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Did TV voters push 'Sunshine' to PGA victory as best picture?

January 20, 2007 | 10:42 pm

The Producers Guild of America just produced a shocking vote result when it unveiled its choice for best picture of 2006: "Little Miss Sunshine." The guild has agreed with the top Oscar winner 11 times in the past 17 years. Two recent exceptions: PGA prefered "The Aviator" to "Million Dollar Baby" and "Moulin Rouge" to "A Beautiful Mind" and "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring."

The PGA's Darryl F. Zanuck Award went to "Sunshine's" five producers: Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, who face inevitable hubbub this upcoming week when Oscar nominations are released. Once "Sunshine" becomes an official nominee for best pic, only three of its producers may be eligible to win the top trophy. That's what academy rules say, but the issue gets complicated by the academy's decision last year to start deferring to the PGA to determine who's Oscar-eligible. The guild has already decreed that all five producers are legit, but that decision may not ultimately prevail in Oscarland.


Tonight's result is a wowpow to kudos prognosticators because it shakes up the top Oscar race where "Dreamgirls" began as the early frontrunner, then fell behind "The Departed" in recent weeks according to widely felt industry buzz. Meantime, "Babel" mounted a serious dark-horse sprint last week with a win as best drama picture at the Globes where, in the separate race for best comedy/musical picture, "Dreamgirls" suddenly rallied, beating "Little Miss Sunshine."

Now a blinding burst of "Sunshine"!

Pete Hammond of gives us this report from the scene at the Century Plaza Hotel: "Tom Cruise presented the award in a low-key style, but it was met with great applause. Big upset considering PGA usually goes for bigger movies. This is the smallest film they have ever given Best Picture. I told Sid Ganis this was going to make the Oscars very interesting this year. What 'Sunshine' did, even 'Crash' couldn't pull off last year, proving as Sid says, that this is a wide open a year as there has ever been.

"I fully expect 'Little Miss Sunshine' to win the ensemble award at SAG next week," Hammond adds, "and the Original Screenplay award at WGA. Hmmmmm — 3 out of 4 guild awards?"

Throughout this derby, dating back to last fall, all Oscarologists knew that "Sunshine" posed a serious challenge at the Oscars. Most of the other rivals — let's face it — are so dreary ("The Departed," "Babel") or stuffy ("The Queen"). "Dreamgirls" is upbeat and perky, yes, but it hasn't caught fire with academy voters as many of us "experts" expected. Because it's too black? Too campy? Whatever the reason, "Sunshine" is now the one sunny alternative and — watch out! ouch! — it could burn up the competish.


But let's not get too carried away and start predicting "Sunshine" at the Oscars just yet. This victory could be the result of the PGA's large TV contingent falling for a film that has a kind of made-for-TV feel to it. You know what I mean. That's not a slap at the film, just an observation about its deliberate light touch. The guild has about 3,100 members. About half of them are TV producers who get to vote in the feature-film category. The percentage of TV members has grown significantly in the past five years or so. You need to keep that in mind when trying to evaluate the best-pic prize. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences doesn't have that contigent, of course. However, this same TV factor is also a key issue at the Directors Guild of America. No, a far bigger one considering TV helmers dominate film peers there five-to-one. The helmers of "Little Miss Sunshine" not only received rececent nominations at DGA, but they actually bumped out Clint Eastwood who had TWO major movie releases.

The TV contingent is less of a factor at PGA than DGA because it's not as large, not officially dominating, just neck-and-neck. PGA has bestowed separate TV awards for the past 10 years. Nominations, like at the Oscars, are determined by peer group. Only TV producers vote on the TV lineup. Only feature film producers decide nominees in that rundown. Then everybody votes on the winners.

Or perhaps the reason "Little Miss Sunshine" won was because it was a producer's ultimate dream come true — offering a bonanza return on investment. Produced for only $8 million and acquired for $12 at Sundance, "Sunshine" burned up $58 million in ticket sales domestically, plus $27 million overseas. "The Crying Game' was a similar indie behometh back in 1992, beating "Unforgiven" and "A Few Good Men" for the best-picture prize at the producers' guild, which didn't have any TV members back then. "Crying Game" later lost at the Oscars, however. Is that a bad omen for "Sunshine"?

As noted above, "Crash" was last year's little indie hit that pulled off the big win on Oscar night, but it lost the PGA award. However, it lost to another indie that reaped a towering return on investment: "Brokeback Mountain." which was produced for only $13 million and earned $83 million domestically plus $95 million overseas.

So, yes, hmmmm, indeed. What does this all mean? Click on the "Comments" link below and share your thoughts, please.

Here's the full list of PGA winners:

"Little Miss Sunshine," (Fox Searchlight) Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger & Ron Yerxa

"Cars,"(Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation) Darla K. Anderson

"Elizabeth I," (HBO) Suzan Harrison, George Faber, Charles Pattinson, Barney Riesz

"Grey's Anatomy," Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Mark Gordon, James Parriott, Peter Horton, Rob Corn

"The Office," Greg Daniels, Kent Zbornak

"Real Time with Bill Maher," Bill Maher, Scott Carter, Sheila Griffiths, Dean Johnsen

"60 Minutes," Jeff Fager

(Photo: Fox Searchlight)