If its wins at the recent Screen Actors Guild Awards did not send enough of a message that “Oppenheimer” is far and away the frontrunner for Best Picture at the 2024 Oscars, the film’s receiving the Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures at the Producers Guild of America Awards on Sunday, February 25 almost certainly sealed the deal.

In her acceptance speech, “Oppenheimer” executive producer Emma Thomas was quick to to first thank the guild in general for the work that they do, as earlier in the evening, PGA co-presidents Stephanie Allain and Donald De Line announced a historic initiative to fund health insurance for full-time working producers in the guild. After that, however, she was also sure to make note of how writer/director Christopher Nolan (both her husband and business partner) also happens to be “the best producer. He’s absolutely brilliant.” 

Nolan himself said that, though this is the first time they’ve won the PGA award, “Every time we’ve been invited into this room, we’ve felt such support for whatever leaps we’ve taken, or whatever risks we’ve taken, from a group of people who understand how difficult it is to get anything made, let alone something that does not fit pre-existing patterns of success.”

There in support of “Oppenheimer” were stars Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., and Kenneth Branagh, an example of how star-studded the event became this year. With final Oscar voting still ongoing, and every project nominated for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures getting to give a presentation (and those nominees matching the Best Picture lineup exactly), the only films to not have at least one of its stars in the room were international productions “The Zone of Interest” and “Anatomy of a Fall.”

The group that had the most fun with their presentation was “American Fiction,” with star Tracee Ellis Ross bursting into gonzo laughter after describing the film as “laugh out loud,” and Oscar nominee Sterling K. Brown teeing up a clip of the film by saying, “And now, good white people and friends, a clip of fucking ‘American Fiction.’”

Meanwhile, the presentation that drew some questions afterwards was “Maestro,” as its star and helmer Bradley Cooper opted to stay in his seat, in between Netflix chief content officer Bela Bajaria and former head of film Scott Stuber, while fellow Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan and co-star Sarah Silverman presented a clip from the film. Maybe it is because he co-wrote and directed “Maestro,” while “Barbie” producer-star Margot Robbie and “Poor Things” producer-star Emma Stone — who both went to the stage to help present the clips of their films — did not?

Steven Yeun (L) and Bradley Cooper inside at the 35th Annual Producers Guild Awards at the Ray Dolby Theatre on Sunday, February 25, 2024.
Netflix stars Steven Yeun and Bradley Cooper inside at the 35th Annual Producers Guild AwardsTodd Williamson

In terms of more filmmakers making acceptance speeches this year, former Best Picture nominee and MACRO studio head Charles D. King became the first Black winner of the Milestone Award, handed to him by frequent collaborator and “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler.

For the David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures, recent Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro introduced current double Oscar nominee Martin Scorsese, director of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” who gave a long, funny explanation in his acceptance speech of how the honor was a full-circle moment. The very first time he attended the ceremony was in 1965, where he stood on stage with luminaries like Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant to accept the Jesse L. Laskey intercollegiate award for a film he made at NYU. When he asked the latter star what he should do after German actress Elke Sommer handed him the award, Grant said to kiss her. “So I did,” said Scorsese, receiving a laugh from the crowd.

Though the Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures nominees are the main focus of the show, the PGA Awards do tend to be predictive of other Oscar categories as well. The awards body gave Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures to “Navalny” last year, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. 

This year, however, the PGA Award nominees only overlapped once with the Oscars, in terms of documentaries it recognized, and that film “20 Days in Mariupol” lost to “American Symphony,” which only received a Best Original Song nod from Academy voters. It is all reflective of how the PGA Awards generally have more mainstream tastes, so many of the documentaries from the past decade that people argue were glaring Oscar nomination snubs, like “Jane,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” and “Apollo 11” still won the PGA Award.

With all that said, the win this year that seemed the most determinative, moving the needle further for its winner’s Oscar chances, is Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures going to “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” The PGA Awards have predicted every film to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature since 2015 with “Inside Out,” even during close races like “Zootopia” and “Moana” being nominated against each other. While a BAFTA win still provides hope for Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” to win the Oscar, “​​Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” seems to have the most momentum in the last stretch before the finish line.

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