SAG Splits Film Nods Five Ways

Fully in line with the hard-to-call nature of this year's awards race, nominations for the 7th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, which were announced this morning, are evenly split between the casts of Almost Famous, Billy Elliot, Chocolat, The Contender, and Gladiator.

Each film received two individual acting nominations and a nod each for best cast, except Contender, which received three individual acting noms.

DreamWorks SKG leads studios in overall SAG nominations, with nine nods for its Golden Globe winners Almost Famous and Gladiator. Universal Studios, which co-produced Gladiator, follows with eight nominations.

The SAG awards, which honor actors and are voted on by their acting peers, are considered a precursor to the Oscars. Of the lead actors in films receiving a SAG award, 10 out of 12 have gone on to win Academy Awards, as publicists who made early-morning calls to the nominees surely know.

Del Toro's Leading Traffic Role

In the Male Actor in a Leading Role category, Gladiator's Russell Crowe vies with Cast Away's Tom Hanks, Quills' Geoffrey Rush, and first-time SAG Actor nominees Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) and Benicio Del Toro (Traffic).

Del Toro won a Golden Globe and has been recognized by several critics' groups in the supporting actor category, but his peers saw fit to bump the actor up to the leading category for his complex role in Steven Soderbergh's drug-trade drama.

There were fewer surprises in the women's lead category, with Golden Globe winner Julia Roberts receiving her first SAG nod, for Erin Brockovich. She'll compete with You Can Count on Me's Laura Linney (another first-time nominee), The Contender's Joan Allen, Chocolat's Juliette Binoche, and Requiem for a Dream's Ellen Burstyn. Contender, Almost Famous Co-stars Face Off

The supporting acting categories pit Contender co-stars Jeff Bridges and Gary Oldman (both first-time nominees) against each other, as well as Almost Famous' Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand.

Rounding out the supporting actor nominees are Willem Dafoe, for Shadow of the Vampire; Albert Finney, for Erin Brockovich; and Joaquin Phoenix, who also co-starred as a priest in Quills, for his turn as spoiled emperor Commodus in Gladiator.

Competing for best supporting actress honors are Chocolat's Judi Dench, Billy Elliot's Julie Walters, and Quills' Kate Winslet. This is Winslet's fifth SAG nomination but her first appearance on year-end awards lists. NBC Leads TV Nominations

Meanwhile, in the TV categories, NBC dominated in nominations, thanks to stalwarts ER, Law & Order, Frasier, and Friends, and newly minted hits Will & Grace and The West Wing, all of which are up for ensemble acting awards.

Sally Field's short-term ER stint as a manic-depressive mom earned her a shot at the best actress in a drama award. The two-time Oscar winner is also nominated for the TNT TV movie David Copperfield. In that category, she competes with another double nominee, Judi Dench, who is nominated for the HBO movie The Last of the Blonde Bombshells. The best actress in a drama field is a crowded one this year, with six nominations, including one for first-time nominee Lauren Graham for The Gilmore Girls — her nod is also the only one for the WB. She competes with Gillian Anderson (The X-Files), Sela Ward (Once & Again), Edie Falco (The Sopranos), and Allison Janney (The West Wing).

ER's Anthony Edwards, who just announced he's leaving the medical drama, competes with Dennis Franz (NYPD Blue), James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), and Martin Sheen (The West Wing) for the best actor in a drama award. New to this category is The Fugitive's Tim Daly, who can use the ego boost — his show has earned lackluster ratings since it debuted in the fall. Grace & Jack & Karen — But No Will

The comedy series nominations include Golden Globe winners Robert Downey Jr. (Ally McBeal) and Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City). Will & Grace's Debra Messing, Megan Mullally, and Sean Hayes each received individual nominations (better luck next year to Eric McCormack).

Ally McBeal is up for an ensemble award, and Calista Flockhart and Peter MacNicol each received individual nods for the Fox comedy. Racking up another nomination for Fox is Malcolm in the Middle's Jane Kaczmarek.

Frasier's David Hyde Pierce racks up his 15th nomination — a record for the guild. He's joined by series lead Kelsey Grammer, who's on his 14th nomination (including ensemble nods).

The SAG awards will be presented March 11 on TNT at 8 p.m.