What the PGA Nominations Mean for the Oscar Race (Analysis)

THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg explains why PGA Award nominations tend to presage best picture Oscar noms for some sorts of films but not for others
'Foxcatcher'  

Monday morning's announcement of the nominees for the 26th annual Producers Guild of America Awards — and, in particular, the nominees for the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures, the producers union's top prize, which honors the producers of the year's best film and is also known as "the PGA Award" — is of limited value to those of us who are trying to forecast the best picture Oscar race.

Why? (1) Because the PGA still guarantees 10 nominees for the PGA Award, whereas the Academy two years ago abandoned its guarantee of 10 best picture nominees in favor of a voting system that can produce anywhere between five and 10, meaning there might well end up being more PGA Award nominees than best picture Oscar nominees, as has been the case for the past three years; and (2) Because the tastes of the PGA and the Academy deviate in certain specific areas.

It was always expected that the PGA would recognize Fox Searchlight's Birdman, IFC Films' Boyhood, The Weinstein Co.'s The Imitation Game and Focus Features' The Theory of Everything. It was anything but certain, however, that Warner Bros.' American Sniper, Sony Classics' Foxcatcher, Fox's Gone Girl, Fox Searchlight's The Grand Budapest Hotel, Open Road Films' Nightcrawler and Sony Classics' Whiplash would join them.

Read more Producers Guild's Film Nominees Go Indie From 'Boyhood' to 'Whiplash'

It is, frankly, quite surprising to see neither of Paramount's big hopefuls, Interstellar ($165 million budget, $183 million earned domestically so far) and Selma ($20 million budget, $2 million earned domestically so far), represented on the list — although it's conceivable that the studio's decision not to send PGA members screeners injured their prospects. The fact that "their" spots went to the relatively small-scale indies Nightcrawler ($8.5 million budget, $32 million earned domestically so far) and Whiplash ($3.3 million budget, $6 million earned domestically so far) made the cut with the PGA is a big statement, I think, about the strength of their support.

In each of the past several years, the PGA and the Academy have overlapped on all but two or three nominees, and the discrepancies have almost always involved the PGA siding with big box-office successes from big studios, followed by the Academy replacing them either with other big box-office successes from big studios or, more commonly, smaller-scale critics' darlings.

For 2009, the PGA nominated Paramount's Star Trek ($257 million domestically) and Warner Bros.' Invictus ($37 million), whereas the Academy opted instead for Warner Bros.' The Blind Side ($255 million), yes, but also Focus Features' A Serious Man ($9 million). For 2010, the PGA nominated Warner Bros.' The Town ($92 million), whereas the Academy opted for Roadside Attractions' Winter's Bone ($6 million). For 2011, the PGA nominated Universal's Bridesmaids ($169 million) and Sony's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ($103 million), plus Sony's The Ides of March ($41 million), whereas the Academy opted for The Tree of Life ($13 million) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ($32 million). For 2012, the PGA nominated MGM's Skyfall ($304 million) and Focus Features' Moonrise Kingdom ($46 million), whereas the Academy opted for Sony Classics' Amour ($7 million). And for 2013, the PGA nominated Disney's Saving Mr. Banks ($83 million) and Sony Classics' Blue Jasmine ($33 million), whereas the Academy opted for The Weinstein Co.'s Philomena ($38 million).

That's understandable enough, considering that a big part of the way that producers measure the performance of a movie is its bottom line. But what it means is that today's nominations should not be interpreted as a best picture Oscar death-knell for the likes of art house fare such as Selma, A24's A Most Violent Year and Fox Searchlight's Wild, which could still bump one or two of the big studios' commercially successful but highly divisive PGA nominees American Sniper and/or Gone Girl.

But for films that were made on a big scale and/or very commercially successful and still did not show up Wednesday, it might well mean the end of the road. Those include Interstellar (screeners of which didn't go out), as well as Disney's Into the Woods, Universal's Unbroken, Warner Bros.' The Judge and Sony's Fury (all of which went out to PGA members on screener).

Whichever film ends up winning the PGA Award, which has been presented annually since 1990, will be in good company: 18 of the past 25 years the — or I should say at least one of the, since there was a tie last year — PGA Award winners went on to win the best picture Oscar, including each of the last seven: No Country for Old Men (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The Hurt Locker (2009), The King's Speech (2010), The Artist (2011), Argo (2012) and 12 Years a Slave (2013).

The PGA Awards were and remain the first major guild-hosted awards ceremony on the calendar, meaning they potentially offer insight about the views held by people who actually work within the industry, unlike Globes voters, but like Academy voters. While Slumdog Millionaire, The Artist, Argo and 12 Years a Slave were widely anticipated winners, The Hurt Locker and The King's Speech were facing uphill climbs -- they had been beaten at several major awards shows when they were recognized with the PGA Award, which marked the beginning of a turnaround in their fortunes. In other words, until the PGA declares a winner, nobody else can with any real degree of confidence.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg

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