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Best Picture Tie + First Mexican Best Director + Rare Sundance Double Winner

PGA Awards Gravity
Best Picture tie surprise: Gravity was one of the winners.

Producers Guild of America Awards: ‘Gravity’ & ’12 Years a Slave’ tie for Best Picture

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Earlier this evening, Jan. 19, the Alfonso Cuarón-directed Gravity and the Steve McQueen-directed 12 Years a Slave shared the Producers Guild of America’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures – in other words, the PGA’s Best Picture Award. That’s the first such tie in the PGA Awards’ 24-year history.

A mix of adventure thriller and mother-love soap opera, Gravity was written by Alfonso Cuarón and his son, Jonás Cuarón. The Cuarón’s film received ten Academy Award nominations, but failed to be shortlisted for its screenplay. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star.

Based on the story of a free black man forced into slavery in the mid-19th century United States, 12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt (who also co-produced the film), and Best Supporting Actress SAG Award winner Lupita Nyong’o. Last weekend, Steve McQueen’s drama written by John Ridley took home the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama.

PGA Awards vs. Academy Awards

There are only nine movies in the running for the 2014 Academy Awards. Nearly all of the PGA Award nominees made the cut, except for Blue Jasmine and Saving Mr. Banks. The one Best Picture Academy Award nominee not found on the PGA Awards’ roster is Stephen Frears’ British-made Philomena, in which Judi Dench stars as an elderly woman looking for the son whom, years earlier, she had been forced to give up for adoption.

It seems that the 2014 Best Picture Academy Awards’ race is a three-pronged one, with front-runners 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, and, several steps behind, Gravity vying for the top spot. The Directors Guild of America will announce its winner on January 25; Alfonso Cuarón is the favorite, as Gravity is seen as a Director’s Movie. Last night, the SAG Award for Best Ensemble went to American Hustle, whose cast includes Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner.

A mix of crime, comedy, and drama with a “based on a true story” ’70s setting, American Hustle was written by David O. Russell and Eric Singer. The generally well-received comedy-drama also received ten Academy Award nominations, in addition to winning this year’s Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.

For the record, the other nominees in the PGA Awards’ “Best Picture” category were David O. Russell’s American Hustle; Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, with Best Actress SAG Award winner Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins; Paul GreengrassCaptain Phillips, with Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi; and Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club, with Best Actor SAG Award winner Matthew McConaughey and Best Supporting Actor SAG Award winner Jared Leto.

Also: Spike Jonze’s Her, with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson’s voice; Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, with Bruce Dern, Will Forte, and June Squibb; John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks, with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson; and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, with Golden Globe winner Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill.

The PGA Awards vs. the Academy Awards

In the past six years, every single PGA Award winner has gone on to take home the Best Picture Oscar: Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, Michel HazanaviciusThe Artist, and Ben Affleck’s Argo.

From 2004-2006, however, the PGA Awards and the Academy Awards were a total mismatch: Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (PGA) vs. Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby; Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (PGA) vs. Paul HaggisCrash; and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ Little Miss Sunshine (PGA) vs. Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

Since Driving Miss Daisy in 1989, seven PGA Award winners failed to take home the Best Picture Academy Award. Besides the three aforementioned titles, the other ones were Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game (1992), which lost the Oscar to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven; Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (1995), which lost to Mel Gibson’s Braveheart; Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), which lost to John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love; and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001), which lost to Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind.

Partial list of PGA Award winners

The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures: (tie)
Gravity (Warner Bros. Pictures) Prod.: Alfonso Cuarón, David Heyman.
12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures); Prod.: Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner.

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures:
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks (Focus Features); Prod.: Alexis Bloom, Alex Gibney, Marc Shmuger.

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures:
Frozen(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures); Prod.: Peter Del Vecho.

The David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television:
Behind the Candelabra (HBO); Prod.: Susan Ekins, Gregory Jacobs, Michael Polaire, Jerry Weintraub.

The Danny Thomas Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Comedy:
Modern Family (ABC); Prod.: Paul Corrigan, Abraham Higginbotham, Ben Karlin, Elaine Ko, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Jeffrey Morton, Dan O’Shannon, Jeffrey Richman, Chris Smirnoff, Brad Walsh, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker.

The Norman Felton Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Drama:
Breaking Bad (AMC); Prod.: Melissa Bernstein, Sam Catlin, Bryan Cranston, Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Mark Johnson, Stewart Lyons, Michelle MacLaren, George Mastras, Diane Mercer, Thomas Schnauz, Moira Walley-Beckett.

Gravity photo: Warner Bros.

Alfonso Cuaron DGA Award Ben AffleckDirectors Guild of America Award winner Alfonso Cuarón and last year’s DGA Award winner Ben Affleck.

