Does anyone in this town leave home to watch movies?
That's the first question Monday's Producers Guild of America best picture nominations prompted. Scan through the list of 10 films, and most of the year's acclaimed movies — "Boyhood," "Birdman," "The Grand Budapest Hotel" among them — can be found, with the glaring exception of the stirring civil rights drama "Selma."
"Selma's" absence can be explained by simple math: Not enough of the 6,500-plus PGA voters saw the movie to include it on their ballots. Because "Selma" didn't lock its final print until late November, Paramount did not mail screeners to any guild, including the PGA. There were dozens of guild screenings in Los Angeles and New York, as well as the obvious opportunities in regular theaters with the hoi polloi. But still, a movie that boasts a 100% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes wasn't nominated.
Does the PGA omission deliver a fatal blow to "Selma's" Oscar hopes? Probably not, since Paramount did send DVDs to academy members, via UPS, on Dec. 18. The academy also votes later than the guilds, giving members more time to actually see movies. (This year's 13-day Oscar voting period began Dec. 27 and ends Wednesday at 5 p.m. PST.)
Since the PGA's slate, with an exception or two, mirrors the movies that end up being nominated for the best picture Oscar, Monday's announcement does add some clarity to this year's competitive race. This week's Oscar Watch charts what films gained and lost ground.
Angelina Jolie's old-fashioned, uplifting portrait of Olympic runner turned wartime prisoner Louis Zamperini has sold plenty of tickets and pleased opening weekend audiences to the tune of an A- rating with marketing research firm Cinemascore. But PGA voters passed, which is significant since "Unbroken" is the kind of big, ambitious epic that this group often rewards.
The PGA did receive screeners. Did enough members watch the movie before voting? Maybe the movie's middling reviews dissuaded them. Or maybe voters agreed with the critics who found the movie well-crafted but a bit too noble for its own good.
You could call this the anti-"Unbroken," a dark, unsettling movie about a creepy psychopath whom everyone seems to love. Really. The PGA nomination follows recognition from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the Art Directors Guild and numerous critics groups. "Nightcrawler" has grossed more than $30 million at the box office and is a film that many academy members adore enough to put high on their ballots, which counts for a lot in the academy's preferential voting system.
Clint Eastwood's war movie is the one December release picking up plenty of momentum. In a little more than a week, "Sniper" has grossed more than $2 million playing in just four theaters, earning an A+ Cinemascore in the process. It also received an Eddie nomination from the American Cinema Editors last week, boding well for its best picture prospects. Another element in its favor: The academy's biggest demographic, men older than 60, have an affinity for both the genre and Eastwood.
Christopher Nolan adamantly believed (and rightly so) that his sci-fi epic should be seen in a movie theater. So, again, no screener ... no nomination, even for the kind of movie that the PGA likes to celebrate. (Commercial hits like "Skyfall" and J.J. Abrams' 2009 "Star Trek" reboot have been nominated over the years.) Blu-rays were overnighted to Oscar voters on Dec. 29, probably too late for the movie to show up as a best picture nominee.
Its PGA nomination follows recognition from SAG, ACE Eddie and the Art Directors Guild, indicating broad support for David Fincher's curdled thriller-comedy. But Fincher isn't one to get out and glad-hand voters, and the film's star Rosamund Pike just returned to the circuit (she attended the Palm Springs International Film Festival over the weekend) after giving birth to a baby boy on Dec. 2.
Can a movie actually prosper on its own merit? If the PGA results are any indication, the answer is yes, provided voters received their precious screener. And the "Gone Girl" DVD was mailed Dec. 17.