SAG Awards: With Critics Choice, Globes, PGA and SAG Wins, 'Argo' Now Challenges 'Lincoln' (VIDEO)

Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck accepted the Modern Master Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Friday night, and at the after party, grilled me about where "Argo" stood in the Oscar race. A lot of people thought the movie might win the Producers Guild's top award Saturday, and so it did. But few expected it to also win the SAG Ensemble Award–that was supposed to be a win for "Lincoln" or Harvey Weinstein's "Silver Linings Playbook."

Sure, "Lincoln" nabbed the expected Daniel Day-Lewis win (he also accepted the Montecito Award at SBIFF on Saturday). Oddly, Day-Lewis praised non-SAG nominee Joachim Phoenix and thanked Leonardo DiCaprio and Liam Neeson for counseling him when he was unsure about tackling Lincoln; he considers himself one of a line of actors bringing the president back to life, carrying the baton for a while and pasing it on. "It was an actor who murdered Abraham Lincoln," he also mused.

His Oscar win would mark an unprecedented third for a lead actor. Jack Nicholson, Gary Cooper, Fredric March and Marlon Brando have won two lead Oscars. And Katharine Hepburn earned four. 'Lincoln" also racked up a less-surefire win for no-show Tommy Lee Jones, who gains stature in the supporting Oscar actor race.

When Jessica Chastain soberly introduced the annual obit clip reel, the negativity on Twitter was astounding. She had earned so much good will and now her tough-as-nails role in "Zero Dark Thirty" seems to have tainted this likable and talented actress. Some folks wanted her to show how light and lovely (read feminine) she could be. Why so serious, Jessica? was the vibe.

"Silver Linings Playbook" best female actor winner Jennifer Lawrence gave a strong acceptance speech on the road to her now inevitable Oscar. (Her Sweet 16 video that earned her a SAG card is below.) THR's Scott Feinberg reminds that the SAG best actress winner has become the Academy's best actress winner in six of the last ten years… but not last year, when SAG winner Viola Davis lost to Meryl Streep. Of course, "Amour" veteran Emmanuelle Riva was not up for a SAG award, and could still prove a competitor to Lawrence. Sony Pictures Classics bought "Amour" spots on the SAG show, as did "Silver Linings Playbook." (Disney's ads for Sam Raimi's March 8 release "Oz the Great and Powerful" made it look over-pixelated and overwrought.)

And "Les Miserables" supporting actress Anne Hathaway is also unstoppable for an Oscar win; she thanked "my mother for voting for me." (She also played Fantine.)

But "Argo" winning the SAG ensemble prize: now that's an indication that the actors in the Academy are leaning that way too. Alan Arkin is the film's only acting nomination and he's not expected to win. "Lincoln," until now, was the presumed frontrunner. Now "Lincoln" and "Argo" are neck and neck. An exuberant Affleck reminded viewers that he handled 150 actors in English and Farsi who "came to work every day and wanted to nail it to make the movie better. That's what actors do every day."

Obviously, "Argo" director Affleck is an actor, and therefore has a tremendous advantage with this group. Also, many rallied to the popular actor-director when his name was not called for Best Director on Oscar nominations morning. (It is statistically rare for a movie to win best picture without a best director nomination. "Driving Miss Daisy" is the exception that proves the rule.) While many Academy members have told me that "Argo" lacks the gravitas to beat "Lincoln," that it doesn't seem like a best-picture winner, these awards build momentum. Case in point: the Directors Guild Awards. A Steven Spielberg win would shore up "Lincoln"'s run toward best picture. (Kris Tapley and I argued the case of "Argo" vs. "Lincoln" here, before the weekend.)

Awards Daily's Sasha Stone reminds that "Apollo 13" won the Golden Globe, PGA, SAG, DGA and lost the Oscar to "Braveheart." Somehow, "Apollo 13," from actor-director Ron Howard, lacked the gravitas that actor-director Mel Gibson's film represented. That's the issue here. The PGA, SAG and DGA are more mainstream groups than the Academy.

On the television side, it was great to see "Downton Abbey" win best dramatic series ensemble with its first nomination; female actor in drama series was expected, Claire Danes, winning her second SAG award, for "Homeland." Damian Lewis was the favorite for male actor but lost in an upset to first-time winner Bryan Cranston, for "Breaking Bad." It was their last chance to give it to him. "It's so good to be bad," he said. Julianne Moore won her first SAG award after ten nominations for playing Sarah Palin in "Game Change," well-deserved.

The comedy ensemble win was the third for "Modern Family," and "30 Rock"'s Tina Fey nabbed her fifith SAG award, thanking her Golden Globes co-host Amy Poehler, "who I've known since she was pregnant with Lena Dunham." Accepting his eighth SAG award, for supporting actor on "30 Rock," was Alec Baldwin, who did a fine job introducing hale live achievement honoree Dick Van Dyke–who rewarded him by stumbling over his name.

By Anne Thompson

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