Alfonso Cuarón is first Mexican director to win DGA Award

As expected, Alfonso Cuarón won the 2014 Directors Guild of America Award for the blockbuster Gravity at a Jan. 25 ceremony held at Los Angeles’ Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. “We saw all these photographs of earth from space, and it’s absolutely beautiful; hues of greens and blues,” Cuarón told the crowd after receiving his award from last year’s DGA winner, Ben Affleck. “Everything seems so organic [from space]. Those silly lines and boundaries we put on political maps, you can’t see that from space. It’s a bizarre experiment of nature, that is the human experience. And it’s what we as directors try to sort out as filmmakers.”

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

A mix of space thriller and inspirational soap opera that has just about nothing to do with “silly lines and boundaries” found on “political maps,” Gravity stars Sandra Bullock (instead of Marion Cotillard, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, and Angelina Jolie) and George Clooney (instead of Robert Downey Jr.) as two American astronauts stranded in space after their shuttle is destroyed by debris from the remains of a Russian satellite – which goes to show that silly (and dangerous) national boundaries exist up there as well. Gravity was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director – though, tellingly, it missed out on a nomination for Best Original Screenplay (written by Cuarón and his son, Jonás Cuarón).

About two weeks ago, Cuarón, whose previous feature film was the 2006 release Children of Men, took home the Golden Globe for Best Director. Even before his DGA win, he was expected to win the Academy Award in that category; at this stage, his Oscar victory has been all but confirmed. In the last two decades, only four DGA Award winners have failed to take home a matching Academy Award: two of those had not been nominated for the Oscars (Ron Howard for Apollo 13, Ben Affleck for Argo); two were shortlisted, but lost the Oscar to somebody else (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon‘s Ang Lee lost to The Gladiator‘s Ridley Scott, Chicago‘s Rob Marshall lost to The Pianist‘s Roman Polanski).

Alfonso Cuarón: First Mexican DGA Award winner in Feature Film category

Alfonso Cuarón is the first Mexican national to win the DGA Award for a feature film. The overwhelming majority of winners have been American (whether born or raised) and British filmmakers, but there have been a handful of other nationalities included on the roster, among them Taiwanese (Ang Lee, for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain), Austrian (Fred Zinnemann, for From Here to Eternity and A Man for All Seasons), Czech (Milos Forman, for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus), Italian (Bernardo Bertolucci, for The Last Emperor), and French (Michel Hazanavicius, for The Artist).

Alfonso Cuarón’s 2014 DGA Award competitors were Paul Greengrass for the Tom Hanks star vehicle Captain Phillips; Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave, in which Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a free black man forced into slavery; David O. Russell for the ensemble crime comedy-drama American Hustle, starring Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, and Jeremy Renner; and Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street, a mix of satire and drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. Cuarón, McQueen, Russell, Scorsese, and Alexander Payne for Nebraska are this year’s Best Director Academy Award nominees.

Also worth noting, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle shared the Producers Guild Award. The latter film also took home the Screen Actors Guild Best Cast Award. 12 Years a Slave won the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama, while American Hustle came out on top in the Best Picture – Comedy or Musical category.

Other 2014 DGA Award winners

Among the 2014 DGA Awards’ television winners were Steven Soderbergh for Behind the Candelabra, a TV movie starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his lover, and the series Breaking Bad and 30 Rock. Additionally, Jehane Noujaim won the DGA Award in the documentary category for The Square, about the Egyptian Revolution which had its (official) roots at downtown Cairo’s Tahrir Square exactly three years ago this weekend. The Square is one of the five documentary features in the running for the 2014 Academy Awards.

Jane Lynch hosted the 2014 DGA Awards ceremony before an audience of more than 1,600 guests. Besides Ben Affleck, DGA Awards presenters included Debbie Allen, Michael Apted, Paris Barclay, Sandra Bullock, Nick Cannon, Don Cheadle, Steve Coogan, Bradley Cooper, Jon Favreau, Taylor Hackford, Tom Hanks, Keith Jackson, Anna Kendrick, Allison Liddi-Brown, Sarah Paulson, Rob Reiner, and Kerry Washington.

The Directors Guild of America has approximately 15,000 members; they’re all eligible to vote for the DGA Awards. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has 6,028 members; 377 of these belong to the Directors Branch.

DGA Award winner Alfonso Cuarón quote via Photo of DGA Award winner Alfonso Cuarón and Ben Affleck: Directors Guild of America.

Whiplash Miles Teller Sundance winner
Miles Teller in Whiplash: Rare Sundance Film Festival Double Winner.

‘Whiplash’: Sundance Film Festival Awards’ rare double winner

Directed by Damien Chazelle – and acquired for domestic distribution by Sony Pictures Classics – Whiplash won the 2014 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award. The story of a young, ambitious 19-year-old drummer (played by 26-year-old Miles Teller) under the tutelage of a ruthless teacher (J.K. Simmons), Whiplash also features Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, and Damon Gupton.

