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Producers Guild shocker: '12 Year a Slave' and 'Gravity' tie for best picture

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We thought this weekend would help sort out the race for best picture. We thought that at worst we’d have a two-way race. We thought wrong. The 2014 awards season is now officially chaos. The Producers Guild’s top honor, the Daryl Zanuck Award for best motion picture of the year, gave way to a tie between Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” and Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.” Cue the dramatic music!

As the year turned the major contenders for best picture had essentially been whittled down to three, the previously mentioned “12 Years,” “Gravity” and “American Hustle.” Then Oscar nominations came out on Thursday and that belief was firmly justified as the three films led in total nominations. “Gravity” and “Hustle” tied for the most with ten. With things still to close to call, we thought the SAG Awards and PGA would shed some light on how the rest of the award season would play out.

It all started rather predictably. SAG offered no real shockers as “Hustle” took the prize for top ensemble, as it was the favorite. The real tell would be the PGA, whose winner has gone on to win best picture the last six years. If “12 Years” won, it’s front-runner status that its held since September would still be intact. “Hustle” winning would result in a late surge and David O. Russell’s fantastic streak of late likely to culminate into a best picture win. A “Gravity” win would have signaled that genre bias of sci-fi has been evaporated. What the heck does a tie mean?

Quick evaluation looks like this, “Gravity” is stronger than we thought, and “12 Years a Slave” a little weaker, while “American Hustle” holds firm.

Saying “12 Years” is weaker doesn’t mean that it isn’t necessarily the favorite, but a win here would have surely but it in a comfortable position. This tie brings both “Hustle” and “Gravity” right on it’s heels, and showing weakness at the wrong time.

“Hustle,” meanwhile, would have been a surprise win at the PGA, so it loses nothing from not winning. The tie only gives it a little boost however. While it moves closer to “12 Years,” “Gravity” is now even more in the picture than before, and the last thing any film at this point wants is another serious threat.

“Gravity” obviously is the big winner from all this. It proves that more than directors and below the line people are willing to go for it. The last major guild award left is the Director’s Guild, where Cuaron is without question the favorite. If he avoids the upset, momentum shifts entirely into their corner. The DGA award will be announced next Saturday, Jan. 25.

If we want to go extreme with this reaction, the possibility of a tie is actually not out of the question. Last year’s Academy Awards reminded us of that possibility when “Skyfall” and “Zero Dark Thirty” tied for best sound editing. Well, that’s just a tech category, you may say. The majors haven’t been immune to ties either. Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tied for best actress in 1969. Is a tie likely? No. Could it happen? Nothing’s impossible, and if you want to be bold go ahead and predict that, but something is going to push one of these films ahead eventually.

In a piece I wrote a few weeks ago, I said I wished the guilds wouldn’t be as uniform as they were in the past couple of years. Well, wish granted, and now we have a neck and neck… and neck race with about six weeks left to go.

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