Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 01-24-11

“The Social Network”

“The Social Network”

Jeff Bridges in “The King’s Speech”

“The King’s Speech”

“The Fighter”

“The Fighter”

Producer Power: Although at first glance the Producers Guild of America’s best picture award last weekend to “The King’s Speech” seemed like an amazing surprise, the shock’s worn off and it now seems totally logical.

In fact, the PGA’s decision may well point to an upset victory for The Weinstein Company’s British underdog biographical drama in the Oscar Best Picture race vs. Sony’s frontrunner biographical drama “The Social Network.”

How so? Well, to begin with the PGA is demographically similar to the Academy — its membership is mostly older and mostly males. It’s an older demo than many of the other awards givers who have been busy honoring “Social.”

The world of social networking and Internet tweeting and texting is like a foreign country to many Academy members and that may also be true of some PGA voters. These groups include older members who aren’t even comfortable using e-mail yet alone maneuvering through the choppy relationship waters of Facebook. As a result, “Social” may not resonate quite as well with them as it does with younger awards givers, including many critics across the country.

The PGA’s Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures, as the award’s officially known, is a particularly good bellwether for the Oscars. Not only does the PGA’S older male membership mirror the Academy crowd pretty well, but it also determines its winners based on a preferential voting system — more weight is attached to voters’ top choices — and it also has a field of 10 nominees (unlike the Golden Globes, which still has five best picture - drama nominees).

Last year, for those who’ve already forgotten, “Avatar” looked like the kind of picture the Hollywood establishment was certain to honor — a huge boxoffice success from a high profile older male filmmaker that had a major impact on the film industry and pushed the envelope technically.

“Avatar” was perceived as an important movie and many observers believe Academy voters like to honor as Best Picture films that can be considered “important.” Moreover, it was also the kind of movie that members of the PGA and the Academy actually tend to work on, themselves.

But to everyone’s surprise, the producers didn’t anoint “Avatar” as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association did at the Globes. Instead, the PGA celebrated the small indie drama “The Hurt Locker,” knocking the wind out of “Avatar’s” sails. There were those who insisted the PGA was just a bump in the road and “Avatar” would go the distance. But, of course, it was “Hurt” that went on to win the Best Picture Oscar.

Historically, the PGA and the Oscars have matched up on the best picture front 13 times over the last 21 years, which suggests they share the same criteria for what’s “best.” Of course, many PGA members are also members of the Academy’s producers’ branch and that overlap doesn’t hurt.

In all likelihood, Oscar’s 10 best picture nominees will be the same as the PGA’s 10 — “127 Hours,” “Black Swan,” “Inception,” “The Fighter,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Social Network,” “The Town,” “Toy Story 3” and “True Grit.” It’s not easy to come up with a respectable list of 10 titles worthy of consideration as the year’s best picture and I don’t think they missed anything (although some insiders are speculating about a “Winter’s Bone” nomination).

Looking ahead, all eyes will be on the Screen Actors Guild’s best ensemble cast award when it’s handed out Sunday. Actors make up the Academy’s largest branch so the SAG results are definitely a good indicator of how the acting branch is likely to vote. This could be a second strike for “Social” since the one area the picture’s been weak in has been on the acting awards front.

I liked Jesse Eisenberg’s lead actor performance in “Social” very much, but it hasn’t been resonating with awards givers nor have the film’s supporting actor performances (very good ones by Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer). Moreover, “Social” doesn’t have a lead actress or any supporting actress performances with enough weight in the film to attract serious awards attention (not even Rooney Mara, who’s excellent). As a result, “Social’s” strength has been on the directing and writing front to date.

“King’s” with its strong lead actor performance by Colin Firth (who won the best actor - drama Globe) and its solid supporting actor performance by Geoffrey Rush plus its key supporting actress performance by Helena Bonham Carter gives it a very good shot at SAG ensemble honors.

SAG also could endorse Paramount and Relativity Media’s “The Fighter,” which has easy-to-vote for performances by Mark Wahlberg (lead actor), Globe supporting actor winner Christian Bale (a very showy supporting actor role), Globe supporting actress winner Melissa Leo (a very showy supporting actress role) and Amy Adams (supporting actress). No doubt that there’s a terrific ensemble cast there.

If SAG goes for “King’s” or “Fighter” — “Black Swan” and “The Kids Are All Right” are the other nominees, but they’re pretty much identified with lead performances by Natalie Portman and Annette Bening, respectively — that could send some of the pundits back to the drawing board who’ve been saying “Social” has a lock on winning the best picture Oscar.

Next up: Oscar noms!