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Sunday, 11 March, 2001, 11:31 GMT
Oscars race: Favourites emerge
Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts
Strong contenders: Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts
By BBC News Online's New York entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

Two major Hollywood awards ceremonies, staged by screen actors and directors, are expected to bring clarity to the Oscars race - possibly establishing clear frontrunners among nominees in key categories.

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) award for directorial achievement went to Ang Lee for his epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on Saturday night.


Crouching Tiger: Is an Oscar on the cards?
The award boosts his chances of winning the best director award at the Oscars considerably.

The DGA has an impressive track record because the winner of their best feature film directing award has gone on to pick up the best director Oscar on all but four occasions in the last 50 years.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards on Sunday night could give a strong indication of which of two favourites, Tom Hanks or Russell Crowe, will win the best actor Oscar.

Since the SAG Awards began in 1995 its choice of best actor has matched the Academy on every single occasion.

Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe has been the focus of an kidnap plot
The prevailing wisdom is that Crowe's charismatic portrayal of the Roman warrior general Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator has given him Oscars frontrunner status.

But he's in a very close race with Hanks who has been nominated for his role as the island survivor in Cast Away.

Foregone conclusion

Although Hanks is extremely popular in Hollywood the SAG trophy is awarded by actors.

They may want to make up for last year when they failed to bestow a prize upon Crowe for his highly nuanced portrayal of a tobacco industry whistleblower in The Insider.

If Crowe wins the SAG Award it will probably bring him extra votes from Academy members - and it could put the Oscar trophy within his grasp.


Jollity at the SAG Awards may be interspersed with political activism because of the possibility of a looming actors strike that threatens to cripple Hollywood

In the best actress race it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Julia Roberts will win the SAG award for best leading actress for her portrayal of a feisty legal secretary in Erin Brockovich, boosting her chances of taking home her first Oscar.

If Roberts doesn't win, a scenario that is seen as extremely unlikely, it would be a major upset and create a wave of speculation about her Oscar fortunes.

The outcome of the SAG Awards supporting actress race may prove decisive in anointing an Oscars frontrunner.

In what is widely seen as one of the more unpredictable contests many believe Kate Hudson is the popular favourite for her role as rock groupie Penny Lane in Almost Famous.

Support

But Hudson is up against another strong Almost Famous contender, Frances McDormand, as well as Dame Judi Dench who's been nominated for her small role as a crusty matriarch in Chocolat.

Athough Dench is well liked, there's no great momentum in her favour this year. The same applies to Kate Winslet nominated for her role in Quills.

But the remaining supporting actress contender, Julie Walters, who portrays a tough but loving ballet teacher in Billy Elliot, has a lot of support and could if lucky emerge as the SAG Awards victor.

Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts has won a Golden Globe and the People's Choice for Best Actress this year
If she does, then her chances of walking away with an Oscar in two weeks time improve immeasurably.

In the supporting actor category the SAG awards are not going to provide much insight into the likely Oscar winner because a strong favourite, Benicio Del Toro, isn't running in the category.

Del Toro, who plays a Mexican cop in Traffic has instead been given a SAG nomination in the leading actor race.

However, if Albert Finney takes home the SAG award for his role opposite Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich it will suggest that he, and Del Toro, are the two strongest favourites to win the Oscar for best supporting actor.

Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott: No DGA award but the Oscar chance remains

Strike

Among the celebrities handing out the trophies will be the beleaguered, but popular, Robert Downey Junior who was arrested at the end of last year on drugs possession charges.

Jollity at the SAG Awards may be interspersed with political activism because of the possibility of a looming actors strike that threatens to cripple Hollywood.

Some winners may take advantage of their moment in the spotlight to state their views on the controversial strike.

The producers of the awards telecast say they have no intention of cutting anyone off.

The combination of possible political activism, Hollywood glitz and glamour, and an awards show that promises to bring clarity to the Oscars race should make for an entertaining evening.

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