Why the PGA Award for 'The Artist' Is an Important--If Not Unexpected--Win (Analysis)

The Artist Dujardin Bejo - H 2011
Weinstein Company

The Artist Dujardin Bejo - H 2011

At the 23rd annual Producers Guild of America Awards, which took place last night in Beverly Hills, the presumptive best picture Oscar frontrunner The Artist passed its biggest test yet by holding off nine other films -- Bridesmaids, The Descendants, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, The Help, The Ides of March, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, and War Horse -- to win the Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures (aka "the PGA Award"), the guild's top prize. (The honor was accepted by the film's producer, Thomas Langmann.)

The PGA Award, which has been presented annually since 1990, has proven to be among the most reliable harbingers of best picture Oscar success out there: 15 of its 22 previous winners (68%) went on to win the best picture Oscar, including each of the last three, Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The Hurt Locker (2009), and The King's Speech (2010).

Why does it matter even more and predict Oscar success even better than, say, the best picture prize at the Critics' Choice Awards and/or the best picture (musical or comedy) prize at the Golden Globe Awards, both of which The Artist won earlier this month? Because, while those are nice laurels to be able to put on a poster or DVD, they do not reflect support from people whose backing actually matters when it comes to Oscar voting. The Critics' Choice Awards and Golden Globe Awards are both determined by groups of journalists, but the PGA Award -- like all of the various guilds' awards that follow it -- are decided by people who actually make movies, just like the vast majority of the Academy.

Indeed, the PGA Awards marked a key turning point in each of the past two awards seasons, which were more hotly-contested than this one has been. Two campaigns ago, the end-of-the-year blockbuster Avatar defeated the summer indie The Hurt Locker to win the best picture (drama) Golden Globe Award and appeared to be unstoppable, but then the PGA Awards came along and the guild shocked everyone by choosing David over Goliath. The rest of the guilds followed suit, and so did the Academy. Last year offers an even better example. The Social Network was regarded as the clear frontrunner throughout the first two-thirds of the awards season, having been named the year's best film by virtually every critics group and beaten The King's Speech to win the best picture Critics' Choice Award and the best picture (drama) Golden Globe Award, as well. Just as it was beginning to look unstoppable, though, it ran into the guilds, which -- led by the PGA -- went almost uniformly for The King's Speech, which, of course, wound up winning the best picture Oscar.

The Artist has, thus far, received a very strong show of support from a large number and variety of guilds -- in addition to the PGA nomination and win, it has pending noms from the Directors Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, American Cinema Editors, Art Directors Guild, American Society of Cinematographers, and Costume Designers Guild -- which positions it very strongly for a best picture Oscar victory.

But the backers of the two films that are hottest on its heels, Hugo The Descendants, can take heart from one thing: the DGA Awards, which will be presented next Saturday, have an even longer and stronger track record as an Oscar-predictor than the PGA -- the film directed by the DGA winner has gone on to win the best picture Oscar on 50 of 63 occasions, or 79% of the time -- and DGA voters might well be more inclined to go with a veteran American filmmaker such as Alexander Payne (The Descendants) or Martin Scorsese (Hugo) than with The Artist's Michel Hazanavicius, an unknown Frenchman who is nominated for his first English-language outing.

If the DGA does honor someone other than Hazanavicius next weekend, then we might actually have a race on our hands for the best picture Oscar. But if they, too, endorse The Artist, then there's probably no need to wait several more weeks before engraving its name into the statuette.

NOTE: For the record, the seven PGA Awards winners that didn't repeat at the Oscars were: The Crying Game, which lost to Unforgiven (1992); Apollo 13, which lost to Braveheart (1995); Saving Private Ryan, which lost to Shakespeare in Love (1998); Moulin Rouge!, which lost to A Beautiful Mind (2001); The Aviator, which lost to Million Dollar Baby (2004); Brokeback Mountain, which lost to Crash (2005); and Little Miss Sunshine, which lost to The Departed (2006).