Here’s a modest proposal for the Academy’s new board when it assembles this summer: Reserve one of those annual Governors Awards for Brad Grey, who died last night. Grey wasn’t fully recognized as an Oscar player — public acknowledgment seemed more often to land with Harvey Weinstein or with the co-chiefs of Fox Searchlight, Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley. But it’s hard to think of a studio chief who more consistently put films in the Best Picture ranks over the past dozen years than Grey.
After taking charge of Paramount Pictures in 2005, Grey and his then-colleague John Lesher quickly started production on Babel, which starred Brad Pitt, who had been a Grey business partner. The film, released in 2006, became a Best Picture nominee the next year, back when there were only five slots to fill. And that started an 11-year run during which Paramount only once failed to land at least one Best Picture nomination. The off-year was 2013, when Paramount’s big bet was Flight. But it wasn’t a complete disappointment: Denzel Washington grabbed a Best Actor nomination for the film.
In some years, Grey’s studio — with a marketing and promotions team that included the Oscar-savvy executives Megan Colligan and Katie Martin-Kelley — had multiple Best Picture nominees. This year, for instance, it had both Arrival and Fences on the list. In 2015, it was Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street. In 2008, there were two films split with Miramax — There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men, which won.
For Grey personally, the heartbreak year was 2007, when The Departed, of which he had been a producer, won the Oscar as a Warner Bros. release. By then a Paramount executive, Grey was not credited for Oscar purposes, and partner Graham King picked up the prize.
But even Weinstein, an Oscar perennial, didn’t match Grey’s consistency in grabbing nominations since that year. While Paramount missed once, Weinstein came up short in 2007, 2008 and 2016. One of those honorary statuettes would seem in order. Clearly, Grey did as much as any contemporary studio chief to keep the Oscar game alive.