CATEGORIES Movies, Oscars
Star TrekOfficials of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got a little help from their friends in the Producers Guild of America today when the PGA included the $257.7 million blockbuster 'Star Trek' among its 10 nominees for the year's Best Picture. Technically, the PGA award honors "those visionaries who produce and execute motion pictures," but no one doubts that the PGA began giving its annual award in 1990 to become a player in the Oscar game.

And in no previous year are the producers more apt to play a role. With both the Academy and the PGA doubling their number of nominees for Best Picture from 5 to 10, Oscar observers have been haunted by two questions: How in the world will either group find 10 worthwhile nominees?; and, will the voters answer the Academy's prayers by nominating a big audience movie that would never make a five-picture field?

After the PGA's list sinks in, Academy voters may just say "Ditto" and save themselves further headaches. Star TrekOfficials of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got a little help from their friends in the Producers Guild of America today when the PGA included the $257.7 million blockbuster 'Star Trek' among its 10 nominees for the year's Best Picture. Technically, the PGA award honors "those visionaries who produce and execute motion pictures," but no one doubts that the PGA began giving its annual award in 1990 to become a player in the Oscar game.

And in no previous year are the producers more apt to play a role. With both the Academy and the PGA doubling their number of nominees for Best Picture from 5 to 10, Oscar observers have been haunted by two questions: How in the world will either group find 10 worthwhile nominees?; and, will the voters answer the Academy's prayers by nominating a big audience movie that would never make a five-picture field?

After the PGA's list sinks in, Academy voters may just say "Ditto" and save themselves further headaches.

In fact, the producers have done about as well as they could have. Their list includes the seven films on everyone's list of leading contenders -- 'Avatar,' 'The Hurt Locker,' 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'Invictus,' 'Precious,' 'Up' (also nominated for Best Animated Feature) and 'Up in the Air.' Besides 'Star Trek' -- certainly one of the best-reviewed of the many Trek movies -- the ballot was filled out with the nifty British coming-of-age drama 'An Education' and the exhilarating South Africa-set science-fiction film 'District 9.'

My guess is that the Academy would rather have seen 'The Blind Side' on the PGA list instead of 'District 9.' And I can tell you with certainty that the fans who have made 'The Blind Side' a $209 million blockbuster would have rather seen it nominated. Not that 'District 9' was without support: Despite having no major stars, it grossed more than $115 million in the U.S. and Canada.

But 'Blind Side,' a success story about a football player who makes the grade (literally and figuratively) en route to an NFL career, is also a Hollywood success story. It's an example of the kind of movie former Academy President Sid Ganis talked about when announcing the expansion of the Best Picture Oscar ballot. Critics may not have liked the movie -- in fact, most dismissed it as audience-pandering melodrama -- but it's the right stuff as far as studios, theater owners and moviegoers are concerned.

Last June, Ganis all but pleaded with Academy members, "Can't we find room for just one movie like this in the big show?"

The answer from PGA members -- and, most likely, from Oscar voters in due time -- is no, not if they want to maintain a measure of credibility. Sci-fi movies like 'District 9' and 'Star Trek' may be unusual titles to find on a Best Picture ballot, but they were universally admired for their stories as well as their technical virtuosity.

Anyway, Bullock is a near shoo-in for a Best Actress Oscar nomination, which would put her on the red carpet and in a seat near the cameras inside the Kodak Theatre, so Academy members shouldn't be too upset. In their hearts of hearts, of course, they would love to have seen not only 'The Blind Side' on the PGA ballot but 'The Twilight Saga: New Moon,' as well. Imagine the number of 'New Moon's' lovestruck young fans who would tune in, probably for the first time.

The Oscar producers are almost sure to invite 'New Moon' co-stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart to appear on the show as presenters. And they may enlist a couple of the new generation cast from 'Star Trek' for the same task. But it won't be the same as having their movies on the Best Picture ballot.

The PGA awards will be handed out at the Hollywood Palladium on Jan. 24, a day after the polls close for Oscar nominations. This is as far as the PGA can go in helping Academy members make up their minds. But the voting processes for the two organizations are so different, knowing the PGA winner in advance probably wouldn't increase its chances with Academy voters anyway.

Members of the PGA, which includes 3,500 movie, television, and new media producers, simply choose their favorite movie on their nominating ballots, while the Academy employs a weighted, "preferential" system so complicated, it can't be trusted to a computer. I'll try to explain that process in a later post.

Here's a full list of PGA movie nominees:

Best Picture: 'Avatar,' 'An Education,' District 9,' 'The Hurt Locker,' 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'Invictus,' 'Precious,' 'Star Trek,' 'Up,' 'Up in the Air'

Best Animated Feature: '9,' 'Coraline,' 'Fantastic Mr. Fox,' 'The Princess and the Frog,' 'Up'

Best Documentary Features: 'Burma VJ,' 'The Cove,' 'Sergio,' 'Soundtrack for a Revolution'