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The big picture

Voters make a size-and-scope statement

WHAT:
PGA Awards
WHEN:
Saturday
WHERE:
Century Plaza Hotel
HOST:
John Larroquette
PRESENTERS:
James Cromwell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bob Goen, Scarlett Johansson, George Lopez, Baz Luhrmann, Kiefer Sutherland, Robert Towne

Folks in the film biz will always remember the 2003 award season because of the Screener Wars, in which indies battled for the right to send screening tapes to kudos voters.

So there’s some irony in the fact that the six pics nominated by the Producers Guild of America as the best of 2003 are all from the majors — and all are films that must be seen on the bigscreen. (Of course, it will always be a guess as to whether small pics were shut-out because the screeners weren’t available or if voters just didn’t respond to them.)

As for this nommed group, viewers would lose something when watching Miramax’s “Cold Mountain,” Warner’s “The Last Samurai,” 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 Universal’s “Seabiscuit” on their TVs. Even the “smallest” film, WB’s “Mystic River,” would sacrifice a lot of its nuance if watched on tape.

Despite the Screener Wars and despite the fact that Hollywood box office is in the shadow of DVD these days, the PGA noms are a reminder that movies were designed to be seen on the bigscreen. Even indie pics such as Focus Features’ “Lost in Translation” and Lions Gate’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” need to be seen in a theater for their full impact.

The PGA noms also point up another dilemma in this award season: too many serious contenders.

One day after the PGA noms were unveiled Jan. 5, the Directors Guild of America announced five noms. That same week, several critics groups offered theirs.

Of course, critics groups are more esoteric than the PGA and DGA. So a consensus is unlikely. But there were some surprises in both the lists — inclusions and omissions — which means that people in Hollywood don’t really know which five films will get in Oscar’s golden circle.

Despite all the naysaying during the past 12 months, is it possible (gasp!) that 2003 was actually a good year for film?

The PGA bypassed such smaller pics, all critical faves, as “Lost in Translation,” “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” “House of Sand and Fog,” “In America,” “American Splendor” and “21 Grams.”

Studio pics left out of this year’s voting include “Big Fish,” “Finding Nemo,” “Love Actually” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Most of them would be great choices for a pic nom.

To some pundits, the Oscar race actually is narrowing down. Four films showed up in both the PGA and DGA shortlists: “Rings” (Peter Jackson), “Master” (Peter Weir), “Mystic” (Clint Eastwood) and “Seabiscuit” (Gary Ross).

Though the PGA cited “Cold Mountain” and “The Last Samurai,” the Directors Guild didn’t list the respective helmers: Anthony Minghella and Ed Zwick. “Translation” missed out on a PGA nom, though it scored in the DGA voting with Sofia Coppola.

The PGA nominated six pics for the second consecutive year. It’s yet another indication of an uncertain year. The voting by about half the org’s 2,000 members put two of the pics in a tie for fifth place.

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.

It’s the eternal curse and blessing of being a film awards ceremony in the middle of award season: You get a lot of attention, but you will always be seen in Oscar’s shadow.

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