By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Manchester by the Sea" and "Moonlight" cemented their status on Wednesday as front-runners in Hollywood's awards season in Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nominations that saw musical romance "La La Land" stumble.
"La La Land" scored nods for leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, but was shut out of the top SAG prize for best ensemble. Although the category favors large casts, the omission was seen as a potential setback for the current awards darling.
With a leading four nominations, gritty family drama "Manchester by the Sea" will compete for best ensemble against "Moonlight," "Fences," "Hidden Figures" and - in a surprise entry - unorthodox family comedy "Captain Fantastic."
Top SAG winners, voted for by actors, often go on to win Oscars as actors form the largest voting body in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For example, "Spotlight" took the SAG best ensemble award and went on to win best picture at the Oscars this year.
"Manchester by the Sea," about a working-class family dealing with multiple tragedies, landed nominations for actor Casey Affleck and supporting stars Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges.
"It's incredibly meaningful to be recognized by one's peers," Affleck said in a statement.
The SAG list followed Monday's Golden Globe nominations, where "La La Land" and "Moonlight" led the race, and precedes January's Oscar nods. SAG winners will be announced in Los Angeles on Jan. 29.
Other notable omissions on Wednesday included 1970s comedy "20th Century Women," which stars Annette Bening as a free-spirited single mother, and "Loving," the real-life story of a couple who changed interracial marriage laws in Virginia.
Independent drama "Moonlight," about an impoverished black boy grappling with his sexuality, and "Fences," an African-American family drama based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, scored three nominations each.
"Fences" best supporting actress nominee Viola Davis said in a statement that the nods were "not only a testament to the strength of (playwright) August Wilson's words but to the endurance of the human spirit."
"Captain Fantastic" and "Hidden Figures," about three black female mathematicians working on the 1960s space race, also received nods in the best ensemble category.
Affleck and Gosling will face Andrew Garfield for "Hacksaw Ridge," Viggo Mortensen for "Captain Fantastic" and "Fences" star Denzel Washington for best actor.
Stone will vie for best actress alongside Amy Adams for "Arrival," surprise nominee Emily Blunt for "The Girl on the Train," front-runner Natalie Portman for "Jackie" and Meryl Streep for "Florence Foster Jenkins."
In television, HBO's medieval fantasy series "Game of Thrones" and sci-fi western "Westworld" will compete against British period drama "Downton Abbey" and new Netflix shows "The Crown," a British royal period drama, and 1980s sci-fi mystery "Stranger Things."
In the best comedy series, CBS sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" faces ABC's "Modern Family" and "black-ish," Netflix's "Orange is the New Black" and HBO's "Veep."
Millie Bobby Brown, the 12-year-old actress whose profile soared after starring as a girl with special powers in "Stranger Things," landed a nomination for best drama TV actress.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jonathan Oatis)