Will ‘The Power of the Dog’ Seal the Deal in Final Awards Season Push Before the Oscars?

The Oscars Best Picture race could essentially end at this weekend’s PGA Awards, or it could get very interesting

Producers Guild Awards contenders
"The Power of the Dog": Netflix / "Belfast": Focus / "CODA": Apple / "West Side Story": 20th Century / "King Richard": Warner Bros.

Oscar voting has begun, and the alphabet soup of awards given out by Hollywood’s guilds and professional organizations – DGA, SAG, VES, ACE, ADG, CDG, MUAHS, MPSE – has almost run its course.

But a couple of awards remain to be handed out before we get to March 27’s Academy Awards, and one of them is very big indeed.

That one is the Producers Guild Awards, which takes place on Saturday night in Los Angeles and may be the last remaining show that can give us valuable information about what’s going to happen at the Oscars.

(The Writers Guild is handing out its awards the following night, but WGA rules make the Oscar screenplay nominees “The Power of the Dog,” “Belfast,” “The Lost Daughter” and “Drive My Car” ineligible, which means they’re no help at all as predictors for the Academy’s big night.)

Crucially, the PGA is the only awards body other than the Oscars to use the preferential or ranked-choice system to count votes in its best-picture category, the Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures. If “The Power of the Dog” is truly too divisive to win under the preferential system, which has been a nagging thought even as it has won most other awards, that weakness should show up at the Producers Guild.

And if, on the other hand, it wins the PGA Award on Saturday, then that race would seem to be all but over.

So we can call the Producers Guild the moment of truth not only for “The Power of the Dog” but also for the handful of films that have any chance of an upset victory at the Oscars: “Belfast” and “CODA” foremost, but also “West Side Story” and “King Richard.”

For one of them to stage a big upset at the Dolby Theatre on March 27, it probably needs to do the same thing at the Fairmont Century Plaza eight days earlier.

Granted, there are a couple of caveats here. For one thing, the PGA-Oscar connection has been a little sketchy recently. For four years beginning in 2010, when both groups expanded to 10 best-pic nominees and instituted the preferential system, the PGA winner always took the Oscar; the guild was the first place to signal that “The Hurt Locker” had more widespread appeal than the juggernaut “Avatar” in 2010, and the following year it confirmed that while “The Social Network” was winning all the critics awards, “The King’s Speech” was going to take the Oscar.

Things got a little weirder in 2014, when the Oscar winner “12 Years a Slave” tied with “Gravity” for the Producers Guild Award. (FYI, it is very easy to break ties in the preferential system, unless you don’t want to.)

And then, beginning in 2016, the connection started to fray. The Producers Guild gave its top award to “The Big Short” in 2016, “La La Land” in 2017 and “1917” in 2020, while the Oscars went for “Spotlight,” “Moonlight” and “Parasite,” respectively. You could explain the “1917” vs. “Parasite” year by saying that you can’t expect a group of mostly American producers to go for a Korean-language film made completely outside of Hollywood over a big-budget English-language film, but that’s still three misses in six years, which is not a good look for an award that’s supposed to be a foolproof Oscar predictor.

And here’s something else to consider: When the two groups have differed in recent years, the Oscar winner is always a smaller-budgeted film rather than the PGA winner. So if the Producers Guild winner is “King Richard” or “West Side Story,” both of which cost more than “The Power of the Dog,” there’s reason to think that “Power” could still win the Oscar. But if the PGA winner is “CODA” or “Belfast,” both of which are lower-budgeted than “Power,” that’s a real danger sign for the front runner, because there’s no recent precedent for a bigger movie winning the Oscar after losing the PGA.

Of course, there’s also the distinct probability that all of this is just an case of Oscar-watchers trying to persuade ourselves that this race isn’t as cut-and-dried as it seems. Stay tuned for a few answers this weekend.