The Producers Guild of America’s nominations for Theatrical Motion Pictures are eagerly anticipated because that is the one guild that has shown a capacity for turning the Oscar race on a dime in recent years with the likes of past PGA winners The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech, 12 Years A Slave and last year Birdman all gaining incredible momentum on the road to a Best Picture win. If you aren’t on this list, certainly an Oscar Best Picture nomination is still very possible, but a win? Forget it.
In that regard, the PGA this morning just derailed the chances of such early awards juggernauts as Carol, The Hateful Eight, Trumbo, The Danish Girl and most surprisingly Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That movie, in addition to being the kind of box office giant the PGA has endorsed in the past, has also been gaining awards momentum with guild nominations from the Art Directors and Editors this week.
Among the films on the PGA’s list for its Darryl F. Zanuck Award For Outstanding Producer Of Theatrical Motion Pictures (aka Best Picture), The Big Short, Bridge Of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Straight Outta Compton and Spotlight were widely expected to land spots on the list of 10. It should be interesting to note that all of them but the latter are from the majors, which dominate the selections. Fox Searchlight, the specialty division of 20th Century Fox, has won the top prize three of the past seven years (Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years A Slave in a tie with Gravity, and Birdman) and made the cut this time with Brooklyn, a smaller, more female-driven movie from producers Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey.
The latter pair join a large list of women producers among the key nominees this year including Dede Gardner (The Big Short), Kristie Macosko Krieger (Bridge Of Spies), Mary Parent (The Revenant), Molly Smith (Sicario), Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust (Spotlight) in addition to Animated Feature nominees Rosa Tran (Anomalisa), Denise Ream (The Good Dinosaur) and Janet Healy (Minions) — a strong showing for a guild that prides itself on encouraging women to join (Inside Out and The Peanuts Movie were the other animated feature nominees).
Although it hasn’t had as high a profile this season as some other contenders which have been dominating early critics group voting, Lionsgate’s Sicario is not at all surprising in my view. It is the most mentioned movie I hear from Academy voters, particularly men, and this just validates the chatter on the circuit. I fully expect it to land a Best Picture Oscar nomination and possibly one for director Denis Villeneuve as well as below-the-line categories. So far with nominations from the Art Directors and Editors guilds this week, Sicario is having a very strong run as the race turns to the guild voters who are traditionally far more indicative of where the Oscar winds may be blowing.
The biggest surprise on a PGA list dominated by the majors, by far, was the inclusion of A24’s indie success Ex Machina, a movie released in the spring that has been mentioned in the conversation usually just for Alicia Vikander’s supporting turn. If A24 was going to land a nomination here I thought it would be for Room, but that emotional powerhouse was also among those films left out. The sci-fi Ex Machina might also have had special appeal for the digital contingent of the PGA which has been growing in recent years.
So why, in addition to their track record of matching Oscar winners, is the PGA voice so important? They also vet the producers who are eligible to receive Academy Awards. In fact the guild is so closely aligned with the Academy in that regard, that when the Academy moved from five Best Picture nominees to having 10, the PGA followed suit. The PGA though has kept its list at 10, while Oscar tweaked theirs to include five to 10 nominees instead of the set figure, so there hasn’t been a perfect match in recent years between the organizations.
Last year, for instance, seven of the PGA’s nominees went on to Oscar nods. The Academy named eight films but excluded PGA nominees Foxcatcher, Nightcrawler and Gone Girl but added Selma, which hadn’t made the PGA cut. In 2013, the Oscars nominated nine movies and had eight of them in common with the PGA. The Academy, however, went their own way in nominating Philomena for their ninth slot while bypassing PGA selections Blue Jasmine and Saving Mr. Banks. (It should be noted that Philomena came from the Weinstein Company, which was shut out today with Carol and The Hateful Eight, so a look back to that year might still give master campaigner Harvey Weinstein hope that the results will be different a week from Thursday.)
One other interesting note: Anonymous Content’s Steve Golin had a very big day, landing two of the 10 Picture slots with The Revenant and Spotlight as well as one in the Long-Form Television category for Season 2 of HBO’s True Detective. That last one was a bit of an eye opener as the show’s second season was critically reviled, but it still made the grade with the producers anyway in a category that also included another head-scratcher, the Netflix Bill Murray Christmas variety special A Very Murray Christmas, which seems out of place with true long-form contenders like American Crime, American Horror Story, Fargo and the aforementioned True Detective.
Next up: The Writers Guild announces nominees tomorrow, and we will hear from the Directors Guild next Tuesday.
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