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Analysis: ‘Birdman’ Adds Plot Twist at PGA Awards

The Oscar race just got more intense (and more interesting) with the Producers Guild of America award to Fox Searchlight’s “Birdman” Saturday: The PGA win has foreshadowed Oscar’s best-pic prize for the past seven years. (Last year, “12 Years a Slave” tied with “Gravity” at the PGA.)

The industry’s admiration for the film was proven with its nine Oscar bids, tying with Searchlight’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” at the top of the nominations.

“Birdman” has three distinct assets. First, it’s a total original. Second, it is a high-wire act, with many technical innovations that had never been done before. And third, it focuses on an industry veteran (played by Michael Keaton) who is trying to assert his self-worth and not be defined by whether or not he is out of work. That’s a theme everyone in showbiz can relate to. As one event-goer said, “We’re all freelancers, always looking for the next job.”

Before Saturday’s event, many pundits had predicted “Boyhood” as the winner of the PGA and eventually Oscar. The film had won many earlier prizes, such as critics groups and the Golden Globes. But some strategists have always maintained that nothing is a sure bet, since “The Social Network” and “Brokeback Mountain” had similarly chalked up many early wins before winding up as also-rans on Oscar night. (“The Social Network” failed to win the PGA, which was when the tide began to turn for eventual Oscar winner “The King’s Speech.”)

While “Birdman” has enjoyed a great response from audiences and industry, it failed to take home the best film in the comedy/musical category at the Golden Globes earlier this month — that prize went to “Grand Budapest.” Even though there is no overlap between Globes voters and Academy members, the perception was that “Birdman”‘s chances took a hit. But with the PGA win, it’s back in a big way.

“Birdman” is also nominated for four awards at Sunday’s SAG Awards; lead actor, supporting actor, supporting actress and ensemble. Though the ensemble award does not correlate to a best picture win, it can indicate strong support from the biggest branch of Academy voters — actors.

PGA also threw a curve into the Oscar race with their choices of animated film and documentary — both winning films are not nominated for Oscars.

“The Lego Movie” won as animated feature, but was not nominated for an Academy Award. The PGA has matched Oscar for six out of the nine years that the guild’s category has existed. (For the record, five of those six matches were Pixar films.)

“Life Itself,” a celebration of film critic Roger Ebert, won as documentary, which is good news in itself, but the PGA’s correlation with Oscar is slim. The two groups have matched only three times in the seven years that the category has been around. This year, only one of the PGA’s five docu nominees is also in the Oscar race: “Virunga.”

Aside from the wins, the event at the Century Plaza provided Oscar clues in other ways. That includes the roster of presenters and the list of who was there working the room, since this is one of the key events in the buildup to the Feb. 22 Oscars.

This year, presenters — who also happen to be Academy Awards contenders — included Steve Carell, Common, Ethan Hawke, Eddie Redmayne, J.K. Simmons and Reese Witherspoon.

Media attention is always lopsided toward film at the PGA because of timing. The guild hands out a dozen trophies, with eight in TV, one in digital and three in film. But due to its timing during Oscar season and the close correlation of PGA and Oscar winners, the film prize gets the most attention.

When Oscar moved to 10 best picture contenders in 2009, the PGA did too. Oscar later switched to the variable 5-10 possibilities, but PGA has stayed with 10.

The two groups had seven films in common: “American Sniper,” “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything” and “Whiplash.”

The Academy nominated “Selma,” while PGA best-pic nominees “Foxcatcher,” “Gone Girl” and “Nightcrawler” got Oscar attention, but not for the top prize.

Presenters on the TV side included Matt Bomer, Ty Burrell, Claire Danes and Kerry Washington.

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