The Producers (Guild, That Is): Win, Lose, or Draw

23 Jan

Well, the 2013/14 awards season  has just gotten even tighter. Especially the race for Best Picture, that is.  Anyone looking to the Producers Guild of America award to break what appears to be a three-way tie between American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave is probably convulsing in the agony of suspense right about now as the PGA managed the seemingly impossible by honoring co-winners. That’s right, we have a tie, a tie between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, the buzzworthiest pair of contenders going all the way back to late summer/early fall rush of film festivals. Sorry ’bout it, American Hustle.

Now, how seriously should we awards fiends take this most recent development? Well, since its inception in 1990, the PGA’s Golden Laurel has never gone to co-winners; moreover, the PGA prize has foreshadowed the Oscar winner for Best Picture 18 times. Not bad, and that includes the seven most recent victors–everything from 2007’s No Country for Old Men to last year’s Argo. (The last split occurred when the PGA picked Little Miss Sunshine, and the Academy favored Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.) Furthermore, Academy rules are designed to make tie-votes virtually impossible, which is why we see far fewer of them in any category than we do in the results from some of the critics groups. To clarify, there has never been a tie for Best Picture in the Academy’s history though there were essentially two such winners at the inaugural event: Outstanding Picture (Wings) and Unique and Artistic Production (Sunrise).  Wings is now recognized as the official first Best Picture winner while the “Artistic” award was retired after the first year.

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Gravity (Warner Bros. Pictures) – Producers: Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman

What I find so interesting, even compelling and maybe fascinating, is that Gravity and 12 Years a Slave cover some of the same ground thematically. Now, don’t get me wrong: I full well-understand the difference between a fluffy popcorn movie dressed-up in existentialist drag  (maybe vice-versa) and a harrowing real-life saga about identity and human rights, the difference between the visceral thrill of cutting edge special effects and “old-fashioned” storytelling that pierces the heart. Even so, these movies share a single thematic element, and that’s the terrifying prospect of someone having his/her whole world turned upside down and being powerless (or at least seemingly powerless) to do anything about it–whether that means being tossed into the dark stretches of space, never to set foot on earth again, or being effectively kidnapped and sold as mere property, never to see your family again, and not having the right to have your voice heard in protest. One dazzles the eye and delights the imagination while the other horrifies as it rips away at the foibles and frailties of humankind. Two stylistically and structurally different movies but one common element: dread, or fear of the unknown.  I think what makes this contest so hard for voters is that both movies are excellent in their own ways; they both work on the same primal level, so, really, it’s all a matter of taste. And reflection doesn’t necessarily help.

Maybe this weekend’s DGA awards will help clarify the confusion, but over the past several years, we’ve seen the Academy split Best Picture and Best Director honors with greater frequency than in previous 30 or 40 years. For example, last year Best Picture went to Argo while Best Director went to Ang Lee (Life of Pi). Similarly, during the 2005/06 contest, the Academy’s directors branch awarded Lee for Brokeback Mountain while the top prize went to Crash.  I can also easily imagine a situation in which voter frustration creates a clear path for a Best Picture spoiler, meaning  American Hustle. In all honesty, I can’t recall a Best Picture race quite as hard to call as this one. Oh sure, every race, every year, comes with its own unique set of factors; however, every year almost always includes one obvious frontrunner, sometimes two. Sometimes, there’s barely anything worth rooting for in the first place.

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12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures) – Producers: Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Brad Pitt, and Dede Gardner

I wonder what’s happening with the oddsmakers in Vegas right now. Luckily for me, I invest enough of myself in the Oscars each and every year without having to add money to the fun.  So, for now, I’ll just enjoy the race for what it is–and that includes a total of 9 contenders–and revel in the strengths and complexities of two amazing candidates–win, lose, or draw.

Thanks for your consideration…

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