PGA Awards: Why 'The Big Short' Just Got One Step Closer To Oscar On A Night When Diversity Was The Hot-Button Topic

Paramount’s late season Oscar entry The Big Short winning the Producers Guild’s top film honor, the Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures, was not a huge surprise to me. If it were a stock itself, the recommendation at this moment would be a definite buy. This movie has been surging like Donald Trump ever since it opened in December, gaining steam at every stop (well, maybe except the Golden Globes). But you would never know it from the reaction of many in the room. Top Guild officials I spoke with right after the envelope was opened by presenter Michael Pete Hammond badgeB. Jordan seemed genuinely stunned, as did producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner (Brad Pitt was absent). Former PGA and Academy President Hawk Koch had the same reaction as he entered the lobby after the show. “I was shocked. I think it just means it is a wide open year and will continue to be,” he told me.

I had heard before and afterwards that the actual vote was very close among several films. That certainly would play into Koch’s theory about this continuing to be a wide open race. Still, pundits arePGAlogo likely to jump quickly on to the Big Short bandwagon. The PGA has nailed the eventual Oscar Best Picture winner in each of the last eight years. In fact Kleiner and Gardner were on the stage just two years ago accepting the same award for 12 Years A Slave in a tie with Gravity, a result that mirrored the closeness of the two in the Oscar Best Picture race. Movies like last year’s Birdman, along with prior winners The Hurt Locker and The King’s Speech first staged an upset victory at PGA before heading over to the Academy Awards. Whether this is a result of both organizations using the same preferential voting system 27th Annual Producers Guild Of America Awards - Showor just a coincidence can be debated, but they have been right a whopping 19 times in the past quarter century, and often by being the first group to launch the eventual Oscar winner. Impressive. As voting was going on last week the stock market was tanking, riding to its worst New Year opening days in several years. Perhaps that kind of inadvertent publicity gave the 2008 financial crisis movie even more gravitas and importance, the kind awards voters love.

As I walked in to the ballroom I ran into several producers including David Heyman (there to receive the David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures)  and  Scott Bernstein, producer of nominee Straight Outta Compton and both were predicting the winner would likely be The Revenant. That Golden Globe winner took a detour in its Best Picture Oscar campaign by losing this one, as did Jim GianopulosCritics Choice Award winner Spotlight which might be Big Short’s most direct rival. They both got the same kind of nominations for Oscar and have similar strong appeal for voters who like important subject matter, though Big Short is considerably lighter.

Both will face off for the Ensemble Cast prize at SAG next weekend, which could be another turning point in a unpredictable year. Then the following week the DGA will weigh in and could go in an entirely different direction by perhaps picking Mad Max’s George Miller or even The Martian’s Ridley Scott, who was personally overlooked in the Oscar directing lineup but could stroll to victory at DGA the same way Ben Affleck did after getting snubbed by Oscar. Part of the strong awards showing so far for The Big Short has been Adam McKay’s entrance in to the major directing contests 5556582ADat DGA, BAFTA and the Oscars. Plus the movie should sail  to victory at the WGA for its Adapted Screenplay, and perhaps with the ACE Eddie Editors next Friday in the less-competitive comedy category (it also , like Spotlight , has a key Film Editing nod from the Academy).

In a night full of great speeches (along with technical gaffes with the teleprompter), the presentation of that most-awaited Best Picture award by Creed star Michael B. Jordan was a strange one as he somehow either skipped over Big Short when reading the ten nominees in alphabetical order or it never came up. Suddenly he mentioned it right at the end and went off to the side as if he was done. Most in the room were confused. Did he just discover he had forgotten to name it among the nominees? At The Big Short table nobody was rushing the stage and finally co-star Hamish Linklater stood up and yelled the $64,000 question , “Did we win?” “Yes you won,” shouted back Jordan. It seemed a fitting moment somehow for an awards season full of such of uncertainty.

The other  big topic of the night was, you guessed it, diversity with several presenters mentioning it from the stage in one way or another. And in a room full of stars, the biggest of the night might have been PGA guest and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who even got a shout out from PGA co-President Gary Lucchesi in his 506497606and co-President Lori McCreary’s opening remarks as they applauded her efforts in the past week in bringing historic changes in diversifying the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Boone Isaacs was definitely a popular figure in the room and lobby as many came up to congratulate her and thank her for her efforts, including Kleiner, immediately after his big win.

