Oscar hopes for Birdman, a satirical film about acting in the unforgiving world of show business, got an enormous lift over the weekend with big wins from the acting and producing guilds, possibly sending the comedy soaring over the perceived Academy Awards front-runner Boyhood.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's elegantly crafted backstage romp won best ensemble Sunday night at the 21st annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, a day after it also won the top honor at the Producer Guild Awards.
Both guilds are seen as highly predictive of which film will triumph at the Oscars, which will be held February. 22.
Screen Actors Guild Award Winners 2015
Best Ensemble Cast
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Best Supporting Actor
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Best Ensemble Cast, Drama Series
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Best Ensemble Cast, Comedy Series
Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
Best Actor, Drama Series
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards (Netflix)
Best Actress, Drama Series
Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)
Best Actor, Comedy Series
William H. Macy, Shameless (Showtime)
Best Actress, Comedy Series
Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
Best Actor, TV Movie or Miniseries
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart (HBO)
Best Actress, TV Movie or Miniseries
Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge (HBO)
Screen Actors Guild, Lifetime Achievement Award
While the SAG award for the best ensemble cast does not always translate to a best picture win at the Academy Awards, it does indicate that actors, the largest voting bloc for the Oscars, favor it over another strong contender, the coming of age tale Boyhood, which was shot over a 12-year span.
Michael Keaton, whose own uneven career trajectory mirrors the travails of Birdman protagonist Riggan Thomson, said he was sure the 100,000 SAG members found a kindred spirit in the film.
"I think actors loved this movie for showing the courage the actors had, going out there and laying it out on the line," Keaton said backstage. "I think that is why respectfully they thought as a group we deserved to win the prize."
He accepted the best ensemble award with his co-stars including Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis.
Birdman could cement its front-runner status for the Academy Awards if it takes the top Directors Guild Award in two weeks.
The individual acting Oscars appear to be sewn up after the SAG awards, which went to the four artists who won Golden Globes two weeks ago -- Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette and J.K. Simmons.
Although Redmayne still faces stiff competition from Birdman actor Keaton, who won the Golden Globe in the comedy category, as well as the Critics Choice Award.
SAG members prized lead performances by two actors portraying extreme illness.
Moore won best actress for her role as a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice, while British actor Redmayne took best actor for his portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking, disabled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neuron disease, in The Theory of Everything.
In his acceptance speech, Redmayne paid tribute to Hawking. “I would like to dedicate this award ... to those people around the world, to those who have lost their lives to this brutal disease," he said.
"Thank you for allowing someone who gave up science when they were 14 years old to enter your orbit," Redmayne said. "And thank you for reminding me of the overwhelming power of the will to love and the will to live every second of your life as fully and as passionately as possible."
Boyhood, from director Richard Linklater, was believed to be a favorite for the Oscar best picture just days ago as support at the Academy swelled for his tenacious project -- filming a boy's life over 12 years with the same actors and with little backing from Hollywood.
Arquette won the best supporting actress trophy for her role as the loving single mother, her first SAG in six nominations. In her acceptance speech, she thanked her thespian family, including her sister and brother, Rosanna Arquette and David Arquette, also well-known actors.
“I can't tell you what this means to me, I'm a fourth-generation actor, my family has been committed to acting for over a century through feast or famine, my father, Lewis Arquette, taught me to approach work with compassion and gratitude, and also taught me also how hard it is to make a living as an actor," Patricia Arquette said.
"Rosanna, Richmond, Alexis, David, you were my first scene partners, and my most powerful coaches,” she said, referring to her siblings.
J.K. Simmons, an actor with a long resume in television and film, was honored for his portrayal as the intense music teacher of a young jazz drummer in the independent film, Whiplash.
"I feel like all of us are supporting actors," Simmons said. "Each of us is essential, crucial, because if there's one false moment, the train comes off the rails."
Sunday's SAG Awards made two things clear: the Oscar race will be a nail-biter that likely pits Birdman against Boyhood; and the other best source of drama will probably be Keaton and Redmayne vying for best actor.
In the television awards, it was a particularly strong night for streaming company Netflix Inc. Its women's prison comedy, Orange is the New Black, won best comedy ensemble and best actress for Uzo Aduba.
Kevin Spacey won best actor in a drama series for his conniving congressman Frank Underwood in the political thriller House of Cards.
But it was also a big night for recognizing diversity in Hollywood, a much debated topic this awards season, with black actresses taking two of the top acting honors.
In addition to Aduba, Viola Davis won best actress in a drama series as the lawyer in How to Get Away with Murder.
Davis thanked the producers of the legal drama "for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old, dark-skinned African American woman who looks me."
"I love you guys so desperately, so much," Aduba told her fellow cast members as she accepted her first SAG award from her first nomination. "This is not done without you at all."
Downton Abbey, the British period series that airs on PBS, won best drama series cast.
Lifetime achievement award
The Screen Actors Guild gave its lifetime achievement award to Debbie Reynolds, 82, the wholesome star of musicals like Singin' in the Rain and a staple of film and television for 66 years.
Reynolds remembered one of her favorite films, 1964's The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
"In that movie I got to sing a wonderful song 'I Ain't Down Yet,' " said Reynolds. "Well, I ain't."
The Academy Awards will be handed out in a live telecast ceremony from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on February 22.
Material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.