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The Producers Guild of America — which announced its nominations Thursday — gave a boost to several movies like Woody Allen‘s Blue Jasmine that have been struggling to gain awards traction. But it was a bad day for The Weinstein Company, whose awards hopefuls — Lee Daniels’ The Butler, August: Osage County, Philomena, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and Fruitvale Station — were all shut out.
Along with Jasmine, the PGA’s ten nominees for its Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures — the guild’s top prize — include American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. The winner will be announced at the 25th annual Producers Guild Awards on Jan. 19.
So what do the PGA noms mean in terms of the Oscar race? The answer is not a simple one, because the PGA nominates 10 films, while the Academy abandoned its guarantee of ten best picture nominees three years ago in favor of a voting system that can produce between five and ten nominees. That means that there might well be more PGA nominees than best picture Oscar nominees. Additionally, the PGA, composed of producers, historically has been more inclined to recognize commercial successes than the Academy, which tends to care more about creative ambition and artistic achievement.
So what really happened today?
First, let’s break down the PGA’s selections. The inclusion of 12 Years, Gravity, Phillips and Hustle should come as a surprise to no one; they have been the stalwarts throughout the entire season to date. The fact that Wolf made the cut can’t really be classified as a surprise either, since it’s a big studio film with producers, a director and stars who are all big names. Still, Wolf‘s nomination must have brought a sigh of relief from the filmmakers and the folks at Paramount, who have been battling a controversy over whether the film glorifies its anti-hero. So far, they appear to be succeeding.
As for the other five nominees, today’s mentions, coming in a highly competitive year, are a very big deal. Nebraska and Her are both unconventional “awards movies” — the first is a black-and-white dramedy, while the second is a futuristic love story — which is why many, including myself, were skeptical about their prospects. But they have both been championed by critics, and they’ve now both made it onto the top ten lists of the American Film Institute and the PGA, which indicates considerable strength.
Conversely, Jasmine and Mr. Banks have heretofore shown up hardly anywhere, apart from noms for their lead actresses (Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson, respectively), so today’s shout-outs appear to breathe new life into their prospects.
Dallas Buyers Club, meanwhile, is a film that everyone seemed to like but few seemed to be picking as a major contender; now pundits willl be hard-pressed to bet against it, since it has a SAG ensemble nom and a PGA nom under its belt.
But that’s only part of the story. In each of the past four years, the Academy nominees list has differed from the PGA’s by two or three films. The discrepancies have almost always involved the PGA siding with big box-office studios successes, with the Academy replacing several of them either with different studio success stories or, more commonly, smaller-scale critics’ darlings.
In 2009, the PGA nominated Paramount’s Star Trek ($257 million domestically) and Warner Bros.’ Invictus ($37), whereas the Academy opted instead for Warner’a The Blind Side ($255 million), yes, but also Focus’ A Serious Man ($9 million). In 2010, the PGA nominated Warner’s The Town ($92 million), whereas the Academy chose Roadside’s Winter’s Bone ($6 million). In 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 ), while the Academy went for The Tree of Life ($13 million) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ($32 million). And in 2012, the PGA nominated Focus’ Moonrise Kingdom ($46 million ) and Sony’s Skyfall ($304 million), but the Academy filled out its list with Sony Pictures Classics’ Amour ($7 million) instead.
Producers often measure the performance of a movie by its bottom line, so that explains their preferences. But today’s noms shouldn’t be interpreted as a best picture Oscar death-knell for some of the smaller, specialty movies like All Is Lost ($6 million), Before Midnight ($8 million), Enough Said ($18 million), Fruitvale Station ($16 million), Inside Llewyn Davis ($6 million) and Philomena ($18 million) that are still hoping to get best picture attention from the Academy.
On the other hand, it could spell trouble for some of the other hopefuls that did attract a sizeable audience — like The Butler, which collected $116 million. And it means some of the other studio releases that haven’t turned into blockbusters — like Prisoners ($61 million), Rush ($27 million) and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ($35.5 million) — are in danger. If they couldn’t swing it with the PGA, it’s hard to see them winning over the Academy.
A couple of other movies, Osage County (which Harvey Weinstein personally produced along with George Clooney and others) and Lone Survivor (the producers of which include Mark Wahlberg), have not yet gone into wide release, so their prospects remain fluid. But, certainly, a PGA nom wouldn’t have hurt.
Whichever film ends up winning the PGA Award, which has been presented annually since 1990, will be one step closer to a best picture Oscar win: 17 of the PGA’s 24 previous winners (71 percent) went on to win the best picture Academy Award, including each of the last five, from 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire through The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech, and The Artist to 2012’s Argo.
While Slumdog, The Artist and Argo were all widely anticipated winners, Hurt Locker and King’s Speech were both facing uphill climbs — they had been beaten at several earlier awards shows like the Golden Globes by Avatar and The Social Network, respectively — when they were recognized with the PGA Award, which marked the beginning of a turnaround in their fortunes.
The PGA Awards are the first major guild-hosted ceremony on the awards calendar. That means that they are the first to offer some sort of indication of how people who actually make movies — unlike Globes or Critics’ Choice voters, but like Academy voters — feel about the year’s contenders. In other words, until the PGA declares a winner, nobody can really make predictions about the eventual Oscar winner with any real degree of confidence.
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