Normally, as Green Book has now done, when a movie starts out the season by taking the top People’s Choice prize at the Toronto Film Festival, launches awards-giving season with a Best Picture win at the National Board Of Review, then backs up its cred by taking the most Golden Globes including one for Best Picture (Comedy/Musical), and then wins the Producers Guild Of America Best Picture honor, you would have to dub it the front runner. That is what several pundits are doing now but it wouldn’t be wise. You could get whiplash trying to discern the “front runner” this season. Just ask early FR, A Star Is Born, or critics’ FR Roma, to name two titles that have apparently ceded the honor to Green Book, if the pundits are right.

First of all this isn’t at all a “normal” season and remains perhaps the most wide-open Oscar race in recent memory, and we still won’t even have the Oscar nominations

Producers Guild of America

until Tuesday around 5:30AM PT. At that point, the scenario could change once again, as these same pundits (me included)  trot out all the usual statistics in terms of Oscar’s storied history and try then to determine who is really leading the field. My prediction is it will still be a murky picture, a contest that can’t have a traditional kind of front runner because there are simply too many variables.  Anyway, who in their right mind ever wants to be in that position? There is nowhere to go but down, and many in the film Twitterverse will be delighted to take you there. In addition to what Oscar secrets the PriceWaterhouseCoopers accountants may be holding today, the guilds, usually the most reliable indicator of where this race is heading, promise to be all over the map in the coming weeks, so much so that by the time we get to the Dolby Theatre on February 24, we may know even less than we do now.

Still, you have to admire Green Book’s unstoppable spirit and ability to weather all the attempted takedowns and various “controversies” to still emerge victorious to this point.

Universal Pictures

It is the little movie that could, not really a  typical front runner but a movie that remains exactly what it was dubbed by Toronto festgoers all the way back in early September: the people’s choice, and now you can add people in the industry, since that is what last night’s PGA awards represent as the first guild to actually join the conversation and make its choice known. How ironic that it comes 30 years after the PGA made 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy (one of many race-related movies to which Green Book has been compared) its first ever Best Picture choice, or winner of what is formally called the Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures.

Like others this year, the guild voted its passion and did not attempt to keep an impressive track record going of predicting Oscar’s Best Picture (which it has done it 20 out of the last 29 times). That clairvoyance might have everything to do with the voting system the PGA employs. As with the Motion Picture Academy, Best Picture is determined by a preferential ballot cast by the 8000 or so (almost identical to the number of AMPAS voters) PGA members, who list choices in numerical order. This setup is designed to get a “consensus,” meaning your second choice could be just as important as your first as both orgs try to figure out how to get to the least least-liked movie, as it were. Overall, Green Book is a very well-liked movie, the kind this system tends to reward releases like the two most recent PGA winners, The Shape Of Water and La La Land, movies that make you feel good in one way or another. Can this very human film triumph in the end? One top industry member said after its PGA win, “They voted their heart against everything that’s been said about it, and if it wins the Oscar it will restore my faith in the Academy.” The PGA Awards have often been a kingmaker. Just ask The Social Network, which had its wings clipped after winning every conceivable critics award in sight only to lose to The King’s Speech at the PGAs in a momentum-maker that took the latter film all the way to a Best Picture Oscar win.

Green Book
Michael Buckner

Time will tell if that can happen for Green Book, but there are still a lot of guild banquets to get through first, including next Sunday’s SAG Awards, where this essentially two-hander is not nominated for the Best Cast award and Roma is completely shut out, thus giving the likes of A Star Is Born, Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody and Crazy Rich Asians a chance at glory and tilting the race.  I remember years ago Tom Ortenberg, then at Lionsgate, saying to me that if Crash could just crack one of the major guild contests, it could provide the momentum to block “front runner” Brokeback Mountain at the Oscars. SAG did the trick. I predict SAG will give Green Book’s Mahershala Ali Best Supporting Actor, though. After that, we have the even more Oscar predictive DGA Awards, where Green Book’s Peter Farrelly and the other contenders are undeniably underdogs to Roma’s Alfonso Cuaron, a heavy favorite to win there. Then we have the Writers Guild, where Green Book has a shot at Original Screenplay, but where Adam McKay’s Vice could also win, thus further muddying the waters. And then there’s BAFTA, which just might throw a lifeline to The Favourite just as final Oscar voting gets going. Fasten your seat belts. The bumpy ride that has so far defined this awards season is about to turn a curve and it could be treacherous for all of our front runners.  

At this moment, it is once again Green Book’s turn to celebrate, as its camp did after last night’s PGA ceremony by walking next door to the same Waldorf Astoria restaurant where they last toasted their Golden Globe win two weeks ago. Champagne glasses were raised all around, a congratulatory email came in from none other than Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks is one of the producing companies), and this “little movie that could” did it again.