She told me she’s looking forward to Sunday, where she plans to watch football and not think about movies after one of the most trying periods in Academy history. The group still has to determine how they are going to implement the new 10-year rule that allows new members 10 years and then a review to see if they qualify for renewal for another 10 years providing they are still “active” in movies. It is a major sea change, with the most controversial part being how current members will be affected by it. I was hearing LOTS of strong opinions in the room last night, but the Academy clearly had to do something to put out the building fire and threats of an Oscar boycott.

I think it has done that, but Boone Isaacs will have to face the wrath of some members who feel there should have been more discussion on the topic. I talked to two high powered Board Of Governors members last night who were at Thursday’s meeting and they confirmed the vote was unanimous and much needed to make the Academy truly representative of the way the movie business is today. If the older, retired27th Annual Producers Guild Of America Awards - Show members are hit hardest with the new rules, it could decimate the Foreign Language Film Committee, since they are the key group that has the time to actually see those films and vote on them. There’s a slippery slope to climb for Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson in figuring out how to handle all of it. My sense after talking to them is they are very aware of it and will proceed with caution and sensitivity. Hudson sat next to me at the dinner and seemed relieved about the good feedback they have been getting. When she got to our table she probably delivered one of the great understatements of all time. “I just want to let everyone know that if I have to leave early please understand. I’ve had a very busy week,” she said, laughing.

As for those speeches, my Deadline colleagues Antonia Blyth and Amanda N’Duka  blogged the entire show moment by moment so check it out if you missed it. For my money the best one came from Milestone winner and 20th Century Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos, whose love of movies was clearly evident in his acceptance speech.  Norman Lear Achievement Award Winner in Television Shonda Rhimes also was eloquent and even seemed to borrow charmingly from Shirley MacLaine’s 1984 Best Actress speech when she said, “I deserve this.” She does indeed, and it was perfect timing PGA in a week when everyone was talking diversity. Another great moment was the powerful presentation of the Stanley Kramer Award to the campus rape documentary The Hunting Ground  and a haunting performance of its Oscar nominated song, “Til It Happens To You” by Lady Gaga, who was late getting to the stage but made the wait well worth it.

Mike DeLuca and Jennifer Todd were the dinner co-chairs and produced the event  held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel.

  1. Since China is now being blamed for this Oscar racism controversy and why Hollywood is not diverse, China should ban all Hollywood movies from being shown in China until the Academy nominates more black actors and Hollywood has to give more roles to African descent actors.

    1. Even if their performances aren’t deserving. Sounds stupid. There were no black actors that gave great performances this year.

  2. Really liked THE BIG SHORT. Just watched SPOTLIGHT tonight, and thought it wasn’t that great. TBS would get my vote for Best Picture.

  3. I haven ‘t seen The Big Short, but is there REALLY a chance it’s THE BEST MOVIE released in 2015?

  4. Last night’s SNL had a skit where “All the White Guys” won and they all took the stage to collect the award. Can you imagine if The Big Short or Spotlight wins Best Picture, and the exact same thing happens in real life?

    1. You’re ignoring the fact that both pictures are based on actual events and all the participants are indeed white. I’m all for diversity, but you simply can’t alter historical data like that. Now, if you were to note the absence of black people in a purely fictional film like MAD MAX or BROOKLYN, your point would be better taken.

      1. Historial data? The filmmakers weren’t restaging the Yalta Conference. The events depicted in Spotlight and the Big Short centered around non-famous individuals and in the later film, they were highly fictionalized composites of the players in Michael Lewis’s book. I believe Lewis’s book even featured a Chinese character that ended up not being included in the movie.

        1. Doesn’t matter if they were famous or not. You can’t change the race of actual people.

          However, I did not read Lewis’ book, so if a Chinese character were omitted, then yes, that is indeed to their discredit.

    2. I agree Big Short is the Academy’s worst nightmare if it does win Best Picture with an all white cast and crew. It reinforces all of the recent criticisms of the Academy.

