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SAG awards cloud Oscar predictions

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Julia Roberts has the inside track for an Oscar. But just about everything else at this month's Academy Awards ceremony seems up for grabs.

Roberts won the best-actress honor Sunday at the Screen Actors Guild awards for her saucy turn as the title character in the legal drama "Erin Brockovich." With a Golden Globe for the same role, Roberts has emerged as the solid front-runner for best actress at the Oscars on March 25.

"This is freaky," Roberts said in her SAG speech, at times choking back tears. "If this was a prom, this would be like the best school ever to go to. But it's not, so I'll be serious, in my own special way."

Backstage, Roberts told reporters that the real-life Erin Brockovich — who took on a major California utility and won a pollution case — was an inspiration.

"I think that she's remarkable," Roberts said. "She really is the perfect example that we are what we choose to be. We are as effective as we are tenacious."

"Gladiator," which has been considered the nominal best-picture favorite because of wins at previous awards shows, was shut out at the acting-guild ceremony. And "Gladiator" director Ridley Scott lost Saturday night at the Directors Guild of America awards, where the top honor went to Ang Lee for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

SAG's award for a movie's ensemble, generally viewed as the guild's equivalent of a best-picture prize, went to the cast of "Traffic."

Competing for best picture at the Oscars are "Chocolat," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Erin Brockovich," "Gladiator" and "Traffic."

Unlike last year, when "American Beauty" dominated earlier honors and went on to prevail at the Oscars, this awards season is fairly fragmented.

Judi Dench of "Chocolat" won SAG's supporting-actress award, but Kate Hudson of "Almost Famous" took the Golden Globe in the same category.

Benicio Del Toro of "Traffic" has won both a Golden Globe and a SAG prize. But the Globe was for supporting actor, while the acting guild gave Del Toro the lead-actor trophy.

Tom Hanks of "Cast Away," who won the lead-actor Golden Globe for drama, was among those losing out Sunday to Del Toro.