SAG awards celebrate despite strike

The cast and crew of The Office hold the award for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles. The Associate Press

AP

The cast and crew of “The Office” hold the award for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles. The Associate Press

By David Germain

LOS ANGELES – Labor strife has been topping the bill in Hollywood of late, yet you wouldn’t have known it from the weekend’s awards shows: The town’s elite seemed more interested in celebrating, and “No Country for Old Men” emerged as the movie to beat at the Academy Awards.

Only one winner at the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America awards overtly mentioned the union matters that derailed the Golden Globes and jeopardize the season’s biggest party, the Academy Awards on Feb. 24.

Sunday night’s SAG awards did have its serious side, with the recent death of Heath Ledger weighing heavily on everyone’s minds and prompting a passionate tribute from lead-actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis of the oil-boom epic “There Will Be Blood.”

But mostly it was all about Joel and Ethan Coen, brothers who have done it their way with more than 20 years worth of odd and idiosyncratic films and now seem poised to collect the industry’s highest honors.

The Coens’ crime saga “No Country for Old Men” won the directing honor Saturday at the Directors Guild awards, while co-star Javier Bardem earned SAG’s supporting-actor prize and the guild chose the film for best cast performance.

“No Country” is a wild, bloody ride as a ruthless killer (supporting actor winner Javier Bardem) relentlessly traces a stash of missing drug money. True to the Coen spirit, the film spins into wildly unexpected places and leaves cryptic loose threads at the end.

“The Coen brothers are freaky little people, and we did a freaky little movie – whether you liked the ending or not,” said “No Country” co-star Josh Brolin as he accepted the cast prize on behalf of the ensemble.

Perhaps the most moving moment of the weekend came when Day-Lewis dedicated his SAG win to Ledger, found dead last week in his Manhattan loft.

Though he never met Ledger, Day-Lewis continued to share his admiration backstage, saying he felt sure the actor “would have done many wonderful things with his life.” Day-Lewis said the media and the public’s insatiable curiosity about Ledger should cease.

“I think we should leave him alone, and I think we should leave his family alone to suffer their unimaginable grief in private,” Day-Lewis said. “We should just stop encouraging people, I think, to have greater and greater interest in raking over every detail, which is none of our business.”

Both guild ceremonies were virtually free of chatter about the labor troubles involving the Writers Guild of America, whose three-month-old strike forced the Globes off the air and have thrown the fate of the Oscars into question.

Past Oscar recipient Julie Christie, SAG best-actress winner for the Alzheimer’s drama “Away From Her,” was the sole winner to touch on strike matters, noting how critical unions are.

Christie elaborated backstage, saying labor movements of the past set the stage for workers today to air grievances.

“Without them, we wouldn’t have anyone to represent our injustices, if you like, to fight for them to be turned around,” said Christie.

Writers went on strike over their share of profits from movies and films distributed on the Internet and other new media. Their talks with producers broke down Dec. 5, though many in Hollywood hope a new contract negotiated by the Directors Guild might help jump-start negotiations with writers.

As they did with the Globes, Writers Guild leaders say they will not allow members to work on the Oscars. That could prompt actors, who have been steadfast in support of writers, to skip the ceremony, leaving Hollywood’s most-watched party an affair without celebrities.

Oscar organizers insist their telecast will go on as planned.