Well it certainly didn’t take long to get down to brass tacks.
Just over a week after the Oscar nominations were announced, we jump straight to one of the chief Best Picture indicators. Tomorrow night, January 23rd, the Producers Guild of America (PGA) holds its annual awards ceremony, and the evening will be capped – as it always is – with the presentation of the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures, otherwise known as the PGA’s Best Picture prize. The film that walks away with that award is likely to shoot to the top of most pundits’ Best Picture predictions if it isn’t there already.
Why? The PGA winner has matched the eventual Best Picture winner at the Oscars each of the last eight years. The last year where PGA “missed” was 2006, when Little Miss Sunshine won PGA and The Departed won the Oscar. Sure, there was that oddity in 2013 where the PGA vote resulted in a tie between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, but that still technically counts…and let’s be honest, the tie wound up as a microcosm for the season, since those two films split just about everything right down to Oscar night, where 12 Years won Best Picture but Gravity won Best Director and took home the most trophies throughout the night. Every other year from 2007-2014: precise chalk. It was regarded as something of a surprise when Birdman won PGA last year, since we were coming off a Phase One campaign conquered by Boyhood, but we all know now that the PGA was a harbinger for the remainder of the season – Birdman dominated Phase Two, winning every major guild prize (save BAFTA, which didn’t get the memo) en route to the Best Picture Oscar.
This year, as ever, there are 10 PGA nominees. In alphabetical order:
- The Big Short
- Bridge of Spies
- Ex Machina
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- The Martian
- The Revenant
- Straight Outta Compton
It seems that we can logistically whittle this initial list down to a more manageable grouping when it comes to looking for a potential winner. One imagines the “top five” nominees are Spotlight, The Big Short, The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Martian. Those first four are absolutely the *only* four with a chance at Oscar’s Best Picture (and yes, I believe there is a path for any of the four to win at this point), and I’m throwing Martian in the mix because PGA included it prior to the Academy’s omission of Ridley Scott in the Best Director category, so there may have been more goodwill toward the film when the PGA votes started trickling in.
In terms of “production,” each of the top four are different feats. Will PGA voters respond to the very precise, very controlled Spotlight, undertaken with absolute mastery? Is the enormity of the Fury Road team’s effort, also masterfully mounted in every facet, what they are looking for? Both Revenant and Big Short have the advantage of newness working for them, but in terms of the formal production, both could be viewed from two different lenses. Alejandro G. Inarritu’s film could either score points or suffer disdain for the pain and suffering inflicted upon the filmmaking team during its arduous shoot. Adam McKay’s film could be seen as an unexpected ambitious leap for the director who had heretofore only made “silly comedies,” or that “silly comedy” label could adversely reflect on the film’s overall thematic weight.
At this point, I’m parsing too many hypotheticals. Somewhere around 7,000 members will vote using a preferential ballot that bears *some* significance to the Academy ballot. The result will be a winner that is generally agreeable among the large voting body. In my mind, that keeps Spotlight on top. There is greater likelihood for a love-hate divide with the other four films in contention, whereas nearly everyone holds Spotlight in high regard.
At this point, I’m riding the Spotlight wave until there is a clear signal to abandon it. Saturday’s PGA announcement may be that signal, or maybe not. But the way this season has churned our expectations so fiercely, even a seeming confirmation of Spotlight by the PGA isn’t necessarily reason to double-down on its Oscar chances, nor would a seeming PGA repudiation be reason to completely jump ship.
It’s just that kind of year. It’s a rarity. Savor it…frustrating though that may be.