'American Hustle' and acting Oscar frontrunners win SAG Awards

Is it all a harbinger of things to come?

<p>The cast of &quot;American&nbsp;Hustle&quot;&nbsp;accept the SAG&nbsp;Award for Outstanding Performance by an&nbsp;Ensemble in a Motion&nbsp;Picture.</p>

The cast of "American Hustle" accept the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Motion Picture.

Credit: AP Photo

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In two decades, the only years the SAG winners matched up 100% with the Academy's individual acting category winners were 2010, 2009 and 2004. Sometimes it's because the early deadline rears its head. For instance, the SAG nominating committee didn't fully catch up to "Django Unchained" last year, so they didn't even nominate eventual Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. Other times, it's category placement that causes a shift; Kate Winslet being nominated in and winning supporting for "The Reader" but going on to win lead at the Oscars. Still others, it's because the buzz wave has a certain shape to it, Oscar winners like Alan Arkin and Judi Dench supplanting SAG champs like Eddie Murphy and Kathy Bates.

So it's a fair bet that tonight's winners (with the ensemble prize subbing for "Best Picture," even though the guild doesn't quite view it that way all that time) won't all be holding matching Oscars in their hands in March. Nevertheless, I think this year might just go that way, at least in the individual acting categories, because the line-up is beginning to settle in as a sure quartet.

The evening began with Lupita Nyong'o giving yet another amazing, eloquent, natural speech that continues to make her a wonderful spokesperson for this film. One even wonders if her presence and impact on these shows might give the film an overall boost moving into the Oscar voting (which by the way, doesn't even start for another month). I fully expect her to win the Oscar as I have a hard time imagining Jennifer Lawrence walking away with two-straight wins at her age and Nyong'o is really quite undeniable. It's also the perfect way to honor "12 Years a Slave" on Oscar night with a major prize.

Jared Leto followed that up with yet another win in the supporting actor field as the path to Oscar looks pretty clear of obstacles by now. His speech, like it was at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards, was improved, thoughtful, and he's surely feeling it as "Dallas Buyers Club" looks primed (and this is amazing to say) to win three Academy Awards on Oscar night.

Speaking of "Dallas Buyers Club," Matthew McConaughey continued to run the table tonight with yet another Best Actor win and yet another smoothly delivered speech. Keep in mind, he's the only actor voters will be seeing on a weekly basis via HBO's "True Detective," putting his range and the narrative of his career right now on full display every Sunday night. He's done a great job of calling attention to this great year of work throughout the season. He's on his way.

And then, the category completely bereft of intrigue this season played out accordingly. What more can you say about Cate Blanchett at this point? And she still has ANOTHER day in the sun coming at a Santa Barbara Film Festival tribute in a few weeks. That's a runaway train.

The only intrigue, really — and interestingly — is Best Picture. And tonight's ensemble win for "American Hustle" was as predictable as the other winners. But the question is, is it the same harbinger of things to come as "Argo's" win on this night a year ago was? It very well may be. And if the film wins tomorrow night at the Producers Guild of America awards, then it's pretty much sealed, as that group is the only other one to use the preferential balloting system the Academy uses. It gets at consensus more than any other, and, well, that'll be a big clue. And if David O. Russell wins the DGA prize next weekend? I imagine all doubters will hop on board at that point, but all eyes are on PGA now. How will the producers shift up the race? Or will they?

If you want to relive the evening, be sure to check out Dan Fienberg's live blog.

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Kristopher Tapley
Editor-at-Large
Kristopher Tapley has covered the film awards landscape for over a decade. He founded In Contention in 2005. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London and Variety. He begs you not to take any of this too seriously.
2013-2014 OSCAR NOMINATIONS
UPDATED: MARCH 2, 2014