There will be heightened drama at this year’s Screen Actor’s Guild Awards. The primary reason is due to the wide open Best Picture race, thanks to the Academy’s snub of “Dreamgirls” a few days ago. Many of you will remember that last year, “Brokeback Mountain” steamrolled the competition and won every precursor award until…that’s right, the Screen Actor’s Guild ensemble award. “Crash” took it down, and apparently rode that momentum all the way to the Oscar. Though experts will point out that the ensemble award doesn’t match up with Best Picture that frequently, the awards schedule allows it to make a difference in close races. Most people turn in their Oscar ballots in the first few weeks, and the winner of the ensemble award gets instant publicity.

Though it’s still early, this year’s Best Picture race could come down to two films, “Letters From Iwo Jima” and the winner of Sunday night’s ensemble award. “Letters” is not nominated which means it cannot lose. Plus, just days after the Oscar nominations, a brilliant campaign has already been initiated on its behalf. Add to that the fact that it is a Clint Eastwood directed film and we’ve got to think that “Letters” will be in the running up until the final minute. So which film will duke it out with Eastwood to earn that tiny space below “Crash” in all the world almanacs? And which actors will collect more trophies for their mantles? Our predictions are below.

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”

Lots of people are predicting O’Toole because of his legendary actor status, but the reality is that Whitaker has swept every major (or minor) award clean thus far. It might be closer than expected, but Hollywood has a soft spot for Whitaker, so he’ll get a second chance to make a good speech.

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, “The Queen”

There is no doubt. She is an even bigger lock than Julia Roberts (“Erin Brockovich”) back in 2001.

Best Supporting Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Departed”

There are many reasons for this upset pick. First of all, he’s deserving and after two brilliant performances in 2006, people will think he should get something. Next is process of elimination. Jackie Early Haley is incredible, but the nomination was his reward. Same goes for Djimon Hounsou. He’s done better. Alan Arkin seems due, but many people thought he wasn’t even the best actor from his own movie (see another reason below). Finally, Eddie Murphy is the odds-on favorite, but we just don’t believe he’s that beloved by the actors as say, Leo. The Screen Actor’s Guild often likes to spread the wealth, and there’s another co-star of Murphy’s who seems more primed to take the trip to the podium.

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”

It’s between her and Cate Blanchett. The problem is, Blanchett is such a terrific actress that she’s raised the bar extremely high for her performances. “Notes on a Scandal” is probably not good enough. Everyone wants to see Hudson and since she’s the heart and soul of “Dreamgirls,” she should be victorious here.

Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture: “Little Miss Sunshine”

There you have it. A worthy challenger to “Letters From Iwo Jima.” Remember, this award doesn’t just go to the flashiest cast. If so, “The Departed” is a shoo-in. No, this award is presented to the best ensemble, which means actors working well together in a film (no one standing out). “Little Miss Sunshine” is the quinsentennial ensemble film and should triumph Sunday night. “Babel” would probably be a close second, but as you know, second place is the first loser.

On a final note, this is one additional reason we’re not predicting Arkin for Best Supporting Actor. Often times, the film that wins ensemble doesn’t see any of its individual actors or actresses recognized.