“Little Miss Sunshine” is beaming.
In an unpredictable turn in the wide-open awards season, the Producers Guild of America on Saturday tapped Fox Searchlight’s offbeat family comedy as winner of its top feature film award, over “Babel,” “The Departed,” “Dreamgirls” and “The Queen.”
The PGA, based on voting by its 3,300 members, gave its Darryl F. Zanuck trophy to “Sunshine” producers Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger & Ron Yerxa in ceremonies at the Century Plaza Hotel.
Top award, presented by Tom Cruise, was the first the PGA has presented to an out-and-out comedy; comedy-dramas “Forrest Gump” and “American Beauty” have won previously.
With a $8 million pricetag, “Sunshine” is also the least expensive PGA winner. Searchlight acquired the pic — starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin as a dysfunctional family — at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.
In his acceptance speech, Turtletaub singled out Michael Arndt’s screenplay, recalling that he’d read it five years ago as he was trying to move into producing features. Key in convincing him to back the project was the scene in which the grandfather advised his grandson to have sex with a lot of women — “I mean, like a thousand.”
The PGA win for “Little Miss Sunshine” — released in midsummer, with a domestic gross nearing $60 million — gives it significant awards season momentum. The PGA winner has been a reliable indicator of Academy sentiment, taking the best pic Oscar 11 times in 17 years.
The producers branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has 487 members.
The orgs differed last year, with the PGA choosing “Brokeback Mountain” and the Acad going with “Crash”; in 2005, “The Aviator” won at the PGA while “Million Dollar Baby” took the top Oscar.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” was the last double PGA-Oscar winner in 2004, joining “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Dances With Wolves,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Schindler’s List,” “Forrest Gump,” “The English Patient,” “Titanic,” “American Beauty,” “Gladiator” and “Chicago.”
“Little Miss Sunshine” hadn’t been regarded as a frontrunner recently, with “Babel” and “Dreamgirls” taking the Golden Globes for drama and comedy/musical, respectively. “Babel,” “Dreamgirls,” “The Departed” and “Sunshine” have all been nominated for the DGA Award for director, the WGA Award for script and the SAG Award for ensemble.
If “Sunshine” receives an Oscar nom for picture on Tuesday, the exec committee of the Academy will subsequently have to cull at least two of the five producer credits, as AMPAS mandates no more than three producers per picture. The PGA, which formally advises the Acad on producer credits, has no limit on its number of producers, though it’s been attempting to limit the number through its accreditation process.
The PGA’s determination of credits last year on “Crash,” which named only Paul Haggis and Cathy Schulman, provoked a lawsuit against the PGA and the Academy from financier Bob Yari. A judge dismissed that suit last month.
Yerxa, in his acceptance speech, praised the PGA’s process. “We did different things at different times, and we had a great working relationship,” he added. “We couldn’t be more gratified that the Producers Guild credited all five of us.”
The PGA presented its second animated feature trophy to Disney/Pixar’s “Cars,” which topped “Flushed Away,” “Happy Feet,” “Ice Age: The Meltdown” and “Monster House.”
HBO shows won two TV awards — “Elizabeth I” for longform and “Real Time With Bill Maher” for variety. George Faber, one of four “Elizabeth I” producers, won in the category last year as a producer on “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.”
“Real Time” producer Dean Johnson evoked a big laugh when he said, “Thanks to George Bush, whose unique decisions have been a large part of our success.”
NBC’s “The Office” took the comedy series trophy and ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” drew the drama series prize in the first PGA victories for both. CBS’ “60 Minutes” won the reality/nonfiction award for the second straight year, again for producer Jeff Fager.
Previously announced honors included Ron Meyer, who received the Milestone Award; Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher, the David O. Selznick Achievement Award in theatrical motion pictures; Jerry Bruckheimer, the Norman Lear Achievement Award in television; “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Stanley Kramer Award; vidgame designer Wil Wright, the Vanguard Award; and concert producer Ken Ehrlich, the Visionary Award.
Meyer told the crowd that after four decades in the business, he’s stopped worrying about being exposed as a fraud. “I’ve come to the realization that I’m a senior citizen in this business, and it’s proof tonight with this award — it’s probably too late for anyone to bust me.” Ehrlich’s award presentation featured surprise performances by Bonnie Raitt (“Love Sneakin’ Up on You”), Paul Simon (“The Boxer”) and Stevie Wonder (“Superstition”).
Former vice president Al Gore gave a well-received speech as part of the presentation of the Kramer nod to the producers of “An Inconvenient Truth.”
“I really didn’t think it was possible that millions of people would come to see a slide show,” Gore added. “This movie ends with a question about what we’re going to do now. Because of these producers, we have a chance to get an answer.”
And the winners are…
“Little Miss Sunshine,” (Fox Searchlight) Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger & Ron Yerxa
“Cars,”(Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation) Darla K. Anderson
“Elizabeth I,” (HBO) Suzan Harrison, George Faber, Charles Pattinson, Barney Riesz
EPISODIC TELEVISION DRAMA
“Grey’s Anatomy,” Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Mark Gordon, James Parriott, Peter Horton, Rob Corn
EPISODIC TELEVISION COMEDY
“The Office,” Greg Daniels, Kent Zbornak
“Real Time with Bill Maher,” Bill Maher, Scott Carter, Sheila Griffiths, Dean Johnsen
“60 Minutes,” Jeff Fager