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Stars out on night of glamour as scene set for Oscar drama

Director Kathryn Bigelow might haunt ex-husband James Cameron and his Avatar blockbuster at this year's Oscars.

In a weekend of awards drama, her low-budget Iraq War movie The Hurt Locker was named best picture at the Producers Guild of America Awards last night.

And the winner of that top award -- the last biggie before the Academy Awards -- has gone on to take the best picture Oscar in 13 of the past 20 years, including the two most recent events.

"This is absolutely incredible," said Bigelow, who also produced the movie, describing it "a tough little war film that was shot in the summer in the Middle East."

After Oscar organisers decided late last year to double the field of best picture nominees to 10, the Producers Guild followed suit.

Other nominees are District 9, Star Trek, Up, Up In The Air, Invictus, An Education, Precious and Inglourious Basterds.

The Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2 and the awards ceremony takes place on March 7.

At the other big ceremony of the weekend -- the Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG) -- Avatar may have felt a touch blue.

Its computer-assisted performances didn't make the cut for SAG nominations. But the groundbreaking sci-fi film remains a strong best-picture contender for the Oscars.

For Jeff Bridges of Crazy Heart, Sandra Bullock of The Blind Side and for SAG supporting-acting honourees Mo'Nique of Precious and Christoph Waltz of Inglourious Basterds, there's reason to suspect the Oscar ceremony will be a happy re-run of Saturday's SAG Awards and last Sunday's Golden Globes.

All four were recognised at the Globes, while Avatar was named best drama and Cameron won best director.

But he will face competition from director Quentin Tarantino, whose Inglourious Basterds won the SAG Award for best ensemble performance, which can be a precursor to the top Oscar award. Last year, SAG's movie cast award was presented to Slumdog Millionaire, which went on to win the best picture Oscar.

"It was an honour," said Eli Roth when accepting the award for his fellow actors in the off-kilter World War II revenge saga.

But Bullock declined -- strenuously -- to look ahead.

"Shhhhh. Shhhhh. Shhhhh," Bullock said backstage when asked to speculate on her Oscar chances for her portrayal of tenacious real-life mom, Leigh Anne Tuohy, who helped a youth in need, future NFL player Michael Oher.

Although respected by his peers, Bridges has largely been bypassed for major awards.

"I love being an actor -- pretending to be other people and getting into the shoes of other folks," said Bridges, who plays a hard-luck, hard-living country singer in Crazy Heart.

Waltz was honoured for his role as an enthusiastically ruthless Nazi.

Mo'Nique's trophy came for her searing portrayal of an abusive mother in Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire.

On the TV side of the SAG Awards, the cast of AMC's 1960s Madison Avenue saga Mad Men won the trophy for best drama series ensemble for the second year in a row, while 19 cast members of Fox TV newcomer Glee, about misfits in a high school singing club, accepted the award for best comedy series ensemble.

Glee also claimed the best comedy series award at the Golden Globes.

Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey of NBC's 30 Rock won for best acting in a comedy series.

Golden Globe winner Michael C Hall of Showtime's Dexter, wearing a cap because of treatment he's receiving for Hodgkin's lymphoma, won best actor in a drama series. The award for best actress in a drama went to Julianna Margulies of CBS' The Good Wife.

Kevin Bacon won as best actor in a movie or miniseries for the war-themed drama, Taking Chance, while Drew Barrymore received best actress honours in the category for Grey Gardens, about eccentric relatives of Jacqueline Onassis.

Betty White (88) accepted a lifetime achievement award from Bullock for an enduring career that included The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, and showed her sharp comedic chops.

When Bullock joked that she finds White annoying, White shot back: "Isn't it heartening to see how far a girl as plain as she is can go."

But it was not success for everyone as actors in two highly critically acclaimed films went home empty-handed, including Up in the Air star George Clooney and the film's supporting actresses, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.

The cast of The Hurt Locker also lost out.

Clooney, however, was lauded by SAG President Ken Howard for helping organise Friday's telethon to raise money for earthquake-devastated Haiti, a rare reference to the tragedy.

Two honours not shown in went to stunt ensembles for the film Star Trek and the TV show 24.

hnews@herald.ie