Every year Hollywood looks to the Producers Guild Awards winner to forecast the Best Picture Oscar. That’s because in the 12 years since both groups expanded their top award list (the PGA mandates 10, which the Oscars will return to next year) and adopted the preferential ballot, only three times have the winners not aligned — PGA winners “1917,” “La La Land” and “The Big Short” did not land Best Picture.
Those differences made sense, as in each case a smaller, lower-budget movie (“Parasite,” “Moonlight,” and “Spotlight”) took home the Oscar over a movie of scale and scope. And as expected, this year’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of a Motion Picture went to Chloé Zhao’s magic-hour road trip “Nomadland,” as voted on by the guild’s 8,000 members. Searchlight’s frontrunner looms large in a field of small movies, as it keeps racking up wins on its way to multiple Oscars come April 25.
“We’re proud to have produced a film about community and what connects us,” said producer Peter Spears, who with producer-star Frances McDormand brought the book by Jessica Bruder to Zhao to adapt into a film.
If there was going to be an upset in the Oscar race, this was the chance to mark a change in momentum for Aaron Sorkin’s fading Best Picture contender “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” But that did not happen. As usual the PGA Awards (hosted by an energetic Tracee Ellis Ross) imported a slew of Oscar nominees to present prizes or introduce the 10 feature motion picture contenders, including Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”), Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”), Steven Yeun (“Minari”), Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci (“Sound of Metal”), Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”), Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”), and Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”).
This year, three PGA film contenders did not make the Oscar Best Picture cut: SAG Ensemble nominees “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “One Night in Miami,” as well as Baron Cohen’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon), which won Adapted Screenplay at the WGA Awards on Sunday (where “Nomadland” was not eligible), along with Emerald Fennell, for her original script for “Promising Young Woman,” which beat Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Their WGA wins move them forward in their respective Screenplay Oscar races, if not Best Picture.
Anyone still hoping to put a dent in the “Nomadland” winning streak will look to the Screen Actors Guild Awards (April 4) and BAFTAs (April 11), where several films boast a home-team advantage: “The Father,” “Sound of Metal,” and “Promising Young Woman.”
The other PGA film awards were not surprises either: Pixar’s “Soul” won Best Animated Theatrical Motion Picture, as it will likely do on Oscar night. (Eight out of 12 PGA winners have won the Oscar since 2009.) Out of 153 non-fiction submissions, South African heart-tugger “My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix) won the Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Motion Picture, beating out the category’s only other Oscar nominee, critics’ favorite “Time” (Amazon Studios). Previous winners in this category, “O.J.: Made in America,” “Amy,” and “Searching for Sugar Man,” all went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
Many producers at the PGA event touched on the challenges presented by the pandemic, which demanded new levels of safety protocols and nurturing. “The term producer took a much larger feeling in my mind — a much larger role,” said Chris Licht of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Liz Tigelaar recalled the late director Lynn Shelton, who directed the fiery finale of “Little Fires Everywhere,” and turned up in the In Memoriam section along with Tom Pollock, Stuart Cornfeld, Buck Henry, Irrfan Khan, Carl Reiner, Kirk Douglas, Gene Reynolds, Fred Silverman, Steve Bing, Allan Burns, Ronald Schwary, Jamie Tarses, and more.
2020, said Anthony Mackie, “brought a seemingly endless series of losses.”