miss Sunshine.’’
‘‘Dreamgirls,’’ which had been considered a potential best-picture favorite at the Academy Awards, also is among the guild cast nominees, yet is shut out of the nominations for the top Oscar. The other cast nominee is the Robert Kennedy tale ‘‘Bobby.’’
Besides the five film prizes, the guild also honors television achievement in eight categories. Among this year’s nominees are Mirren for best actress in a movie or miniseries as the current monarch’s namesake and predecessor in ‘‘Elizabeth I.’’
The ensemble-cast winner may get a boost for best picture at the Oscars, though the guild category has never been a reliable forecast for how the Oscars might play out. In the 11 years since the guild added the ensemble honor, only five winners have gone on to receive the best-picture Oscar, including 2005’s ‘‘Crash.’’
Past guild ensemble winners include ‘‘Sideways,’’ ‘‘Gosford Park,’’ ‘‘Apollo 13’’ and ‘‘The Birdcage,’’ none of which won the best-picture Oscar.
The guild’s individual-acting winners fare much better on Oscar night because many of the voters for that category are also members of the academy’s actors branch, which chooses the acting Oscars.
Three of the four guild winners for 2005 — Philip Seymour Hoffman of ‘‘Capote,’’ Reese Witherspoon of ‘‘Walk the Line’’ and Rachel Weisz of ‘‘The Constant Gardener’’ — all went on to receive Oscars, while all four guild acting winners for 2004 won at the Oscars.
The 13th annual SAG awards also are recognizing Julie Andrews for lifetime achievement.
Film and TV nominees were chosen by two groups of 2,100 people randomly chosen from the guild’s 120,000 members. The guild’s full membership was eligible to vote for winners.