"The Big Short" took the top prize at the Producers Guild of America Awards on Saturday night, largely taking the room by surprise. Winning the Darryl F. Zanuck Award adds further momentum to the movie's late-breaking awards run, just the latest unexpected development in a topsy-turvy awards season that also brought an end to an especially hectic week in Hollywood.
The first major guild award of the season, the PGA winner has in recent years steadily matched the best picture winner at the Oscars. So the win leaps the financial-crisis farce ahead of "Spotlight," "The Revenant" and "The Martian" in the eyes of many Oscar prognosticators.
Other Oscar best picture nominees in the category were "Bridge of Spies," "Brooklyn," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Martian," "The Revenant" and "Spotlight." Left out by the academy were PGA nominees "Ex Machina," "Sicario" and "Straight Outta Compton." Only "Room" is nominated for best picture and not likewise nominated by the Producer's Guild.
2016 awards season database: Search all of the nominees and winners
The issues of diversity that have overtaken the Hollywood conversation since the Academy Award nominations were a running theme of the night, addressed right from the start of the show. Awards co-chair Michael De Luca acknowledged Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who was in the audience, and said "We're all lucky to have her as an industry leader, and no one is working harder to make our world a fairer and just plain better place."
PGA co-presidents Gary Lucchesi and Lori McCreary also spoke of industry diversity. Lucchesi called diversity "a crucial issue facing our industry." McCreary noted "producers have always served the industry as leaders and we are tonight asking all of you to pledge to make a conscious decision to challenge the status quo until our casts, our crews and our own companies are as diverse as the audiences for which we make this entertainment."
All of which gave an additional air of drama to the presentation of the Norman Lear Achievement Award in television to TV producing powerhouse Shonda Rhimes. Presenting the award was Viola Davis, star of Rhimes' "How to Get Away With Murder."
Davis noted that Rhimes was the first solo female recipient of the award and said of her, "In a year, a month, hell, a week in which everyone is talking about diversity, she is living proof that the curve many people are behind was drawn by her."
In accepting the award, Rhimes joked of her long walk to the stage, "I would have been up here a little bit faster but the television people are put at the back of the bus."
After a few nervous titters from the room, Rhimes settled in to deliver a warm and powerful speech that was by turn reflective, funny and bracing. Early in her remarks, she said, "I'm going to be totally honest with you. I completely deserve this."
She spoke of seeing Lear's TV work such as "Good Times" as a child, "See the thing about all this trailblazing everyone says I've been doing, it's not like I did things and then the studio and network gasped with horror and fought me. It was 2004, Norman Lear had already done a bunch of trailblazing 40 years earlier."
Rhimes continued, "For me, I was just being normal. There was no blazing on no trails. It's not trailblazing to write the world as it actually is.
"I created the content that I wanted to see and I created what I thought, what I knew, is normal," she said. "So basically you are just giving me an award for being me. In which case I totally deserve it." She concluded by saying, "I thank you, Producers Guild, and I hope for better for all of us."
"Inside Out" took the award for animated theatrical motion picture, with the prize going to Jonas Rivera. "Amy" took the award for documentary motion picture, with the prize going to producer James Gay-Rees. On the TV side, the drama award went to "Game of Thrones," with "Transparent" winning for comedy. "Fargo" won for long-form television, which recognizes movies of the week and miniseries.
"The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst" won for nonfiction television. "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" won for live entertainment and talk television. "The Voice" won for competition television.
Sports program honors went to "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel." The award for digital series went to "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee." The award for outstanding children's program went to "Sesame Street."
"Black-ish" star Anthony Anderson presented two awards and when accepting on behalf of an absent winner, he joked, "I will probably be the only brother up here tonight, and in February, getting a trophy."
Additional tributes were given to Jim Gianopulos, who received the Milestone Award; David Heyman, who received the David O. Selznick Award; and Industrial Light and Magic, which received the Visionary Vanguard Award. The documentary "The Hunting Ground" received the Stanley Kramer Award, and Lady Gaga gave an emotional performance of the song "Til It Happens to You" from the film.
"Creed" star Michael B. Jordan was the final presenter of the night, and in an alphabetical listing of the nominees for the Zanuck award, "The Big Short" was not called. So when Jordan then said the title of the film, many in the room thought the winner was still to come. After a confused pause, Jordan had to add, "you won."
In accepting the award, producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner seemed genuinely surprised. (Brad Pitt, also a producer, was not in attendance.)
"To just kill the elephant in the room, yes, we have a problem. We do," said Gardner. "We have privilege in our hands when we are storytellers, so we need to tell stories that reflect our world and our country on all streets and roads."