Jan 19, 2020
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‘1917’ Becomes Oscar Front-Runner After Producers Guild Win

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War may be hell, but “1917” is having a heavenly Oscar season.

The film, a World War I tale, won the top prize at the Producers Guild of America awards on Saturday night in Los Angeles, adding to an haul that included wins for best drama and best director at the Golden Globes this month.

Its director, Sam Mendes, dedicated the award to his grandfather, a World War I veteran whose stories helped inspire the film. And the film’s producer, Pippa Harris, drew a line directly from “1917” to the current climate of global tension. “In these times of division and conflict around the world, I really hope that it’s just a reminder to never take for granted the peace that we all inherited,” she said.

For Oscar watchers, the Producers Guild trophy is considered a significant bellwether, including last year, when “Green Book” took the top prize weeks before winning the Academy Award for best picture. Since 2009, when the guild and Oscars both expanded the number of their best-film nominees, the two groups have differed only twice in their ultimate selection: In 2015, the Producers Guild victor, “The Big Short,” went on to lose to “Spotlight” in an extremely close best-picture race, and the following year, the Producers Guild picked “La La Land” over the eventual Oscar winner, “Moonlight.”

Though this awards season initially seemed as if it would come down to Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” the Producers Guild loss is a blow to both movies’ best-picture chances. If these big-budget, widely seen films couldn’t score with the guild — an organization that contains a significant number of Oscar voters and uses the same sort of preferential ballot — they may be bypassed by the academy as well.

Can anything topple “1917,” the new best-picture front-runner? I suspect that this formerly wide-open race is now a contest between the World War I film and Bong Joon Ho’s contemporary thriller, “Parasite,” which is vying to become the first foreign-language film to win the best-picture Oscar.

“Parasite” pulled off a separate victory by taking the top drama prize from the American Cinema Editors on Friday, another first for a foreign film. It is also eligible for a big win on Sunday night at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where it earned a best-cast nomination that eluded “1917.”

Though it would have been a major coup for “Parasite” to win the Producers Guild award, the toppling of “La La Land” by “Moonlight” provides a template for a smaller, contemporary film to still prevail at the Oscars. Or, to put it in the parlance of “1917”: While the Producers Guild award is a significant battle won, this war’s not over yet.

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