They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don’t They?

Race Over? The Big Short Wins Producers Guild

By J. Don Birnam

January 26, 2016

Batman really let himself go.

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On Saturday, the Producers Guild of America awarded its top prize to The Big Short. That movie is now clearly ahead of all others for Best Picture. Can others still beat it? And what will happen next weekend at SAG? I’ll be live tweeting SAG and post updated final predictions later in the week on Instagram. Given the results of the Producers’ Guild, here are our updated Best Picture power rankings.

Analyzing the Producers Guild.

The Producers Guild Awards are considered the best harbinger of the Best Picture race for obvious reasons. Since their inception in 1989, the winner of the PGA has won the Best Picture Oscar all but seven times. More important, since the dawn of the preferential ballot for Best Picture voting, the PGA also moved to preferential balloting and has matched the Oscar every single time. No other guild or precursor can say that, so The Big Short’s win is that important.

Can something else win? Sure. Rules are meant to be broken and have been broken over the past few years, but it is hard to bet against the PGA result because of the preferential ballot, which is the same as what the Academy uses. As I have explained here and here in past years, the basic concept of the preferential ballot is that voters rank the nominated movies instead of voting for one. The movie that is ranked #1 in half plus one ballots, wins, and if no movie has that total, you start looking at people’s #2 and #3 choices etc., until one crosses the threshold.


What it means is that consensus movies win - movies that everyone can like. From the get go, Spotlight would seem to be that movie. But Boyhood was a critically revered movie last year, and Birdman was considered divisive. Yet, Birdman won both the PGA and of course the Oscar. What likely happened was that people respected and liked Boyhood but a lot of people loved Birdman and even those that didn’t love it respected an aspect of it. The same could be happening this year between The Big Short and Spotlight.

Still, over the course of the next few weeks, you will read a lot of Oscar prognosticators trying to tell you that The Big Short could lose. We need to stay interested as we live these awards over the next few weeks (the Oscar race can get very predictable very fast) and we need readers interested as well. That’s the honest truth. And, to be fair, until The Big Short wins another guild, it is not yet a mortal lock. If it wins the Directors Guild, forget it, game over.

Another scenario that could develop would be similar to the one that occurred the last time that the PGA winner did not win the Oscar. In 2006, Little Miss Sunshine won PGA, Babel won SAG, and The Departed won DGA. In the end, of course, The Departed swept the Oscars. But that year the “it’s Marty’s year” narrative took hold. And again, back then there was no preferential ballot.

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