We've known since September that "12 Years a Slave," "Gravity" and "Captain Phillips" would be prime players in this year's best picture Oscar race. And when David O. Russell's fizzy con artist story "American Hustle" scored with critics and film academy members early last month, it earned a solid place among the contenders as well.
Thursday's Producers Guild of America feature film nominations provided a measure of clarity to the movies that might fill out the back end of the academy's best picture ballot. In addition to the quartet of films already mentioned, PGA voters nominated "Blue Jasmine," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Her," "Nebraska," "Saving Mr. Banks" and "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Among the notable contenders left out: the Coen brothers' period folk music film "Inside Llewyn Davis" and the historical drama "Lee Daniels' The Butler," a movie that Screen Actors Guild voters recognized last month as one of the year's best movie ensembles.
Will the PGA's 10 nominees line up with the academy's picks? Last year, Oscar voters nominated nine movies for best picture. (The category can range from five to 10 nominees, with the preferential voting system's math making it unlikely that the maximum number can be reached.) The academy bypassed two 2013 PGA nominees -- Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" and the critically acclaimed James Bond movie "Skyfall" -- in favor of Michael Haneke's wrenching, French-language drama "Amour."
Since the academy expanded the best picture race from five to the now potential 10 best picture nominees and the Producers Guild followed suit, 32 of the 40 PGA nominees went on to earn Oscar nominations. The PGA winner ended up taking the academy's best picture prize 17 of 24 times, including the last six years in a row.
The PGA-nominated movies most on the bubble this year are probably Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," the AIDS drama "Dallas Buyers Club" and Spike Jonze's quirky romance "Her." One of those three probably will fall victim to the numbers game. Then it's a question of whether "Llewyn Davis" and "The Butler" have enough passionate supporters -- voters who love the films enough to place them in the No. 1 or 2 slots on their ballots, the spots that really matter in a weighted, preferential voting system -- to supplant another one of the PGA titles.
History is on the Coens' side here. Though PGA voters ignored their 2009 movie, "A Serious Man," it went on to earn a best picture Oscar nomination. The filmmakers have a strong contingent of loyal fans in the academy, the kind of die-hard patrons who'd put "Llewyn Davis" in the top spot on their ballot.
You could make a case that Jonze has developed that same kind of following. And "Dallas Buyers Club," which earned three SAG nominations, certainly seems to have its fans as well. Then again, "Dreamgirls" picked up PGA and SAG ensemble nominations, but failed to receive a best picture nod in 2007. So, "Dallas' " place at the table isn't quite secure.
The Producers Guild Awards will be held Jan. 19 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Lori McCreary and Michael DeLuca serve as co-chairs for the show, which is not televised.
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