This article was updated on Thursday, Jan. 27.
The Producers Guild of America has named Howard Hughes biopic “The Aviator” its top feature film of 2004, awarding producers Michael Mann and Graham King the Darryl F. Zanuck producer of the year award.
The Miramax and Warner Bros. pic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese, topped Miramax’s “Finding Neverland,” Disney and Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” Warner’s “Million Dollar Baby” and Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways” in ceremonies Saturday night at Culver Studios before about 800 attendees.
In his acceptance speech, King called Scorsese a “genius” and said of DiCaprio, “This is your passion project. I truly believe it’s the role of a lifetime and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actor work so hard.”
King’s Initial Entertainment Group financed “The Aviator” with Miramax and Warner. Mann worked with screenwriter John Logan to develop the two-decade recap of Hughes’ life through the late 1940s.
HBO took a trio of TV awards. “The Sopranos” won drama series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” comedy series and “Angels in America” the longform nod. Warner Bros.’ syndicated “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” won in variety and CBS’ “The Amazing Race” drew nonfiction kudos.
The PGA prize, based on voting by the org’s 2,000 members, makes “The Aviator” a front-runner among contenders for what’s expected to be a fairly wide-open contest for the best picture Oscar. A significant number of PGA voters are Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences members.
“The Aviator” has gained awards momentum following its Jan. 16 Golden Globes win for drama, followed by 14 BAFTA nominations the next day.
Oscar noms are announced on Tuesday, and the Academy Awards will be presented Feb. 27.
In five of the last six years, only three PGA nominees went on to rack up Academy best pic noms. But the PGA has a strong record of predicting Oscar winners, with 11 of the 15 PGA recipients going on to take the picture Oscar, including “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” last year. The four discrepancies: PGA chose “Moulin Rouge” in 2002 (“A Beautiful Mind” won the Oscar), “Saving Private Ryan” in 1999 (“Shakespeare in Love”), “Apollo 13” in 1996 (“Braveheart”) and “The Crying Game” in 1993 (“Unforgiven”).
“The Aviator” has grossed about $60 million domestically since opening a month ago. With its Golden Globe win plus the PGA’s preference for large-scale productions, the choice of “The Aviator” did not generate much surprise when announced by Samuel L. Jackson.
The PGA, which limits credits to three producers per feature and has been campaigning to tighten such credits, announced last week that it would recognize only Mann and King if “The Aviator” won. Two other producers, Sandy Climan and Charles Evans Jr., are listed in screen credits.
“The Sopranos” won the Norman Felton trophy for drama series, beating out CBS’ “CSI,” FX’s “Nip/Tuck,” HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and NBC’s “The West Wing.” “The Sopranos” producers were David Chase, Brad Grey, Mitchell Burgess & Robin Green, Ilene S. Landress, Terence Winter, Henry Bronchtein, Matthew Weiner and Martin Bruestle.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” won the Danny Thomas award for comedy series, topping Fox’s “Arrested Development,” HBO’s “Sex & the City” and NBC’s “Scrubs” and “Will & Grace.” “Curb” producers were Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Robert B. Weide, Larry Charles and Tim Gibbons.
“Angels in America” won the David L. Wolper award for longform over HBO’s “Something the Lord Made,” A&E’s “Horatio Hornblower” and “Ike” and Showtime’s “Lion in Winter.” Winning producers were Mike Nichols, Cary Brokaw, Celia Costas and Mike Haley.
“The Amazing Race” took the nonfiction trophy over NBC’s “The Apprentice,” ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and Bravo’s “Inside the Actors Studio” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Winning producers were Jerry Bruckheimer, Bertram Van Munster, Jonathan Littman, Amy Chacon, Hayma Washington, Evan Weinstein, Elise Doganieri and Scott Owens.
In the new category for variety, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” topped ABC’s “76th Annual Academy Awards,” Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show,” CBS’ “The Late Show With David Letterman” and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Winning producers were DeGeneres, Mary Connelly, Ed Glavin, Andy Lassner and Karen Kilgariff.
Among previously announced prizes, the Stanley Kramer Award, named for the producer who often tackled social issues, went to “Hotel Rwanda” and “Innocent Voices”; the Visionary Award to “Rescue Me”; the Milestone Award to Jeffrey Katzenberg; the David O. Selznick Achievement Award to Laura Ziskin; the David Susskind Achievement Award to John Wells; and the Vanguard Award to Terry Semel.
Wayne Brady emceed, opening the show with a plea for movie work featuring a sendup of Tina Turner’s performance of “Proud Mary” that included Bernie Brillstein’s phone number.
“Garden State” director-actor Zach Braff got the evening’s biggest laugh when he came onstage as a presenter with his gift bag and explained, “I brought it up here so nobody would steal it.”
The PGA decided to move the event from the Century Plaza due to a boycott of that facility by the Unite Here union hotel workers.