For the past two years, the Producers Guild of America’s theatrical motion picture awards have had a major impact on awards season. Its 2009 winner The Hurt Locker and 2010 winner The King’s Speech really started their serious runs for the Best Picture Oscar by respectively surprising — and defeating — presumed PGA and then-Oscar favorites Avatar and The Social Network, respectively. In both cases I watched as top executives from 20th Century Fox and Sony seemed stunned and depressed. Will the PGA play king-maker for a third year in a row by going their own way and setting the table for the rest of the season?
As we have said many times, the PGA awards along with SAG, DGA and WGA hold more weight in determining Oscar sentiment as many of their members cross over with actual Academy voters. The PGA in fact participates in vetting producer nominees for the Academy, so today’s list of 10 nominees (the guild decided to stick to 10 even though this year the Academy has switched to a voting system that could produce anywhere from five to 10 contenders) should be taken very seriously. In that regard, Sony and producer Scott Rudin — who both felt the PGA’s cold shoulder last year by eventually dooming their early-season favorite The Social Network — should be ecstatic as both Moneyball and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo made the cut. Rudin was personally nominated for Dragon Tattoo (with Cean Chaffin) and is an executive producer on Moneyball (the PGA, like the Academy, does not officially nominate EPs). Count in George Clooney’s The Ides Of March, which until the Golden Globes and now the PGAs hasn’t had much luck this season, and you have a very good morning for the Culver City lot — even though their animated hopeful Arthur Christmas failed to make the list of five nominees for Animated Feature.
Cut to Burbank and the news was not nearly as good. Warner Bros’ pricey campaign to put the final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2, into the Oscar conversation took a major hit. The PGA, with its love of money- making movies and franchises, might have been the film’s best shot for key recognition (after all they did nominate the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for their top award in 2002), yet along with Warners’ other big award titles — J. Edgar and Rudin’s third entry this year, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close (the PGA giveth and taketh, Scott) — was completely ignored.
On a list that also includes predictable nominees like The Artist, Hugo, The Descendants, Midnight In Paris (another Sony product- from Sony Pictures Classics – giving that company overall four of the ten films on the list) and DreamWorks contenders The Help and War Horse, there weren’t many jaw-dropping surprises. The surging Bridesmaids might raise a couple of eyebrows but shouldn’t as this raunchy female comedy released in May has had some of the most consistent showings so far. Now, with major guild recognition by SAG and PGA, it has to be taken seriously as a potential Best Picture player at the Oscars.
Among critics favorites shut out, Terrence Malick’s Palme d’Or Cannes winner and critics group darling The Tree Of Life is probably the most prominent missing name. Film District’s Drive, a Cannes winner for director Nicolas Winding Refn, also was AWOL, along with Focus Features’ indie Brit hit Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which is hoping to be rescued from its near-complete awards-season no-show by next week’s BAFTA nominations.
Steven Spielberg is gonna have a big night. He received nods for Motion Picture for War Horse, for Animated Motion Picture for The Adventures of Tintin and was previously announced to receive this year’s David O’Selnick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures.
Going into the finals on January 21, all eyes will again be on the PGA to see if their choice will portend an Oscar surprise for a third year in a row. At this point, if it’s anything but The Artist, which has emerged as a strong Best Picture frontrunner for The Weinstein Company, the producers could again prove a significant and highly intriguing indicator of industry sentiment. If The Artist wins, it will just confirm where the tide seems to be turning. But again, like last year’s PGA showdown, Scott and Harvey are both back in the game.