PGA opts for big dramas

Producers get dramatic with nominations

This article was updated at 7:25 p.m.

The Producers Guild of America is thinking big in film nominations, citing six large-scale and high-profile dramas, while sidestepping comedies and independent fare.

Finalists for the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year kudos are Miramax’s “Cold Mountain,” Warner’s “The Last Samurai” and “Mystic River,” New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” Fox’s “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” and U’s “Seabiscuit.”

In voting by about half the org’s 2,000 members, two of the pics tied for fifth, marking the second year in a row that six features have been nominated. Voter turnout was about the same as last year, according to PGA exec director Vance Van Petten.

The PGA noms and winners are a closely watched indicator of Oscar sentiment, since the org includes a significant number of voters who are also members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

On the TV side, HBO and CBS dominated, snagging 11 of the possible 21 nods. HBO took six noms and CBS five. Fox and NBC each nabbed three.

Compressed season

The fact that the noms were announced Monday reflects the compressed nature of the current film-awards season; PGA awards ceremonies will be held Jan. 17 at the Century Plaza.

The 2004 nominees include a blockbuster, “Return of the King,” which is poised to pass $300 million at the domestic box office, and a solid box office success with “Seabiscuit,” topping $120 million.

“The Last Samurai” has grossed $90.1 million; “Master and Commander,” $83.1 million; “Mystic River,” $53.5 million; and “Cold Mountain,” $43.9 million after two weeks.

Most of the nominees have budgets over $100 million. “Seabiscuit” and “Mystic” had the lowest budgets of the six, but are still high-profile pics.

Big is better

The PGA bypassed such smaller pics, all critical faves, as “In America,” “Lost in Translation,” “House of Sand and Fog” and “21 Grams.”

“Seabiscuit,” which bowed in July, was the lone entry released prior to the fall.

“I’m very glad people still remembered the film, since there are so many good films at the end of the year,” said Gary Ross, who was the writer-director and a producer of the pic. “I think it connected with voters because it’s an emotional film that creates an emotional experience that has obviously stayed with people for a long time.”

Herskovitz, one of four producers on “Last Samurai,” said the drama evidently resonated with PGA members in a variety of ways.

“Our film deals with issues at many levels both thematically and dramatically,” Herskovitz said. “It talks about values and ethics and I think people responded to that.”

Paula Wagner, who also produced on “Samurai,” opined the pic appealed due to its combo of international scope and themes of courage, honor and truth. “There was also a great performance by my producing partner, Tom Cruise,” she added.

Last year, three of the six PGA nominations went on to receive Oscar noms: “Chicago,” “Gangs of New York” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” The PGA winner has gone on to win the best picture Oscar in 10 of the PGA award’s 14 years.

Those double winners include “Chicago,” along with “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Dances With Wolves,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Schindler’s List,” “Forrest Gump,” “The English Patient,” “Titanic,” “American Beauty” and “Gladiator.”

The PGA opted in 2002 for “Moulin Rouge” while “A Beautiful Mind” took home the Oscar. Other splits came when the PGA tapped “Saving Private Ryan,” “Apollo 13” and “The Crying Game,” while the Oscar went to, respectively, “Shakespeare in Love,” “Braveheart” and “Unforgiven.”

Other pics left out of this year’s voting were studio fare such as “Big Fish,” “Finding Nemo,” “Love Actually” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and dark horses like “American Splendor,” “Bend it Like Beckham,” “Bad Santa,” “A Mighty Wind,” “Shattered Glass,” “The Station Agent,” “Thirteen” and “Whale Rider.”

Monday’s announcement was emceed at the Century Plaza Hotel by Marg Helgenberger and Sean Astin, who has starred in all three “Lord of the Rings” films.

“Receiving a nomination is quite an honor,” said Helgenberger, whose “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” was tapped as a finalist in TV drama series. Astin responded, “Winning probably wouldn’t be bad either.”

HBO was nominated for “Six Feet Under” in drama series, “Sex and the City” for comedy series, “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself,” “My House in Umbria” and “Normal” in longform and “Project Greenlight” in the reality-game-informational category. “Sex and the City” won the Danny Thomas award for comedy in 2001 and 2002.

CBS took noms for “CSI,” for “The Amazing Race 4” and “Survivor: Pearl Islands” in reality, “Hitler: the Rise of Evil” in longform and “Everybody Loves Raymond” in comedy series.

Fox had three, with “24” in drama, “Malcolm in the Middle” in comedy and “American Idol” in reality. (“24” won the Norman Felton drama award last year.)

NBC took a trio of noms: “The West Wing” in drama and “Scrubs” and “Will & Grace” in comedy. (“West Wing” won the award in 2001 and 2002.)

Taking one nom each were ABC (“Alias,” drama series), A&E (“Biography,” reality), FX (“The Pentagon Papers,” in longform) and Bravo (“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” reality).

The announcements included the names of producers, since the PGA has already completed its accreditation process. Org has been campaigning in recent years to tighten standards on such credits.

“The credited producers are only those who have performed the majority of the producing work,” said PGA VP Hawk Koch at the news conference.

Two films — “Cold Mountain” and “The Last Samurai” — carried four producers while the rest credited three each.

Producers credited included:

“Cold Mountain” — Albert Berger & Ron Yerxa, William Horberg, Sydney Pollack.

“The Last Samurai” — Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz; Paula Wagner & Tom Cruise.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” — Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh.

“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” — Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Duncan Henderson, Peter Weir.

“Mystic River” — Robert Lorenz, Judie G. Hoyt, Clint Eastwood.

“Seabiscuit” — Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Gary Ross.

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