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Producers Boost ‘Shape of Water’ Ahead of SAG Awards, Oscar Nominations

The Producers Guild of America is the first industry organization of the season to speak up on the year’s best work. The group’s choice: Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.”

Now what?

For a period of time, the PGA prize was seen as a solid Oscar harbinger. Given that it is the only other organization to use the preferential balloting system employed by the Academy to determine the best picture Oscar nominations and winner, it’s instructive. You can observe how the lineup performs, etc.

But there’s the rub. The PGA lineup never fully matches the Oscar best picture slate, and those variables — films like “Deadpool,” “Ex Machina” and “Straight Outta Compton” in recent years — are certain to have an impact on the math. The last two PGA winners, “The Big Short” and “La La Land,” failed to translate their victories into Oscar gold.

So, again, now what?

The “Shape of Water” victory is somewhat unsurprising if you consider the fact that the preferential ballot rewards consensus, or at least, general agreeability; this is patently one of the year’s most popular films, witnessed not least of all by its being recognized by virtually every guild and industry group this season. Production-wise, it’s also a pretty frugal endeavor — a $19.5 million movie (officially $19.4 million in the end, per del Toro) that looks like a multiplier of as much, every cent of it up on the screen. That sounds like a good choice for producers to make.

Other popular films like “Get Out” or “Lady Bird” might click for some Oscar voters in light of the tenor of the industry conversation extending from last year: the push for diversity, inclusion, representation, etc. But del Toro’s thematic focus on “the other” in society gives his film gravitas just benign enough to keep an awards campaign from feeling didactic. So the smart money may be on “The Shape of Water” for Oscar glory.

Then again, maybe not. Tuesday’s Oscar nominations will tell a fuller story, though it’s a safe bet del Toro’s film will lead all comers. Sunday night’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, however, could conceivably leave “The Shape of Water” a bridesmaid in its two categories, lead actress and supporting actor. The film was also curiously passed over for an ensemble nomination by the guild.

All of that put another way — the lessons of blindly following the PGA’s lead have been learned around here. And it’s a tightly contested race this year on multiple fronts, so don’t be too eager to call it just yet.

Elsewhere, Pixar’s “Coco” kept cruising with an animated feature win. It’s a shame that has turned into such a one-horse race but there just hasn’t been any real competition for the film all season. Brett Morgen’s “Jane,” meanwhile, took the documentary prize. Assuming it secures an Oscar nomination (the Academy’s documentary branch can be mercurial), it has to be considered a threat to win there as well.

On the television side, streaming companies swept the proceedings for the first time ever as Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Netflix’s “Black Mirror” took the top prizes.

Full list of 2018 PGA Awards winners here.

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