LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The gritty crime drama "No Country For Old Men" became the front-runner for Oscar glory on Sunday after winning top prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on a night of traditional Hollywood glamour and emotion over the sudden death of Heath Ledger.
"No Country For Old Men," directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, took the award for best ensemble cast and Spanish actor Javier Bardem won the best supporting actor award for playing a cold-blooded killer in the movie.
"No Country" also won the Directors Guild Award on Saturday and has eight nominations for an Oscar next month.
Actor and cast member Josh Brolin addressed critics who have not liked the way the movie ends. "The Coen brothers are freaky little people and we did a freaky little movie, whether you liked the ending or not," he said.
British actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who won the best actor award for his role as a greedy early 20th century oil baron in "There Will Be Blood," dedicated his trophy to Ledger
Ledger, 28, who was best known for his role as a reluctant gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain," was found dead in his New York apartment last week. The cause of death is still unclear.
Day-Lewis, 50, said he had never met Ledger. But he paid tribute to Ledger in his acceptance speech and later told reporters: "That's all I have been thinking about the last few days."
"I am absolutely certain he would have done many wonderful things in his life," Day-Lewis said.
Britain's Julie Christie, 66, won the best actress award for playing a woman with Alzheimer's disease in "Away From Her." Christie is also heavily tipped for an Oscar.
"It's lovely to receive an award from your own union, especially at a time when we are being so forcefully reminded how important unions are," Christie said in one of several comments on Sunday about the bitter dispute between Hollywood screenwriters and movie and television studios.
The traditional Oscar ceremony on Feb 24. has been under threat from the three-month strike focusing on improved payments for work distributed over the Internet.
But hopes of a settlement have risen since the two sides resumed talks last week.
"I feel optimistic. At least they have started talking to us, which is a good sign," said Tina Fey, who won a best actress award for her television comedy "30 Rock."
"It's nice to be dressed up and not picketing," Fey added.
Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, Eva Longoria and Cate Blanchett provided some much-missed star power on the red carpet at SAG after actors boycotted the Golden Globes and People's Choice Awards earlier this month in support of the striking writers.
"The entire town has been going through a very difficult time. So to be able to celebrate something is a wonderful thing," former "Will & Grace" star Debra Messing told Reuters.
The Writers Guild Of America allowed its members to write for the SAG show and did not protest outside because actors have been strong allies of the writers.
SAG's best supporting actress award went to veteran Ruby Dee for her role in "American Gangster." Veteran character actor Charles Durning, 84, seen in movies ranging from "The Sting" to "The Muppet Movie" was given a lifetime achievement award.
In SAG's television awards, the mob drama "The Sopranos" swept the board, taking the trophy for best cast in a TV drama and the best actor and actress awards for James Gandolfini and Edie Falco in an emotional finish to the series that ended in June.
Fey and "30 Rock" co-star Alec Baldwin won for best actress and actor in a TV comedy. "The Office" won for best television comedy cast ensemble.
Editing by Sandra Maler