Whiplash‘s double Sundance Film Festival win is quite rare. Previous such instances in Sundance’s three-decade history include Tony Bui’s Three Seasons in 1999, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s Quinceañera in 2006, Lee DanielsPrecious in 2009, and Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station last year. Of these, Precious is – somewhat surprisingly – the only Sundance double winner to have succeeded both at the domestic box office and during awards season, eventually winning Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Geoffrey Fletcher), in addition to nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress (Gabourey Sidibe). Following its Sundance win and its acquisition by the Oscar-savvy The Weinstein Company, Fruitvale Station seemed bound for awards season glory; strangely, TWC dropped the Oscar ball on that one.

Damien Chazelle, who turned 29 this past January 19, had previously directed a short version of Whiplash that won last year’s Short Film Jury Prize at Sundance. His previous directing effort, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, featuring Jason Palmer and Desiree Garcia, was a 2010 Gotham Award nominee for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You.

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Ah, in case you’re wondering … the 1948 Whiplash has nothing in common with Damien Chazelle’s drummer drama. Directed by Lewis Seiler, Warner Bros.’ Whiplash is a mix of film noir and romantic melodrama with a boxing-ring setting. It features Dane Clark, Alexis Smith, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, and Jeffrey Lynn.

More Sundance winners

The World Cinema Grand Jury Award went to Alejandro Fernández Almendra’s French-Chilean drama To Kill a Man, in which a “hardworking family man” decides to take justice in his own hands after his daughter is kidnapped and his son is shot and nearly killed by a neighborhood thug. Its worldwide rights (outside Chile and France) acquired by the Spanish-based Film Factory while still a “film in progress” at the 2013 San Sebastian Film Festival, To Kill a Man features Daniel Candia, Daniel Antivilo, Alejandra Yañez, and Ariel Mateluna.

Executive-produced by Maleficent star and Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award winner Angelina Jolie, Zeresenay Berhane Mehari’s Ethiopian drama Difret won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award. In the film, a young lawyer (Meron Getnet) helping abused women and children unravels a case that may endanger not only her career, but also her life. The World Cinema Documentary Audience Award went to Nadav Schirman’s German-Israeli co-production The Green Prince, about a Ramallah Palestinian man, Mosab Hassan Yousef, recruited by Israel’s Shin Bet to spy on other Palestinians, and his relationship with his Shin Bet handler.

Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Trago’s Rich Hill, about the troubled lives and lofty dreams of three adolescents (or nearly so; they’re between the ages of 12 and 15) in a small American town, won the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize, while the U.S. Dramatic Directing Award went to Cutter Hodierne for Fishing Without Nets, a U.S. / Somalia / Kenya co-production that is a sort of Captain Phillips minus Tom Hanks, Paul Greengrass, big budgets, Hollywood heroics, and – in a most un-Hollywood, un-American fashion – told from the point of view a young Somali fisherman. Two years ago, Hodierne’s short Fishing Without Nets received the Short Filmmaking Special Jury Prize at Sundance.

Other Sundance 2014 winners

Among the other Sundance 2014 winners were the following:

The World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award went to Sophie Hyde for the Australian drama 52 Tuesdays, in which a sixteen-year-old must find her own path once “her mother reveals plans for gender transition, and their time together becomes limited to Tuesdays.” In the 52 Tuesdays cast: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Del Herbert-Jane, Imogen Archer, Mario Späte, Beau Williams, and Sam Althuizen.

Stuart Murdoch’s British musical God Help the Girl was given the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Best Ensemble, which includes Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray, Pierre Boulanger, and Cora Bissett. Ben Cotner and Ryan White’s The Case Against 8, described as a “behind-the-scenes look inside the case to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage,” won the U.S Documentary Directing Award.

The Dutch-Norwegian co-production Blind received the World Cinema Screenwriting Award for director-screenwriter Eskil Vogt. In Blind, a recently blinded woman “retreats to the safety of her home,” but fails to find much security once “her deepest fears and repressed fantasies” take over. In the Blind cast: Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Vera Vitali, and Marius Kolbenstvedt.

The U.S. Documentary Editing Award went to Jenny Golden and Karen Sim for Edet Belzberg’s Watchers of the Sky, described as “five interwoven stories of remarkable courage from Nuremberg to Rwanda, from Darfur to Syria, and from apathy to action,” while Jeff Preiss’ Low Down earned Christopher Blauvelt the U.S. Dramatic Cinematography Award. Based on the lives of bebop pianist Joe Albany and his daughter, Amy Jo Albany, Low Down features John Hawkes, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Lena Headey, and Peter Dinklage.

The U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent was given to Justin Simien for Dear White People, in which “four black students attend an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over an ‘African American’ themed party thrown by white students.” In the Dear White People cast: Tyler Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, and Brandon Bell.

With its name connected to that of Chairperson Robert Redford, the Sundance Film Festival began handing out awards in 1984. Previous Grand Jury Prize winners (U.S. or World Cinema) include Joel and Ethan Coen’s Blood Simple, Todd Haynes’ Poison, Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s American Splendor, Juan Carlos Rulfo’s In the Pit, Dror Shaul’s Sweet Mud, and Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River.

Miles Teller Whiplash photo: Sundance Film Festival.

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