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 B. 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 are 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 or 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 Critics 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 at 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 and 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, retired 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.