"The Big Short" got a big lift Saturday night from the PGA in the three-way race for the Best Picture Oscar with "The Revenant" and "Spotlight." In fact, when producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner accepted the coveted Darryl F. Zanuck Award, Kleiner was so flabbergasted that he said he thought they were just being named as one of the nominees.
The PGA win obviously represents a significant momentum shift for the Adam McKay black comedy about the financial collapse of 2008, given that 19 out of 26 Zanuck winners have gone on to win Best Picture. Plus, Gardner, Kleiner, and Brad Pitt also produced Oscar winner "12 Years a Slave," which shared the PGA award with Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity," and went on to win Best Picture. The win lends more gravitas to "The Big Short," which, despite its darkly comedic tone, is topical, provocative, and — most important — extremely well-made.
Of course, this is bad news for "The Revenant," the Golden Globe (Drama) winner — which has been gaining momentum and just passed $100 million at the box office — and "Spotlight," the early frontrunner and the consensus critical fave.
Other PGA film winners Saturday night at the Century Plaza Hotel included Pixar's animated "Inside Out," produced by Jonas Rivera, and "Amy," produced by James Gay-Rees, both Oscar frontrunners in their respective categories.
PGA TV prizes went to "Game of Thrones" (HBO) for drama, "Transparent" (Amazon) for episodic comedy, and "Fargo" (FX) for long-form. "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" (HBO) won for live entertainment and talk, "The Voice" (NBC) for Competition, "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" (HBO) for sports, "Sesame Street" (in its last year at PBS) for children's program and Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee" (Crackle) for digital media.
Fox chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos (who has "The Revenant,"The Martian," and "Brooklyn" in Oscar competition) received the Milestone Award, presented by Ridley Scott ("The Martian"), who called him a "digital realm visionary."
David Heyman ("Gravity," "Harry Potter," and the upcoming "Fantastic Beasts" spin-off) earned the David O. Selznick Award; Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal," and "How To Get Away With Murder") took home the Norman Lear Achievement Award for her pioneering TV work, addressing the diversity issue by proclaiming that "people of color are not sassy or dangerous or wives."
The Stanley Kramer Award went to "The Hunting Ground," Kirby Dick's documentary about female sexual assault on campuses. Producer Amy Ziering praised the socially conscious Kramer ("High Noon," "The Defiant Ones"). "He was galvanized by xenophobia, paranoia and fear... He didn't shy away — he was unflinching." Lady Gaga once again poignantly performed the Oscar-nominated song, "Til It Happens to You," co-written with Diane Warren.
And Industrial Light & Magic earned the Visionary Vanguard Award, presented by J.J. Abrams and accepted by president Lynwen Brennan and chief creative officer John Knoll. "George [Lucas] had outrageous expectations for tools at the time [of 'Star Wars'] and it drove innovation with healthy confidence," Knoll told me afterward.
Knoll has spearheaded a new infrastructure at ILM to handle not only the return of "Star Wars" but also outside projects with cutting edge directors. This tech includes an advanced simulation workflow and a "Unified Assets" program that allows the cross-platform sharing of modeling, texturing, and shading assets for a given franchise.
Knoll, who pitched the idea of "Rogue One" as a TV episode and then as a standalone feature to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, added that there's a wonderful sharing of tech under the Disney umbrella, including Disney's Medusa Performance Capture system for transforming Lupita Nyong'o's facial expressions into Maz, and Pixar's RenderMan RIS rendering paradigm for ray tracing.
But Knoll's also extremely proud of ILM's photoreal bear in "The Revenant," a VFX Oscar contender along with "The Force Awakens." He said it's the complete opposite of "Star Wars": two hours of invisible work.