PGA Awards: '12 Years' and 'Gravity' Surge Back to Life After SAG Losses (Analysis)

Gravity Win at PGA Awards 2014 H
Associate Press

Talk about a rollercoaster of an awards season.

Just 24 hours ago, Sony's American Hustle was on top of the world, having won the best ensemble prize at the SAG Awards, the first ceremony of the season at which winners were determined by people who actually make movies, like Academy members. But tonight, at the 25th PGA Awards, Hustle finished no better than third in the race for the producers guild's top film prize, the Darryl F. Zanuck Award (aka the PGA Award), which has an even better track record of picking best picture Oscar winners: 17 of the 24 previous PGA Award winners -- or 70.8 percent -- went on to win the top Oscar, including each of the last six.

We know that because it was announced that Fox Searchlight's 12 Years a Slave and Warner Bros.' Gravity tied for that prize, something that has never happened before in the guild's quarter-century history. And thus ended the last long awards show of what presenter Kevin Spacey called "awards hell week" -- with exactly six weeks remaining until the 86th Academy Awards ceremony.

STORY: 'Gravity,' '12 Years a Slave' Win PGA's Top Prize in Unprecedented Tie

The PGA, which is the largest union of film and television producers, with over 6,000 members around the world, has only picked seven films for its top prize that the Academy did not then second. It went with The Crying Game instead of Unforgiven (1992), Apollo 13 instead of Braveheart (1995), Saving Private Ryan instead of Shakespeare in Love (1998), Moulin Rouge! instead of A Beautiful Mind (2001), The Aviator instead of Million Dollar Baby (2004), Brokeback Mountain instead of Crash (2005) and Little Miss Sunshine instead of The Departed (2006). Good luck trying to find a pattern there.

Some say that the PGA is more predisposed to reward commercially successfully projects than the Academy is, and that has generally been borne out by the one or two discrepancies between the two groups' nominations -- for instance, over the past five years, the PGA nominated the blockbusters Star Trek, Bridesmaids, The Town and Skyfall, whereas the Academy did not. This year, though, the commercial discrepancies between their choices weren't great: Blue Jasmine ($33 million gross) and Saving Mr. Banks ($75 million gross) received PGA Award noms but did not receive best picture Oscar noms; Philomena ($24 million gross) did not receive a PGA Award nom but did receive a best picture Oscar nom.

The bottom line, though, is that the PGA is pretty in-tune with the Academy, which is why the Fox Searchlight and Warner Bros. tables were nervous going into the night -- another American Hustle win would have been very difficult to rebound from -- and ecstatic upon hearing their film's name announced as the winner.

STORY: Producers of 10 PGA-Nominated Films Reveal Behind-the-Scenes Drama at Breakfast

Hustle certainly had some things going for it: in particular, the involvement of 27-year-old producer Megan Ellison, who was a double-nominee tonight (she also produced Her) and has been widely praised for giving auteurs the budgets and support they need to do their best work, and the relationships of veteran producer Charles Roven. (Jonathan Gordon and Richard Suckle are the film's other two PGA-acknowledged producers.)

But, at the end of the day, the prize went to two films whose directors were also among their PGA-credited producers: Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron shared the prize with David Heyman, who is best known for producing the Harry Potter franchise) and 12 Years (Steve McQueen shared the prize with Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Dede Gardner and Brad Pitt).

Presenter Ben Affleck, whose Argo won the PGA Award and the best picture Oscar last year, announced that there was a tie and then said he would reveal the first winner and invite its producers to give an acceptance speech before announcing the second winner. Gravity got the call first, leaving the other nine nominees to stew nervously in their seats -- and freaking out all nominees whose titles began with a number of letter that precedes "G," since many assumed the winners would be announced alphabetically. But then he called out 12 Years a Slave and that was that. Pitt, who spoke first for the film's producing team, cracked, "I got my vote in at the last minute. I voted for Gravity."

Now, with a best picture Oscar contest that truly looks like it can be won by any of at least three nominees, we can only hold our breath and wait for the next sudden twist and turn -- which will arrive on Saturday in the form of the DGA Award, the guild prize with the best track record of all at predicting the best picture Oscar winner.

Until then, the race marches on!

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg