There were two big takeaways from this year’s Producers Guild of America nominations: The 2015 Oscar nominees should include a few major surprises, and screeners are ever so critical during awards season.
The biggest shock was the omission of the Ava DuVernay-directed “Selma” from the PGA’s 10 contenders list. But it turns out that Paramount sent DVD screeners to Academy voters in December, but not to the guilds. The film was also shut out from SAG Awards noms last month, again because voters hadn’t received screeners.
When Oscar moved its awards show a month earlier a decade ago, other kudos events also shifted — meaning studios since then have often run up against deadlines with their year-end openers. Paramount was waiting for final masters while PGA voting was held Dec. 1-Jan. 2. SAG voting was even earlier, Nov. 19-Dec. 8.
The Martin Luther King Jr. drama is one of the frontrunners in this year’s Oscar race and has already received feature nods from critics, the Golden Globes and Spirit Awards, among others. It’s possible “Selma” simply didn’t score enough PGA votes. But the screener factor seems a more likely explanation. It’s hard to avoid a cause-and-effect connection: Screeners were sent out for Warner Bros.’ “American Sniper,” which also opened Dec. 25, and and that film did score a nom.
In 1993 Steven Spielberg declined to make “Schindler’s List” available for screeners, wanting people to see the film on the bigscreen. But times have changed since then, and few filmmakers or studios want to eschew screeners. But timing is always crucial.
Ever since videocassettes were sent out in the late 1980s, execs at the Academy and studios have emphasized that they hope voters will see films on the bigscreen, saying that’s how they were intended to be seen. But voters have increasingly come to rely on screeners to catch up with contenders.
Aside from “Selma,” MIA titles include “Unbroken,” “Interstellar” and “Into the Woods.” But it’s not over yet. Last year, “Philomena” scored an Oscar nom for best picture even though it was ignored by PGA.
All those films feature strong artisan work, and that’s always a factor in the Academy Awards, since below-the-line branches account for one-third of Oscar voters (2,067 this year). Oscar ballots are due Jan. 8, with noms announced Jan. 15.
In general, PGA is a good omen for Oscar. Last year, eight of the PGA’s 10 nominees ended up with Academy Award nominations. “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” tied for the top prize before Steve McQueen’s slavery drama went on to take best picture at the Oscars. Prior to that, the last six PGA winners won the top prize at the Academy Awards.
Several films got good news Monday, with “Nightcrawler” a key example of the topsy-turvy year in which the alpha dogs and the underdogs have traded places.
Could the Open Road film score an Oscar nomination for best picture? Four months ago, the idea seemed far-fetched. When the film debuted in Toronto, awards talk was tentative and focused on Jake Gyllenhaal and the screenplay by Dan Gilroy (who also directed). But support has persisted and broadened for the film, including nominations for the Producers Guild, Art Directors, SAG and Ace Eddie award from American Cinema Editors. So the answer is yes, it could.
Of course, there were plenty of familiar titles in Monday’s PGA and Art Directors Guild voting, including such frequently cited films as “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Foxcatcher,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything.” And Monday’s PGA announcements confirmed that “Whiplash,” “Gone Girl” and “American Sniper” — a quintessential “little” film and two high-profile Hollywood hits — are very much a part of the awards race.