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‘Nomadland’ wins PGA best picture. Oscar next?

Frances McDormand in "Nomadland."
(Searchlight Pictures)

In honor of George Segal, I’m revisiting “California Split” and wondering when it’s going to be safe to roll the dice again. Maybe soon, since it looks like Californian adults can all be vaccinated, starting next month. In the meantime, let’s watch an episode or two of “Arrested Development,” raise a vodka rocks, have a piece of toast and remember the comic genius of Jessica Walter.

Also: The Oscars are still more than a month away. But is the best picture race all but over?

I’m Glenn Whipp, awards columnist for the Los Angeles Times, host of The Envelope’s Friday newsletter. Won’t you pull up a chair and join me for a glass of breakfast wine?

‘Nomadland’ wins Producers Guild’s top prize

Because it uses the same preferential voting system, the Producers Guild Awards is a fairly reliable precursor for the Oscar best picture race. The PGA has predicted the best picture winner about two-thirds of the time, though last year was not one of those occasions. “Parasite” won the Academy Award after “1917" took the PGA’s honor.

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But “Nomadland’s” victory at this year’s virtual ceremony, held Wednesday, does give Chloé Zhao’s movie, a bighearted portrait of a woman embarking on a spiritual journey of sorts, a certain feeling of inevitability. That doesn’t mean that the campaigns of the other seven nominated movies are waving the white flag. In fact, I mused in a recent column upon what kind of pitches they might be making for their films. But if there was an upset in the making, the PGA Awards would have signaled that. It didn’t.

And now all that remains is the opening of the envelope. (Have I mentioned that the Oscars are still a month away?)

Maybe (hopefully) the acting races will provide an Oscar surprise

So, yeah, we could use a surprise or two to liven up this year’s Oscars. Unfortunately, the acting categories have overwhelmingly gone to the favorites in recent years. Maybe Olivia Colman (“The Favourite”) prevailing over Glenn Close (“The Wife”) two years ago qualifies, a win that managed to be simultaneously thrilling and deflating. I didn’t know how to feel. Academy members gravitated toward a movie they loved (“The Favourite” earned 10 nominations, whereas Close was the only nod “The Wife” picked up) instead of following their hearts and pursuing a sentimental narrative. (Why doesn’t the great Glenn Close have an Oscar? We need to fix that!)

Olivia Colman wins the lead actress Oscar for "The Favourite."
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Will we see any upsets this year? I looked at the four acting categories recently. And now, post-PGA, I’m starting to feel like a Frances McDormand surprise might actually happen. As I wrote, she’d have my vote.

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Having a good cry with Pixar’s Pete Docter

What are we doing with our lives? Are we making the most of our time? If we define ourselves by our work, what happens to our identity when that changes ... or goes away?

During the past year of lockdown and isolation, we’ve had more time than ever to ponder these existential questions. And if you saw the latest Pixar movie, “Soul,” a surreal journey that examines life after death, life before death and the choices we make in between, you may have come away thinking that this gentle, joyful and profoundly curious movie arrived at a most serendipitous time. (The movie earned three Oscar nominations, including animated feature.)

Fact is, Pete Docter, the film’s director and cowriter, has been mulling these ideas for years through a body of work that includes some of the greatest movies made this century. Films such as “Up” and “Inside Out” have gently taught us about the need to accept and acknowledge all of the emotions that come with life, including grief and sadness. The preamble of “Up,” a marriage story told without words in just four minutes, is heartbreaking, yes, but it also hints at the message Docter would return to years later with “Soul”: It’s the small pleasures that make up life’s treasures.

"Soul” director and cowriter Pete Docter.
“Soul” director and cowriter Pete Docter takes a break with some friends at his office at Pixar Animation, where he is chief creative officer.
(Deborah Coleman/Pixar)

Not long ago, I talked with Docter, Pixar’s chief creative officer, and we immediately jumped into these ideas. Tears were discussed, but not shed.

Feedback?

I’d love to hear from you. Email me at glenn.whipp@latimes.com.

Can’t get enough about awards season? Follow me at @glennwhipp on Twitter.


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