No Giant Surprises On All-Important PGA Best Picture List But Will Oscar Fall In Line?

There may be a couple of eye-openers about individual producers who didn’t get nominated (sorry Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio – see below) but there were no huge surprises, and no slam dunk front runner either, from the Producers Guild Of America‘s list of ten films competing for their Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures (now in its 25th year) with expected bids going to a lot of titles that have been showing up on other lists including American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, 12 Years A Slave and Wolf Of Wall Street.  The list is rounded out by a couple of smaller films, Focus Features’  micro-budgeted, long gestating Dallas Buyers Club and Sony Pictures Classics’ Blue Jasmine from Woody Allen.

The latter is considered an awards front runner for Cate Blanchett’s lead performance this year but was thought to be possibly a longer shot for Picture. This helps its Oscar chances big time since PGA is likely representing industry sentiments and has a large crossover with Academy voters. And even though they are from major studios both Her and Nebraska are also smaller films that resonated with the PGA membership which in the past has often tended to throw bones to some bigger- budgeted contenders such as the James Bond juggernaut, Skyfall last year. Not so this year. But despite a lack of huge blockbuster-type films (save Gravity maybe) it was a big morning anyway for the majors who grabbed seven of the ten nominations outright and the other three through their specialty divisions (Fox Searchlight for 12 Years, Sony Classics for Jasmine and Focus for Dallas). There seems a bit of a drift away from the pure indie labels, a trend that started last year with Warners’ Argo triumph. The majors completely also dominated the list for Animated Films with Fox grabbing two for Epic and The Croods (via its deal with Dreamworks Animation), Disney getting two for Frozen and Monsters University (via Pixar) and Universal scoring with its top earner ever, Despicable Me 2.

I would say this continues to be a wide open race, more open than we have seen in years, with Gravity, 12 Years A Slave and American Hustle perhaps getting the early line on a win when the envelope is opened January 19th. Still this race is ripe for surprises in the end. The PGA list should not be taken lightly Oscar -watchers. The Guild has been a real harbinger of the race in recent years. Last year they matched 8 of 9 eventual Oscar nominees for Best Picture (Amour was the only absent film on PGA’s list vs Oscar’s).And their winners have closely matched the Academy’s choices with Argo, The Artist, The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire and No  Country For Old Men proving the two have like-minded thinking for the last six years consecutively, and more often than not in the quarter century the guild has been handing out awards.

This is not good news for CBS Films whose Inside Llewyn Davis from the Coen Brothers and Scott Rudin (who did earn a nom for Captain Phillips)  was widely considered to be a strong contender for a nomination. But it happened to another Coen film in 2009 when the PGA passed on A Serious Man while Oscar embraced it with a Best Pic nomination. So don’t count it out. The list is also bad news for The Weinstein Company, now in an unfamiliar position of failing to get a single film in the race despite a large group of possibilities including August: Osage County (produced by last year’s Argo winners George Clooney and Grant Heslov), Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Philomena and Lee Daniels’  The Butler. The latter had 41 producers but only a small fraction including the late Laura Ziskin were vetted. Perhaps the sheer number hurt its chances with a guild that is very conservative about the use of the title “producer” in the making of a film. Weinstein’s smaller budgeted Fruitvale Station also didn’t make the Picture cut but does represent the company’s only PGA mention this year. It will receive the Stanley Kramer Award given to a film for its social values. Other than Despicable Me 2 Universal also was blanked for its two live action contenders Rush and Lone Survivor, but its specialty division Focus is repped by Dallas Buyers Club, the last hurrah for the old management led by James Schamus. Peter Schlessel is taking over and the company will reportedly be broadening that focus.

Of course the PGA also has another strong connection with Oscar in addition to being a strong bellwether, as it also vets eligible producers for the Academy’s Producers Branch (which has final say). There are also no surprises about the producers ruled eligible among today’s ten nominees except perhaps Paramount’s Wolf Of Wall Street.  Should it win, Riza Azizz and Joey McFarland of Red Granite which fully financed the reported $100 million film, along with Emma Koskoff, Martin Scorsese’s producing partner will receive the award but not the two other very big name credited producers. They would be Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio who according to a guild source to whom I spoke “did not vet”. The source said the pair certainly performed producing chores on the film but not enough to earn a nomination under the Guild’s increasingly strict guidelines. Considering the PGA’s close relationship with the Academy that is likely to be the case for Oscar too should Wolf make the cut there. On the other hand Brad Pitt did vet among the five eligible producers for 12 Years A Slave but minus him it is an actor-free zone this year.

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