The Producers Guild of America announces their winner this Saturday with the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures and there are never been a more contentious year in recent memory as this one. There are three legitimate contenders for this prize in Spotlight, The Big Short and The Revenant. Even Mad Max: Fury Road is a true spoiler. In 26 years of the Producers Guild Awards, the winner there has gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar all but seven times. Amazing, in the mid-2000s it happened three years in a row. But, since 2007 it’s been a perfect match-up, save that tie in 2014 between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. 12 Years a Slave went on to win Best Picture while Gravity picked up the most Oscars that night, seven, including Best Director.
So let’s look at this year. Right now, Spotlight is sort of the frontrunner but a very weak one at that. It’s the critical favorite going in and won the BFCA last weekend plus has a SAG Cast nomination under its belt. It’s the ‘serious’ contender and if it wins would be the only film about journalism to do so. But at this point last year Boyhood was a much stronger frontrunner, was the perceived Best Picture winner and began its losing streak here, to Birdman. One interesting comparison between Boyhood and Spotlight is that they both were distributed by indies that were untested in Oscar waters. Boyhood from IFC and Spotlight from Open Road Films. So how did Boyhood, with its 100 score on Metacritic, lose out to Fox Searchlight‘s Birdman right when it counted? Was there possibly pushback against these indies over a studio film? Granted, Fox Searchlight is still considered and ‘indie’ distributor too but it’s also still the indie arm of 20th Century Fox and had already reaped Best Picture wins so it wasn’t a newbie. This year, Open Road Films is going up against two studio heavyweights in 20th Century Fox (The Revenant) and Paramount Pictures (The Big Short). Again, adding Mad Max into the mix you have Warner Brothers.
Timing can be a very important factor in this race too, just as it is with the Oscars. The Revenant upset Spotlight at the Golden Globes two weeks ago, winning Best Motion Picture – Drama as well as Best Director. The big budget film is also now a certified blockbuster that could end up near $200m by the time the Oscars are announced next month. That makes the film a major contender here but some people also inexplicably link box office prowess to one’s sole ability to triumph here. But I’d point them to the Avatar vs. The Hurt Locker when the biggest film of all time (at the time) was the frontrunner against a summer release that made less than $15m and came from an off-shoot of an already indie distributor (Summit via Lionsgate). Up against The Revenant are a couple of obstacles; Alejandro G. Iñárritu just won last year and the film is a December release; there hasn’t been a December winner since 2004’s Million Dollar Baby. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen, just that the lack of ability to gain early momentum isn’t there.
Timing is also a factor with The Big Short being a player. The December release scored big at SAG with a Cast nomination (like Spotlight and something The Revenant does not have) plus a BAFTA nomination for Best Film. Its box office is strong week to week (it’s at $50m right now) and its topical commentary of the U.S. housing market collapse has the ‘importance’ factor despite the presentation being more jocular and flashy. But, that December release date comes with its own disadvantages (like The Revenant) It could upset Spotlight at SAG the week after PGA quite easily if that film is the wobbly frontrunner I think it is.
It’s important to know that the PGA uses the same preferential ballot as the Oscars and changed their number of nominees to 10 the same year that the Oscars did.Even as the Oscars changed yet again to a 5-10 possible Best Picture nominees, the PGA kept theirs at a solid 10. Notably, in the PGA’s first year (1990) they had 10 nominees but changed to five the next year.
Right now, the majority of the Gold Rush Gang are predicting Spotlight to triumph. I, of course, am going out on a (low-hanging) limb and saying that The Revenant is going to be the winner.
So, does all of this uncertainty leave a door of opportunity open for Mad Max: Fury Road? Possibly, but even in a year as crazy as this that even seems a bit unlikely. I almost wish the group would give the Academy a big eff you and vote Straight Outta Compton to win. Boy, that would shake things up a bit. Not going to happen but an Oscar watcher can dream.
Here are the nominees for this year’s Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures and a handy chart of the PGA vs. Oscar comparison since the inception of the PGA award in 1990. The 27th Annual Producers Guild Awards will be held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on Saturday, January 23rd, 2016.