      1. That’s ridiculous. Why can’t a movie winning Best Picture simply be because it was good and not because it had a multiracial cast?

    3. It’d pretty easy to ‘imagine’ given the lack of black-centric movies to award at all.

      And why are filmmakers obligated to cast minority actors anyway when or if they can? Let the best person for the job get it as well as the most profitable.

      1. because, dear, the best person for the job doesn’t always get the job. and that’s the problem — because casting people don’t always cast the widest net when it comes to casting. writer, producers and directors have certain people in mind and I imagine that “best for the role” more often than not takes a back seat to any number of other factors.

        so nice try falling back on that “best for the role” bullshit argument.

  5. That movie was hot GARBAGE. I cannot believe that it could walk away with an award. That awful camerwork drove me crazy plus. it was insanely preachy. Wow, what a disaster. My choice would’ve been Mad Max FurybRoad or Carol. This movie was an assault on the senses.

  6. How about if people just vote for the movie they think was the best movie of the year and not think about what the visuals on the stage are going to look like. Let excellence be the only criterion.

  7. I feel like I just saw this film a few years ago. The Big Short was just a warmed over version of The Wolf of Wall Street. Sure, it was told from the POV of a bunch of heroes, but it had the same satirical tone and energy. Mainly, it was just a place for a bunch of famous white dudes to chew some scenery in hopes of getting nominations. The book was so much better.

    And speaking of diversity, obviously no people of color, but the Big Short did feature a one-dimensional wife and a couple of strippers so there’s that I guess. I’m sure if we look at the entire production team behind the film it’s just a bunch of white men until you get to costume designer or casting director.

    1. Your life must be really exhausting. I guess next time they should decide to ignore what the real people looked like. Hey, maybe they can remake it in the style of Death at a Funeral?

      1. My comment was about the fact that these are the types of films that Hollywood makes and loves to celebrate–films about white, male heroes.

        And not for nothing, but Plan B has the option of hiring all kinds of people to work behind the scenes. One would think that someone like Brad Pitt who is always going on and on about what an enlightened person he is, wouldn’t stuff his production team with nothing but white guys.

        It must be exhausting for you to endlessly defend this lack of diversity.

        1. I agree with you. I also think it has an edge at the Academy Awards by sheer of number of white male voters and members of the academy that are freaking cast in the film. This is the way to win the oscar. Cast a bunch of white people already in the Academy.

        2. I highly doubt that Pitt actually goes out of his way to especially ensure the people behind the scenes on his productions are always white.

          Enforced diversity is disgusting and so is accusing people of doing with no proof whatsoever.

  8. I thought The Big Short was just okay. It will be like CRASH, over hyped now, but in seasons from now, it will be just a mediocre middle of the pack winner if it indeed does win. I still think The Renevant will take it for sheer audacity of production, but can I be honest and show my support for Bridge of Spies. It is stunningly shot, timeless in its structure. Really, if it were a hipper younger director it would be getting all the praise. The fact that it is a great movie by one of the masters may be a big yawn. But I think this movie will end up finding a place in cannon long after the other nominees have been forgotten. On the other hand, Mad Max, is just stunning storytelling, the most visually relevant film of the year.

  9. I have to play poker with these Academy people some time. They seem to fall to every bluff presented to them.

  10. The Big Short is a brilliant film, great acting and not over the top like Wolf of Wall Street . Would love to see it get more awards. The Revenant was a good film but the Big Short was like an adrenaline shot, very enjoyable. Wish Force awakens was at least 10 percent as exciting as Big Short was

  11. So nowadays, a film can’t be deserving of a prize in greatness because ‘we must consider the feelings of others?’ The Big Short has no black actors so that sub-group might be offended.

  12. i liked the big short. very interesting and i would watch it again. spotlight was also very good but i don’t think it has a rewatch factor, for me anyway. i love mad max fury road. hopefully george miller wins best director and the big short best picture. the revenant is a total monet. style over substance.

  13. if spotlight doesn’t win best ensamble at sag i’m afraid its done, over. its losing its momentum already. and lets be honest thats what these awards shows are based on, hype momentum, not what was the best movie of the year.

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