Burt Reynolds with Charles Durning, the Guild's Life Achievement Award recipient, and Ruby Dee, with her Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding female in a supporting role as Mama Lucas in "American Gangster" last night at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, which celebrated the Guild's 75th anniversary.  (Photos: WireImage)

On Its 75th Birthday, A Big Country For Screen Acting Legends

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

LOS ANGELES - Sunday, January 27, 2008

The actors have spoken, and tonight they spoke some more.

The Fourteenth Edition of the Screen Actors Guild Awards went off without a hitch here, and on the motion picture side the Guild honored both legends and diversity in its 75th year of existence.  Charles Durning received the Guild’s Life Achievement Award.  For decades Mr. Durning gained acclaim for his many character portrayals and prior to his speech a litany of his roles flashed across the screen.  During his speech he joked about getting off the stage “before they dim the lights and mischief takes place – and I’ll be one among them,” said Durning, who will turn 85 at the end of next month.  Mr. Durning, in addition to being an actor of stage and screen, was a World War Two POW, a professional boxer and a dance instructor.

Mickey Rooney, 87 years young going on 60, eloquently conveyed his passion for the actors in the room and for the craft.  He soaked up a standing ovation.

Ruby Dee, 83, and one of America’s legendary cinema deans, was awarded the Actor for outstanding performance by a female actor in a supporting role in the film “American Gangster” by her peers, making her a presumptive favorite to win next month at the 80th Academy Awards.  In something of an upset, she emerged victorious from a field that some viewed as formidable, a field including Cate Blanchett, Amy Ryan and Tilda Swinton.  Lest some think that there was superior work in the category to Ms. Dee’s, the award may have seen by some as more of a thank-you for an illustrative career that has spanned more than four decades, than for her performance as Mama Lucas in Ridley Scott’s film.  Dee appeared surprised and slightly shaken as she received the acting award.  She paid tribute to Harlem, the film's backdrop and the community in which she was raised, and cited her late husband Ossie Davis, whom she said was “working on some good things up there” for her.

Julie Christie, 66, was the recipient of the top award for female actors, winning outstanding performance in a leading role for “Away From Her”, playing Fiona, a married woman afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Ms. Christie has never married in real-life and had never won a Screen Actors Guild Award until tonight.  The British actress, most memorable in “Shampoo” in the mid-seventies, is heavily favored to go home with Oscar next month.  In thanking her peers for the award, Miss Christie joked, "if I forget anyone else's names, it's because I'm still in character."

While the night was one for acting veterans, the younger set also had its moment in the sun, with Daniel Day-Lewis winning the top acting award for male actors with his portrayal of sociopath oil prospector Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood”.  Mr. Day-Lewis, a rigorous method actor who performs once every five or six years, or when the right project suits him, told of how his motivation for the craft of acting had waned.  In a sincere tribute to the recently-departed Heath Ledger, he attributed the late actor in helping him to overcome his struggle to stay motivated as an actor.  Mr. Day-Lewis, from Ireland, also mentioned Mr. Ledger’s performance in “Brokeback Mountain”, hailing Ledger's final scene in a trailer as one of the most moving and memorable things he had ever seen.

And youth was also served with Javier Bardem winning outstanding male actor in a supporting role for “No Country For Old Men”, playing psychopathic menace Anton Chigurh in Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s film.  Mr. Bardem in his speech referred to the times in his native Spain when prostitutes and homosexuals were not buried when they died, a moment which had one or two in the audience ballroom a little off guard.  The cast of “No Country” also took home the top award of the night as best ensemble acting cast, and in the acceptance speech Josh Brolin, one of the film's actors, took the time to gleefully announce that the Hollywood studio system had been regressing –- the Coen Brothers film was independently financed through mini-majors Miramax and Paramount Vantage.  “The Coen Brothers are freaky little people and this is a freaky little movie,” Mr. Brolin playfully intoned, adding that he liked and appreciated the film's ending.  Other cast members joined him on stage, including Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and Mr. Bardem, whom Mr. Brolin joked “received his 497th award tonight.”

Amid the Writers’ Guild strike, with which numerous actors expressed solidarity throughout the night, the celebration of acting was ever-present, most importantly with the Screen Actors Guild’s In Memoriam tribute, which ended with Mr. Ledger’s image being displayed.

A night for actors, undoubtedly.

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  2008.  All Rights Reserved.


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