Pete Hammond

If The Social Network had been able to pull off a Best Picture win at the Producers Guild Awards Saturday night, as most everyone had expected, it might have been on an unstoppable path to doing the same at the Academy Awards. But it didn’t. The King’s Speech won. Now the race is on. For the second straight year, the PGA did the unexpected  and may have a major impact on the Oscar contest as it moves into its final phase. Last year Avatar, the highest grossing movie of all time, came into the PGA ceremony with a head a steam and expectations of a win. Instead the PGA, which was always thought to favor box office winners, stunned the room by choosing The Hurt Locker, the lowest grossing movie nominated. And the rest is history.

Preferential balloting played a part in both victories. The PGA, like the Academy, instituted that system where voters must rank their choices from one to 10 with the most weight given to their top films. It favors consensus choices. At the very least it’s a game changer that opens up the field again just as The Social Network had hoped to close it. As Mark Wahlberg, star and producer of the nominated film The Fighter said to me as he exited the Beverly Hilton International Ballroom, “This is very good for us,” meaning the presumed frontrunner’s momentum has stalled – at least this weekend. Graham King, producer of another nominee The Town, told me it’s all getting “very interesting.”

It’s entirely possible that next weekend’s two major guild award ceremonies — the DGA and SAG – could result in two different movies taking top prizes. The Social Network’s David Fincher is a current favorite to be named the DGA’s Best Director, while The Fighter could very easily pick off the Best Cast ensemble prize at SAG causing a mixed result that could really shake up this race.

Then again it’s that SAG award that Harvey Weinstein, distributor of King’s Speech also has his eye on. Before Saturday’s ceremony, The King’s Speech screenwriter David Seidler told me The Weinstein Company was sending him Sunday on a tour of cities with heavy SAG populations to do Q&A appearances after screenings of the film. “Harvey thinks we can win the SAG Ensemble Cast award”, Seidler told me as he prepares to hit San Diego, San Francisco, and Las Vegas among other cities before ballots are due in next Friday.

DGA ballots also aren’t due until Friday so it’s an open question what impact, if any, the PGA results will have on those all-important Guild contests. A DGA win, plus an inevitable WGA win for Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay on February 5th (where King’s Speech is ineligible), could put The Social Network back in the driver’s seat making this loss just a bump in what has been a very smooth road so far for the film that has dominated critics awards and the Golden Globes. Then again, The King’s Speech is likely to lead in nominations when Oscar nods are announced on Tuesday with what I think will be a minimum of 11 giving it more bragging rights just when they count most. The past three films to win the Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures have gone on to similarly triumph on Oscar night.

No matter what happens later, it was a night to remember for the three English producers of the film — Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, and Gareth Unwin — who were toasting each other with champagne after making their elegant and heartfelt ‘thank you’s. Presenter Helen Mirren, star of The Queen, asked as she looked at the envelope, “Is this a set up?” Because ‘The Queen’ got to announce the ‘King’. Director Tom Hooper appeared dumbfounded afterwards. “I just came along to have a good time. I didn’t expect this at all,”  he told me. He was still gobsmacked  as he grabbed a copy of Deadline’s 5th Awards Print Edition in the hotel lobby and left to meet his car.  An excited Weinstein awards consultant was in the lobby calling Harvey in Sundance and telling him the good news. “He couldn’t believe  it. He’s thrilled.  He said  ‘You told me we weren’t gonna win. This is big’.”

The first three hours of the PGA ceremony weren’t nearly as dramatic as its final three minutes but they certainly had their moments, notably a touching tribute led by David Fincher to cancer stricken producer Laura Ziskin who won the Visionary Award. There was a nice presentation to Sean Penn who received the Stanley Kramer award for his work in Haiti, and another to James Cameron who won the Milestone Award. Larry Gordon presented Scott Rudin with the prestigious David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures by calling him “the greatest living producer”. Gordon noted that Rudin had pulled off the rare feat of producing two PGA nominees, The Social Network and True Grit, and predicted he will become one of the very few to do the same thing at the Oscars. In his acceptance speech, Rudin honored the role of a producer. “I love this job. I have wanted to do it since I was 8 years old.”

Judd Apatow was an amusing host and, as promised in his tweets this week, tried to one-up Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais whom he noted had made headlines in the same room less than a week earlier. “I’m an American. That was problem #1 the other night,” Apatow explained. He proceeded to skewer Gervais saying he had heard Ricky’s Charlie Sheen jokes on Leno the week before and criticized him for knocking Cher who has been in the business for over 40 years. “Ricky Gervais  does 12 episodes of a TV show, gets tired, and shuts it down,” countered Apatow.

Like Gervais, Apatow had his own funny lines at the expense of those in the audience. “They made Scott Rudin’s award out of nerf material so when he throws it at his assistant it won’t hurt,” he quipped. He also presented some video pieces including a Skype (who were sponsoring) session with Academy Awards host James Franco who promised to use some of Apatow’s best jokes on the Oscars where people will “actually see your stuff.”

But it was that surprising final award that left many in the crowd ‘speechless’.  As they left the ballroom, two of The Social Network’s producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti walked out carrying the gratis RealD’s 3D glasses. “Well, at least we got these,” De Luca said with a laugh.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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