‘Argo’-nuts rejoice: Producers Guild Award win puts Ben Affleck’s film in Oscar lead

Ben Affleck in 'Argo'
Ben Affleck in 'Argo'

Ben Affleck: start polishing your acceptance speech. And invite your fellow producers, George Clooney and Grant Heslov, to lend a hand. It will take a miracle for any other film to win Best Picture in 2013 now that the Producers Guild of America has crowned the “Argo” the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year. Hollywood insiders know that the approximately 4,700 members of the PGA have their fingers on the pulse of the best motion picture – and they’re not bad at predicting the best animated feature either.

So, Affleck, go ahead and thumb your nose at the Academy for overlooking your directing chops when both the PGA and the Directors Guild of America got your style and substance. And, more good news, this PGA win could mean that Clooney might score an Oscar in 2013, after being overlooked in two categories in 2012.

[Photos: 2013 Producers Guild Awards red carpet arrivals]

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck

The “Argo” win is a major blow to Steven Spielberg’s team “Lincoln” although Daniel Day-Lewis is almost certain to represent as best actor. Co-star Tommy Lee Jones may get best supporting actor love, too.

And, yes, I have officially abandoned my favorite film of the year, “Zero Dark Thirty,” in the best picture race. I have to let go or, as my colleague Tom O’Neil tweeted @goldderby: “@thelmadams surrender, Dorothy ... and Thelma .... No ZD30 hope.” (I will remain true to Jessica Chastain for best actress.)

Meanwhile, it’s looking dodgy for “Life of Pi,” “Les Miserables,” and “Django Unchained” in that best pic race. For the past five years, the PGA winner has gone on to win the Oscar. Last year, the PGA chose “The Artist” over “War Horse”; in 2011, the PGA embrace of “The King’s Speech” signaled the end of the best picture dreams of “The Social Network.” In 2009, “The Hurt Locker” trumped “Avatar.” In sixteen of the past twenty-three years, the PGA choice has dovetailed with the Academy Award for Best Picture, starting with “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989.

Both the Academy and the PGA use a similar – and arcane -- system of preferential ballots, rather than a straightforward popular vote. Members rank their favorites among the nominees, and the first-place winner must appear on fifty percent of the ballots. Didn’t happen the first time around? Then they repeat the process, dropping off the least popular, reshuffling votes, until consensus – and the magic fifty percent – is reached. The result is that enthusiasm may get a film a nomination (think “Moonrise Kingdom” or “The Beasts of the Southern Wild”), but broad appeal snags the big prize.

In the past five years, the animated winners also tend to dovetail with the Academy and “Wreck-it Ralph” just rammed its competition: “Brave” and “Frankenweenie.” Last year was the exception: the Oscar-nominated “The Adventures of Tintin” won a PGA Producer of the year in Animation, and then lost to “Rango.” But the previous year, “Toy Story 3” won both top honors. And that’s more typical: in the past four out of five years, the winners were identical, including “Up,” “Wall-E,” and “Ratatouille.”

On the documentary front, the PGA is not such an accurate bellwether, but there’s momentum behind winner “Searching for Sugarman.” The rock ‘n roll underdog saga has now logged another victory over rival “The Gatekeepers” but will also contend with the AIDS doc “How to Survive a Plague” next month at the Oscars. Last year’s PGA Producer of the Year in Documentary winner “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest” didn’t even get an Oscar nomination. “Undefeated” took that win. And in 2011, “Waiting for ‘Superman’” won at the PGA but was snubbed by the Academy.

It’s been another night of sweet vindication for team “Argo” following major wins at the Golden Globes, and a shocking disappointment for “Lincoln’s” troops. But the playing field could shift again tomorrow night when the performers come out to bestow honors at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

[Related: Interview with the director of 'Searching for Sugar Man']

Watch a scene from Ben Affleck's 'Argo':