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Every time a film seems poised to grab the mantle of "Frontrunner" in this year’s Oscar race, something happens to shift focus, change the current and disrupt the tea leaves that tend to guide the annual Oscar race. This year, in particular, has seen a passing of the baton from one film to the next, leading to a wide open race as we head into the final stretch before the March 2 Academy Awards telecast.
Sunday night was the biggest shift yet. At the Producers Guild of America Awards, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave tied for the top PGA honors, according to the L.A. Times. This never happens. Never. In fact, as the Times reports, it is the first ever tie in PGA history, and successfully "[throws] open one of the tightest Oscar races in years."
Here’s part of the reason why. Saturday night, it was David O. Russell’s period dramedy American Hustle that was celebrating at the end of the evening by claiming the top prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Some awards experts who routinely track the progress of Oscar hopefuls believed that Hustle had new momentum. That lasted less than 24 hours.
Leading up to the PGA Awards, Hustle and 12 Years had been duking it out at awards ceremonies hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. In most cases, because those groups have different categories for Comedy and Drama, both McQueen and Russell’s films were able to take home top prizes. Many viewed them as frontrunners, especially because they both got into the Best Picture category.
But we couldn’t count Gravity out, primarily because, at all of these awards ceremonies, Cuaron was grabbing the Best Director trophy for his stunning on the celestial thriller.
With this historic, groundbreaking tie at the Producers Guild Awards, Gravity gets tossed right back into the lead of the pack for Best Picture hopefuls. If anything, I’d say that it is a three-picture race between Hustle, Slave and Gravity… though it’s entirely possible that these films split votes, with Academy members forming passionate factions, allowing a film like Nebraska or Captain Phillips to rise up and snatch the Best Picture Oscar at the last minute. Keep an eye on Alexander Payne’s black-and-white, homespun drama. It picked up nominations in so many key categories – including Director, Actor and Screenplay – that proves it has support. Enough support? That remains to be seen.