By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Hathaway took home prizes at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards on Sunday, as Hollywood actors picked the best performances of 2012 in film and television on an evening that will likely define some of the top Oscar races next month.
Jones, 66, won the best supporting actor trophy for his turn as Thaddeus Stevens, the radical congressman in "Lincoln," beating strong competition from Robert De Niro's gruff father in "Silver Linings Playbook." The category is seen as one of the closest races at the Oscars on February 24.
Hathaway, 30, won her first SAG award for her supporting role as the tragic Fantine in musical "Les Miserables."
"I got my SAG card when I was 14 .. And I have loved every single minute of my life as an actor," said Hathaway, accepting the statuette.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) ceremony is among the most-watched during Hollywood's awards season because actors make up the largest voting bloc in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presents the Oscars. The SAG honors are chosen by about 100,000 actors working in the United States.
Lincoln," about U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's battle to end slavery, French revolution musical "Les Miserables," and comedy "Silver Linings Playbook," about a bipolar man's unlikely romance, went into Sunday's show with four nominations apiece, including the top prize of best ensemble cast.
The cast of Iranian hostage drama "Argo" and British comedy "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," about a group of seniors who retire to a ramshackle hotel in India, received two nominations each.
Briton Daniel Day-Lewis is seen as a shoo-in for SAG's best actor prize after picking up a slew of awards already for his towering performance as Lincoln. Day-Lewis is also seen as a front-runner for a record third Oscar next month.
All eyes on Sunday are focused on the lead actress category, to be announced toward the end of the two-hour SAG ceremony, where award watchers say Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence are in a tight race.
Chastain won a Golden Globe this month for her role as a feisty CIA agent credited with tracking down Osama bin Laden in thriller "Zero Dark Thirty." Lawrence also took home a Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy for her portrayal of a young widow in "Silver Linings Playbook."
Both SAG and the Academy Awards combine the drama and comedy categories, putting the two actresses in a head-to-head battle.
Strong performances by Bradley Cooper, Australian actress Jacki Weaver and comedian Chris Tucker could also help "Silver Linings Playbook" to win best ensemble cast on Sunday.
However, the SAG winner may not be an indicator of Oscar best picture success for the quirky romance, especially in a year where the race for the biggest Oscar prize is seen as wide open.
"Sometimes smaller indie films with great acting can win the big prize at SAG, but they don't have the technical credentials to win best picture at the Oscars," said Dave Karger, movie correspondent for Fandango.com.
In an indicator of movie industry sentiment, "Argo" won the Producers Guild Award in Los Angeles, beating "Lincoln," "Les Miserables," and "Silver Linings Playbook" which are all Academy Award best picture contenders.
SAG also presents awards for performances in TV dramas, comedies and mini-series. It will give a lifetime achievement award to actor Dick Van Dyke.
"Modern Family" won the best comedy cast ensemble award for the third time. Alec Baldwin won best TV comedy actor for the 8th time for his role as an egotistical executive in "30 Rock" and his co-star Tina Fey took the honors for TV comedy actress.
Drama ensemble acting nominees include the casts of "Boardwalk Empire," "Homeland," "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad" and "Downton Abbey."
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, editing by Stacey Joyce)
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