A puzzling Academy Awards season will sort itself out a bit more on Sunday with the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where top performers gather to honor their own in what often is a prelude for who'll go home with an Oscar.
Among nominees for the 19th annual guild awards are Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones for the Civil War epic "Lincoln"; Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway for the Victor Hugo musical adaptation "Les Miserables"; and Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Oscar recipient Robert De Niro for the oddball romance "Silver Linings Playbook."
De Niro and Jones are in an exclusive supporting-actors group where all five nominees are past Oscar winners. The others are Alan Arkin for the Iran hostage-crisis thriller "Argo," Javier Bardem for the James Bond adventure "Skyfall" and Philip Seymour Hoffman for the cult drama "The Master."
Honors from the actors union, next weekend's Directors Guild of America Awards and Saturday night's Producers Guild of America Awards — whose top honor went to "Argo" — typically help to establish clear favorites for the Oscars.
But Oscar night on Feb. 24 looks more uncertain this time after some top directing prospects, including Ben Affleck for "Argo" and Kathryn Bigelow for "Zero Dark Thirty," missed out on nominations. Both films were nominated for best picture, but a movie rarely wins the top Oscar if its director is not also in the running.
Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" would seem the Oscar favorite with 12 nominations. Yet "Argo" and Affleck were surprise best-drama and director winners at the Golden Globes, and then there's Saturday's Producers Guild win for "Argo," leaving the Oscar race looking like anybody's guess.
The Screen Actors Guild honors at least should help to establish solid front-runners for the stars. All four of the guild's individual acting winners often go on to receive the same prizes at the Academy Awards.
Last year, the guild went just three-for-four — with lead actor Jean Dujardin of "The Artist" and supporting players Octavia Spencer of "The Help" and Christopher Plummer of "Beginners" also taking home Oscars. The guild's lead-actress winner, Viola Davis of "The Help," missed out on the Oscar, which went to Meryl Streep for "The Iron Lady."
The guild also presents an award for overall cast performance, its equivalent of a best-picture honor. The nominees are "Argo," ''The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," ''Les Miserables," ''Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook."
Yet the cast prize has a spotty record at predicting the eventual best-picture recipient at the Oscars. Only eight of 17 times since the guild added the category has the cast winner gone on to take the best-picture Oscar. "The Help" won the guild's cast prize last year, while Oscar voters named "The Artist" as best picture.
Such past guild cast winners as "The Birdcage," ''Gosford Park" and "Inglourious Basterds" also failed to take the top Oscar.
Airing live on TNT and TBS, the show features nine television categories, as well.
The SAG ceremony also includes awards for film and TV stunt ensemble. The film stunt nominees are "The Amazing Spider-Man," ''The Bourne Legacy," ''The Dark Knight Rises," ''Les Miserables" and "Skyfall."
Receiving the guild's life-achievement award is Dick Van Dyke, who presented the same prize last year to his "The Dick Van Dyke Show" co-star, Mary Tyler Moore. Van Dyke's award will be presented by his 1960s sitcom's creator and co-star, Carl Reiner, and Alec Baldwin.