In this screengrab Aaron Sorkin accepts the Best Director Award for 'The Trial of the Chicago 7' during the Movies for Grownups Awards with AARP the Magazine broadcast. - AFP photos

"The Trial Of The Chicago 7" was judged the year's best performance at the prestigious Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday-a verdict that strengthens the film's case for the Oscars later this month. Aaron Sorkin's courtroom drama based on 1968 US anti-war riots-and the infamous trial that followed-took top honors at the prize-giving, which was whittled down to a virtual one-hour broadcast due to the pandemic. "We need leaders to guide us toward hating each other less," said Frank Langella, who plays the civil rights-themed film's racist judge.

"We owe a debt of thanks to the voices of the Chicago 7 -- and especially Aaron Sorkin, our leader-whose voice is the soul of this movie," he added, referring to the trial's seven defendants. Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer last August, was posthumously voted best actor for 1920s blues drama "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" by Hollywood's actors guild. The SAG awards are a vital stop on Tinseltown's annual prize-giving circuit, which climaxes this year with the delayed Academy Awards on April 25.

In this screenshot (from top left to bottom right) John Carroll Lynch,Sacha Baron Cohen, Alex Sharp, Eddie Redmayne, Michael Keaton, Mark Rylance, Frank Langella and Kevin Harrison Jr. accept the award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture ("The Trial of the Chicago 7").

Typically a star-studded ceremony in their own right, the SAG awards were a pre-taped, hostless and bare-bones affair Sunday-but they remain a key predictor of glory at the Oscars, where actors are the largest voting bloc. Last year, South Korea's "Parasite" began its historic charge to the best picture Oscar by winning SAG's top prize for best performance by a motion picture cast.

While Chloe Zhao's road movie "Nomadland" remains the favorite for this year's top Oscar, having already won multiple awards including Golden Globes, it did not even receive a cast nomination from SAG. In the film, several non-actors play fictional versions of themselves. "Nomadland" star Frances McDormand also failed to convert her SAG best actress nomination, losing out to Boseman's "Ma Rainey" co-star Viola Davis.

'Beautiful Chadwick'

Davis thanked "the beautiful Chadwick Boseman," while his widow Taylor Simone Ledward-accepting his prize-quoted Boseman: "If you see the world unbalanced, be a crusader that pushes heavily on the seesaw of the mind." The late "Black Panther" actor was also honored in the annual "in memoriam" segment, along with leading stars who died this year including Sean Connery and Christopher Plummer. In a year that has seen Hollywood boost minority representation on both sides of the camera, Daniel Kaluuya was named best supporting actor for his portrayal of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah."

And veteran Yuh-jung Youn confirmed SAG's newfound love affair with South Korean cinema. She went one better than "Parasite" by winning an individual SAG prize-supporting actress-for "Minari," an immigrant tale set in 1980s Arkansas. "I don't know how to describe my feelings, being recognized by Westerners... everything is not familiar!" she said, visibly shocked and in slightly broken English. But the film, along with "Ma Rainey," "One Night in Miami" and "Da 5 Bloods"-all featuring Black casts-lost the night's final prize to "Chicago 7," which now has the best shot at unseating "Nomadland" as Oscars voting begins April 15.

'Big night'

The ceremony opened with a skit from the British soccer team of "Ted Lasso," with Jason Sudeikis-the comedy's clueless American coach-giving a rallying team talk: "Y'all, let's focus up. We've got a big night ahead of us, the SAG Awards." Sudeikis was named best TV comedy actor, while "Schitt's Creek" took the other comedy prizes, including Catherine O'Hara for best actress.

Awards were interspersed with actors reflecting on their careers, and how they spent their pandemic-confined year-Helen Mirren apparently "chased away" a bear from her home in the western US Sierra Nevada mountains. British royals saga "The Crown" won best drama, with its star Gillian Anderson earning best actress. Jason Bateman won the male drama prize for "Ozark." In limited series, Mark Ruffalo and Anya Taylor-Joy followed up their Golden Globe wins for "I Know This Much Is True" and "The Queen's Gambit." - AFP