By Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Labor strife has been topping the bill in Hollywood of late, yet you wouldn't have known it from the weekend's awards shows: The town's elite seemed more interested in celebrating, and "No Country for Old Men" emerged as the movie to beat at the Academy Awards.
Only one winner at the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America awards overtly mentioned the union matters that derailed the Golden Globes and jeopardizes the season's biggest party, the Academy Awards on Feb. 24.
Sunday night's SAG awards did have its serious side, with the recent death of Heath Ledger weighing heavily on everyone's minds and prompting a passionate tribute from lead-actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis of the oil-boom epic "There Will Be Blood."
But mostly it was all about Joel and Ethan Coen, brothers who have done it their way with more than 20 years worth of odd and idiosyncratic films and now seem poised to collect the industry's highest honors.
The Coens' crime saga "No Country for Old Men" won the directing honor Saturday at the Directors Guild awards, while co-star Javier Bardem earned SAG's supporting-actor prize and the guild chose the film for best cast performance.
"No Country" is a wild, bloody ride as a ruthless killer (supporting actor winner Javier Bardem) relentlessly traces a stash of missing drug money. True to the Coen spirit, the film spins into wildly unexpected places and leaves cryptic loose threads at the end.
"The Coen brothers are freaky little people, and we did a freaky little movie - whether you liked the ending or not," said "No Country" co-star Josh Brolin as he accepted the cast prize on behalf of the ensemble.
Perhaps the most moving moment of the weekend came when Day-Lewis dedicated his SAG win to Ledger, found dead last week in his Manhattan loft. The cause of the 28-year-old actor's death had not yet been determined.
Though he never met Ledger, Day-Lewis continued to share his admiration backstage, saying he felt sure the actor "would have done many wonderful things with his life." Day-Lewis said the media and the public's insatiable curiosity about Ledger should cease.
"I think we should leave him alone, and I think we should leave his family alone to suffer their unimaginable grief in private," Day-Lewis said. "We should just stop encouraging people, I think, to have greater and greater interest in raking over every detail, which is none of our business."
Both guild ceremonies were virtually free of chatter about the labor troubles involving the Writers Guild of America, whose three-month-old strike forced the Globes off the air and have thrown the fate of the Oscars into question.
Past Oscar recipient Julie Christie, SAG best-actress winner for the Alzheimer's drama "Away From Her," was the sole winner to touch on strike matters, noting how critical unions are.
Christie elaborated backstage, saying labor movements of the past set the stage for workers today to air grievances.
"Without them, we wouldn't have anyone to represent our injustices, if you like, to fight for them to be turned around," said Christie, whose win may position her for the best-actress Oscar 42 years after she won the same prize for "Darling." "To stand up and say this is unfair, do something about it. You have to have a union to do that."
Writers went on strike over their share of profits from movies and films distributed on the Internet and other new media. Their talks with producers broke down Dec. 5, though many in Hollywood hope a new contract negotiated by the Directors Guild might help jump-start negotiations with writers.
As they did with the Globes, Writers Guild leaders say they will not allow members to work on the Oscars. That could prompt actors, who have been steadfast in support of writers, to skip the ceremony, leaving Hollywood's most-watched party an affair without celebrities.
Oscar organizers insist their telecast will go on as planned.
SAG typically is an also-ran to the Oscars and Globes. But if the Oscars end up a celebrity-free zone or the show is called off altogether, SAG could be remembered as the one party untouched by the strike.
Writers rewarded actors for their support by giving the SAG show their blessing, allowing it to go off without any pickets or protests.
Most nominees were on hand, along with such presenters as Tom Cruise, Kate Hudson, Holly Hunter and Forest Whitaker.
Actors bid fond farewell to one of TV's most-acclaimed series ever as "The Sopranos" swept the dramatic categories, grabbing the lead-acting honors for James Gandolfini and Edie Falco and the overall cast award.
A revered actress, 83-year-old Ruby Dee, won the supporting-actress honor for the crime story "American Gangster."
Dee, also a supporting-actor Oscar nominee, shared fond thoughts of her late husband and frequent acting partner, Ossie Davis, who died in 2005.
"I accept it also for my husband Ossie," Dee said, "because he's working on things up there."
The Coens, who won a screenplay Oscar for 1996's "Fargo," share four Academy Awards nominations for "No Country" - for directing, screenwriting, editing under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes and best picture as producers on the film.
Backstage at Saturday night's Directors Guild awards, Joel Coen was unfazed by the critical response to the film, saying the praise of fellow filmmakers was particularly meaningful.