The Beverly Hilton was packed with Academy voters Saturday, as 10 films were presented as candidates for the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer Guild Award. Going in, the conversation was all about what people didn’t know: No one had any idea which film would win. There was Bradley Cooper’s guild frontrunner “A Star Is Born,” the effectively directorless “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and a pack of deserving and inclusive movies including Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” and Jon M. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians.”
The movie that answered the question is clearly a popular favorite: Peter Farrelly’s charming ’60s racial drama “Green Book.” While it has stirred controversy since it won the People’s Choice award at the Toronto Film International Film Festival — which often presages the ultimate Best Picture winner — it has delighted audiences ever since.
The 8,000-plus PGA-member producers tend to vote for the movie they like best, as opposed to the best-produced movie. Since the PGA Awards launched in 1990, 21 PGA winners have gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar. (For the oddsmakers, that’s a success rate of about 72 percent.) “The Shape of Water” did land the big win last year; the two prior winners, “La La Land” and “The Big Short,” did not. Historically, no movie has won Best Picture without a DGA nomination, which Farrelly has. But that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed an Oscar nomination on Tuesday, either. The WGA nominee is most likely to score an Original Screenplay nod.
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While the Oscar Best Picture odds favor the PGA winner, the big question heading into the Oscars (nominations are announced January 22), is whether “Green Book” can withstand the controversy surrounding it. Many Academy members say they either haven’t heard about the complaints that the true story favors the perspective of Bronx bouncer-driver Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) over jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) — or, they don’t care. Ali won the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards for Best Supporting Actor, and is favored to win the SAG and Academy Awards as well.
Truth is, “Green Book,” which has strong support from writers and actors (although it did not land a SAG Ensemble nomination), makes many people feel good. And it plays well to the still-most-dominant group in the Academy, white men, who voted for movies like “In the Heat of the Night” and “Driving Miss Daisy,” and gave “Crash” Best Picture over “Brokeback Mountain.” There have been many changes in the burgeoning Academy membership over the past three years, but women are still 31 percent, people of color are represent about 12 percent of the 7,900 voters, and black voters number about 350. As presenter Regina Hall pointed out, the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton was very white.
Stanley Kramer Award-recipient Jane Fonda, who got a kick out of winning an award from the producers, reminded the room that half the members are women. “It’s not that we’re better,” she said. “It’s just that we don’t have our masculinity to prove.”
Various show participants on Saturday made their case for their favorites — Sterling K. Brown eloquently pushed the historic accomplishment of global Marvel blockbuster “Black Panther,” as did “Blackish” creator Kenya Barris. “You always heard black movies don’t travel,” he said. “They told an African fairytale and it’s the third-biggest movie of all time. What that said to me is humanity translates … Stories are being told by the people who tell the stories.”
Bradley Cooper reminded that Warner Bros.’ executive Toby Emmerich took a chance on a fourth remake, first-time writer-director, and unproven lead actress Lady Gaga for “A Star Is Born,” while Constance Wu stressed the inclusion narrative for “Crazy Rich Asians.”
In other categories, Phil Lord and Chris Miller accepted the PGA Award for animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and Morgan Neville accepted for the Fred Rogers documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” giving both films a powerful headwind in the Oscar race. “We tried hard to make a movie good enough for Miles Morales and his family to be in,” said Lord.