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What the PGA list misses

Why The Master and The Dark Knight Rises deserved to be on the PGA’s list.

So the Producers Guild Of America nominations are in [see news story] and if the organisation’s publicists are correct in asserting that this is a pretty accurate bellwether of Oscar contenders – and I’m not sure they are – then Wednesday [Jan 2] was a day of mixed emotions.

This is by and large a solid list. However the PGA membership made a couple of howling omissions and with regard to one in particular, the oversight virtually amounts to a crime against art.

The 10 films in the running for the Darryl F Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer Of Theatrical Motion Pictures mostly reflect a cracking season and most of these titles deserve to be in contention when Academy members unveil their nominations next week [Jan 10].

Argo, Les Mis, Lincoln, Silver Linings and Zero Dark Thirty would grace the “best of” roster of any recent year. Each has cemented its credentials with recognition from voting groups across the US.

But – oh the shame of it – Hollywood’s leading producers left out The Master and The Dark Knight Rises, in the process administering a slap in the face to two of the most thunderously potent works of the year.

In the case of The Master we are talking about a film that I believe will stand the test of time. I don’t think you can say that about many of the PGA’s nominees, good as they are.

The Master is a difficult, polarising film but that shouldn’t preclude appreciation of its eccentric beauty and authoritative film-making. The storytelling is as captivating as any you will find within the class of 2012 – it’s just that Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t resort to a cookie-cutter to convey plot and explore themes and characters.

I recall a conversation with a former development executive last autumn who expressed dismay when Joaquin Phoenix’s Navy veteran rides off into the desert on a motorbike. “We didn’t see it coming,” wailed the forlorn number-cruncher. Neither did the titular character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. In a world increasingly bereft of surprise, it is a rare pleasure to be caught unawares in a film.

The Dark Knight Rises is noteworthy because it wrangles intelligence and complexity into mass-appeal entertainment. Christopher Nolan’s Batman finale was a worldwide hit and deserves more support from awards voters.

Let’s hope the Academy gets it right on Jan 10. Keep in mind that unlike the PGA, Oscar voters can nominate between five and 10 films in their best picture category. They may throw in a few wild cards, so the Oscar and PGA selections could turn out to be similar, worlds apart or somewhere in between.

What should the Academy leave out that the PGA included? I’d say Django Unchained and Moonrise Kingdom.

Django is Quentin Tarantino’s least impressive film. It has extraordinary sequences as you’d expect, but on the whole it’s flabby. Jamie Foxx doesn’t quite carry the film, although he gets fantastic support from Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. The latter finally gets something new to sink his teeth into and it’s a joy to see him having such fun. Plus the stylised violence did not sit well with me in the wake of the Connecticut massacre. It doesn’t seem to have bothered North American audiences though, because the film opened well over the holidays.

Wes Anderson makes memorable films but for me Moonrise Kingdom is too whimsical even by his standards. I do not consider it to be anywhere near the best 10 films of the year, although it won best film at the Gothams recently and garnered plenty of attention from critics groups, the HFPA and Film Independent (who run the Spirit Awards).

Getting back to that PGA selection, it’s a shame that they (and other groups this season) ignored Cloud Atlas. Of course it is over-long and occasionally hard to follow, but this is an adaptation of wild ambition that deserves support. There has been nothing like it and I hope to report on significant international box office receipts in the months ahead.

Amour was not eligible for the PGA award but don’t be surprised if it gets on to the Academy’s best picture roster. Along with The Master it is another one for the ages.

It’s good to see Life Of Pi on the PGA list. Talking to Ang Lee and Fox 2000 chief Elizabeth Gabler really brought home to me what an extraordinary accomplishment this Yann Martel adaptation represents.

There has been the usual smattering of long-gestating passion projects this season – Lincoln, Flight and Life Of Pi were all in the works for more than a decade before being thrown to the lions/critics/audiences – but Pi is a thing of beauty and visually it stands alone.

The film has made it on to several critics’ lists and cinematographer Claudio Miranda has earned plenty of recognition. Quite right. Dare I say it – he looks like a shoo-in for an Oscar nod. 

Lincoln is the Golden Globes frontrunner, although as we all know those seven nods may not translate into awards come Jan 13. And Oscar voters may not shower Steven Spielberg’s film with so much love when their nominations come out.

Flight fell off the best picture radar shortly after the season took off, which is too bad because it is mostly an excellent film except for the cheesy coda more befitting of a Lifetime television production than an edgy character study.

The film’s best chance is for Denzel Washington in the lead actor category. I’ve touched on this category in an earlier blog and for me Washington is the one to beat. His performance is magnificent, understated. The actor’s charisma and John Gatins’ fine writing allow Whip Whitaker – the brilliant, troubled on-screen pilot – to beguile us and break our hearts. But we root for him always and for this reason we can forgive the ending. I hope it will be just as happy for Washington at the Golden Globes on Jan 13 and the Oscars on Feb 24.

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