Helen Mirren

of

The Queen

and

Forest Whitaker

of

The Last King of Scotland

won Screen Actors Guild Awards yesterday as best lead players, their latest prizes on the road to the Academy Awards.

The road-trip romp Little Miss Sunshine won the prize for best film ensemble, the guild's equivalent of a best-picture award.

Solidifying their positions as Oscar favorites, Mirren won for playing British monarch Elizabeth II and Whitaker for starring as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson won supporting-acting honors as soulful singers in Dreamgirls, reinforcing their status as Oscar front-runners as well.

As a powerhouse vocalist in Dreamgirls, Hudson continued her breakneck rise to movie stardom after becoming famous as an American Idol contender two years ago. Hudson thanked her co-stars, who included Murphy, Jamie Foxx and Beyonce Knowles.

"Because of you, I was able to work and learn from the best. Yes, you are the best," said Hudson, who added thanks to the actors guild. "Just thank you for noticing little old me and accepting me."

The ensemble win for Little Miss Sunshine could give the film a best picture boost at the Oscars. But the guild category has never been a reliable forecast for how the top Oscar might play out. In the 11 years since the guild added the ensemble honor, only five winners have gone on to receive the best-picture Oscar, including 2005's Crash.

- Associated Press

A win for Miss Pa.

At the 2007 Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas, Miss Pennsylvania Emily Wills won the preliminary swimsuit contest on Saturday in a black-and-white striped bikini with red piping. The Pennsylvania State University psychology and communications student will get a $1,000 scholarship. Miss California Jacquelynne Fontaine won the preliminary talent contest for her performance of "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca and will get a $2,000 scholarship. This year's Miss America will be crowned tonight; the contest will be televised live from 8 to 10 on CMT.

A degree of charity

Kevin Bacon says he used to think the "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" game was a joke that would die out, but since it hasn't, he is using the notoriety for charity. "I thought it was definitely going to go the way of eight-track cassettes and Pet Rocks. But it's a concept that has sort of hung around in the zeitgeist," the Philly native told George Stephanopolous on yesterday's This Week on ABC.

Bacon said he was "kind of horrified at the idea" that he could be connected to any actor in the universe in six steps, but then he started asking people what could be done with the notion. Bacon and the nonprofit Network for Good started a Web site, Sixdegrees.org. The site includes a feature to search more than one million charities. Visitors also can see which charities celebrities are supporting financially. And there's a link to an eBay site where people can bid on "celebrity swag" from the Sundance Film Festival.

- Associated Press

'Epic' weekend

The comedy spoof

Epic Movie

debuted atop the box office, as Oscar contenders got a bump in the first weekend since the Academy Award nominations were announced, according to studio and industry estimates released yesterday.

Epic Movie, which lampoons dozens of films, a few MTV shows and Paris Hilton, raked in $19.2 million. It was a cost-effective release for 20th Century Fox, which enjoyed a similar turnstile bonanza a year ago with the spoof Date Movie.

Audiences also turned out for Universal Pictures' Smokin' Aces, a violent, dark comedy about hit men converging on Lake Tahoe for the $1 million prize to assassinate magician Buddy "Aces" Israel. It opened in second place with $14.3 million.

In third place was Fox's everlasting Night at the Museum, which took in $9.5 million to boost its six-week total to $217 million. The new Jennifer Garner movie from Sony, Catch and Release, was No. 4, and Stomp the Yard from Sony/Screen Gems was fifth.

Four Oscar-nominated films followed: Paramount's Dreamgirls, Sony's The Pursuit of Happyness, Pan's Labyrinth from Picturehouse and Miramax's The Queen.

Contact "SideShow" at sideshow@phillynews.com.