Now things are getting interesting.
The positively glowing cast of The Help won for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Motion Picture at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, an eleventh-hour shakeup as the Academy Awards grow ever nearer. (Actors make up the largest voting bloc of the Motion Picture Academy and can swing a tight race.)
Though the largely silent but emotive cast of The Artist missed out on the night's top honor, French thesp Jean Dujardin won for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, a role that was expected to be played tonight (and Oscar night) by recent Golden Globe winner George Clooney.
"My God, my God, my God, my God," the charming actor stammered at first. "It's too much. I was a very bad student. I didn't listen in class, I was always dreaming. My teachers called me, 'Jean de la Lune, Jean of the Moon,' and I realize now that I never stopped dreaming. Thank you very much, thank you for this dream."
The star of The Help also spoke on behalf of the cast when they closed the show, calling the film—an adaptation of a beloved bestseller, no less—a "labor of love" for all involved.
"The ensemble is just a group effort, brought together to create a singular effect, and all these actors on the stage gave up their ego and were able to just work," Davis said proudly. "And it's been such a joy to be a part of this cast."
On the small-screen side, defending champ Modern Family was the cast to beat for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series—and no one did!
"I think it was W.C. Fields who said, 'Never work with kids or animals.' Well, he can kiss my—" began 13-year-old Nolan Gould before the wise-beyond-his years Rico Rodriguez offered, "We just want to thank you for letting us be a part of all your families."
"Animals, really? Do I get a beef treat for all this? No!" added Gould.
Steve Buscemi, whose Boardwalk Empire boss made a particularly murderous turn in the show's second season, bagged his second straight win for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama.
"To all the Michael Pitt fans out there—I know, I'm sorry, please stop yelling at me on the street," he said.
But M.Pitt got to join the rest of the still-alive cast of the HBO series when they won yet again for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, giving the cable network a leading four wins.
Jessica Lange, a winner for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama, built on her Golden Globes success for her creeptastic role in American Horror Story.
For the second year in a row, Betty White won Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series—"a terrible mistake," the Hot in Cleveland star insisted.
"I don't think they can read," lamented the spry 90-year-old, who once again beat out Tina Fey, Sofia Vergara, Edie Falco, et al. "You can't name me without naming those other wonderful women on Hot in Cleveland. This nomination—I was thrilled of course—but the nomination belongs to the four of us...I'm not going to let them keep this, but I'll let them see it!"
The sixth time was as charming as the first-through-fifth times for Alec Baldwin, a winner again for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series. We'd say this was getting monotonous, but...Nope, no complaints on our end.
Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer's Oscar train only picked up speed as both were winners for Supporting Performances by an Actor for, respectively, Beginners and The Help.
Somehow, both are still coming up with interesting things to say.
"I just can't tell you what fun I've had being a member of the world's second-oldest profession," Plummer wink-winked. "Actors are gregarious and wacky, are they not, and I love them dearly."
Spencer thanked slain 1960s-era civil rights activist Medgar Evers and his family, as well as everyone who showed interest in and supported The Help. "I'm going to dedicate this to the downtrodden, the under-served, the underprivileged, overtaxed—whether emotionally, physically or financially," she said.
Absentee thesps Kate Winslet and Paul Giamatti accounted for two of HBO's wins, Winslet scoring Outstanding Performance by a Female Actress for Mildred Pierce (giving her the Emmy-Golden Globe-SAG hat trick) and Giamatti winning the manly version of the award for playing put-upon Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke in Too Big to Fail.
"Paul couldn't be here, so..." began presenter Zoe Saldana. "I'm going to keep his award," added copresenter Armie Hammer.
But Mary Tyler Moore, the woman who did make it after all, was in the house to receive SAG's Lifetime Achievement Award.
"Hi, I'm what's left of Dick Van Dyke," Moore's sitcom and Mary Poppins costar introduced himself before paying tribute to the genre-crossing actress.
Moore recalled when she first wanted to join SAG and learned that there were six other Mary Moores listed in the directory.
"Word came back, 'Want to work in the business? Change your name, sweetheart,'" she cracked. "'No, I'm Mary, Mary Moore. Everybody is going to know my name!'" she remembered insisting. "Besides, what would my father say? It's his name too. Well, not Mary."
"George Tyler Moore, that was my father's name," she continued. "Tyler was my middle name, too. I was Mary Tyler Moore. I spoke it out loud. Mary Tyler Moore sounded right. So I wrote it out on the form, and it looked right. It was right. SAG was happy, my father was happy, and tonight, after having the privilege of working in this business among the most creative and talented people imaginable, I am happy after all. Thank you."
(Originally published Jan. 29, 2012, at 7:18 p.m. PT)