It is always this time of year when you know for sure whether a film is going to finish the race as the “winner” or not. The Producers Guild has, for the last two years anyway, been the turning point. The Globes come and go and one year it was Avatar and the next year it was The Social Network. Then the Producers Guild honored The Hurt Locker, and the Producers Guild honored The King’s Speech and such was the signal that it was all over but the shouting. It was especially exciting when The Hurt Locker won because everyone naturally assumed that the movie that made the most money in the race (Avatar) would beat the movie that made the least (The Hurt Locker). The Hurt Locker had been winning on the strength of Kathryn Bigelow’s underdog status, being a woman, and the simple fact that she had the better movie. But The King’s Speech beating The Social Network, Black Swan, Inception, The Fighter and True Grit? There was something else at play. There was profit, sure, but there was also low cost and there was also those swollen hearts. Everybody felt sorry for the stuttering King who couldn’t give a speech, his friendship with his teacher, and on and on and on it went. Masterpiece Theater for the ages. The King’s Speech wasn’t a bad film. It was a very very good film. It just wasn’t better than the best film. But hey, Rocky was a great film too. It just wasn’t better than Network. It just wasn’t better than Taxi Driver. It just wasn’t better than All the President’s Men. Time helped us to see that year more clearly but at the time, there was no stopping Rocky. Rocky and The King’s Speech are very similar in that way. You’re always going to find people who respond, still, to both movies. That the greater movies were nominated alongside them also speaks well of the Academy for noticing at all.

THE ARTIST
Producer: Thomas Langmann

BRIDESMAIDS
Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Clayton Townsend

THE DESCENDANTS
Producers: Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Producers: Ceán Chaffin, Scott Rudin

THE HELP
Producers: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Brunson Green

HUGO
Producers: Graham King, Martin Scorsese

THE IDES OF MARCH
Producers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brian Oliver

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum

MONEYBALL
Producers: Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt

WAR HORSE
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg

We can’t expect a group of thousands to vote for the best film. I have never figured out what makes the producers tick. What I do know is that if they pick anything except The Artist (which I’m figuring they won’t) we will have a much more interesting race. Of course, awarding films — works of art — for our amusement isn’t really the aim of the game. We shouldn’t want the race to be more interesting just so that we won’t be bored. Of course, that’s what we want but people will never vote that way.

The producers used to consist of a much smaller group of people. But now they are less than the Academy, with 4,700 of them. What makes them more indicative of Academy voting is that they use the preferential system with ten Best Pictures. The least hated film is more likely to win because the film that isn’t the popular number one should be the second or third choice on a ballot. The DGA and the SAG don’t vote that way, only the PGA do.

The Producers Guild vote for the Best Picture now. They don’t vote for the “Best Produced” anymore, if they ever did. There used to be a lot more diversity in how the groups voted — but now, everyone votes at the same time and there isn’t a lot of time for reflection. It feels like there are still only two movies that can challenge The Artist. One is Hugo and the other is The Descendants.

Probably the producers aren’t going to care about giving back to the American film industry, which needs saving as much as the UK Film Council did last year. We’re in a sorry state right now and for the second year in a row it looks like an international film is going to take over our industry awards. That is the only thing I can see giving voters pause. Maybe they’ll want to say, you know, I loved The Artist but Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese are American treasures who fortify our own culture of great filmmaking. Why can’t we reward that instead? Who am I kidding. We all know how this thing is going to play out. And in the end, no one can make a valid argument other than that as to why it shouldn’t win. Well, except for the money.

The Artist’s Box Office

Jan 6–8 18 $1,120,111 -14.5% 172 +5 $6,512 $7,097,612 7
Jan 13–15 15 $1,193,180 +6.5% 216 +44 $5,524 $8,789,959 8
Jan 13–16 15 $1,604,416 +43.2% 216 +44 $7,428 $9,201,195 8

The King’s Speech box office

Jan 7–9 9 $6,414,407 -17.5% 758 +58 $8,462 $32,896,665 7
Jan 14–16 4 $9,186,203 +43.2% 1,543 +785 $5,953 $44,710,062 8
Jan 14–17 4 $11,271,166 +75.7% 1,543 +785 $7,305 $46,795,025 8

The big question with The Artist is whether it could make any money.  As you can see, The King’s Speech was killing it in a much shorter time.  The Artist is no King’s Speech, which lit the box office on fire.  It’s hard to get people to see The Artist – I know, I’ve tried to pass around the screener. I actually know a voting DGA member who never saw it.  So I’m wondering how this will play out.

This will be the first guild vote to test the popularity of The Artist.  I’m still going to bet it wins there, then wins the DGA and then the SAG and on and on.  But if it doesn’t win, what might?  The Descendants is probably the second best choice.  While not everyone loves it it has a lot going for it.  For one thing, it is still looking like the underdog.  Directed by Alexander Payne, who came very close to winning the big time with Sideways.  But The Descendants is also a very American story. It is about the preservation of our land and families for future generations. It is about a family — a dad who must take care of his kids.  It’s about telling the truth — about living an honest life, about how hard it is to talk about stuff to people when they’re right there in front of you.  Of all of the films this year, only two made me cry — well, three if you count War Horse – The Descendants and Hugo.

While it might not be the best year for film we’ve ever seen, there really isn’t a bad one in the bunch.

How about you?  Are we looking at an Artist sweep?  Does that first stop happen this Saturday when the PGA announces?