Rooney Mara with Oscar

Kicking off the new year, awards-season style, the Producers Guild of America weighed in on 2011 films today, announcing the nominees for its Producer of the Year awards. Far from shaking things up, the PGA’s decisions mostly reflect the industry consensus about the top films of the year. Bridesmaids and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are probably their most controversial picks, but both films could be said to represent the particular skills of the producer in putting a challenging project together and making it work on screen especially well.

Here’s a quick look at the 10 films contending for the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures, with my estimation of their chances to make the Academy’s final list of up to 10 Best Picture nominees. (You can read the full list of PGA nominations here.)

The Artist, produced by Thomas Langmann
A lock. From its debut at the Cannes Film Festival to its 97% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, The Artist has been a favorite of critics groups and audiences. Not bad for a black-and-white silent film. This will score a Best Picture nomination, and recognition for its cinematography, editing, and perhaps art direction and costuming should follow along.

Bridesmaids, produced by Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Clayton Townsend
Unlikely. Audience appeal propelled this R-rated ensemble comedy to box-office success, tapping an apparently unmet market demand for raunchy female-centered shenanigans, but it’s not really an “Oscar” movie. It’s a long shot in the Best Picture category, but it could conceivably score a wildcard slot among best original screenplays or in the perennially unpredictable category of best supporting actress (Melissa McCarthy).

The Descendants, produced by Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
A sure thing. Alexander Payne’s latest hit the ground running with uniformly strong reviews and has managed to make more than $40 million in theaters. That’s a recipe for Oscar glory. Look for multiple nominations across several categories.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, produced by Ceán Chaffin, Scott Rudin
Doubtful. It’s getting a (bad?) rap as a financial disappointment — and as an unecessary “remake” of the Swedish film that adapted the same book. Nominations for editing, cinematography, score, and sound are all possible; recognition for Rooney Mara’s performance in the title role is most likely.

The Help, produced by Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Brunson Green
Definitely. The late-summer release of The Help was the event that seemed to turn the industry’s thoughts to Oscar for the first time in 2011. It had that combination of important subject and mass appeal that gets the Academy’s attention. Look for this one to show up in Best Picture, Best Actress (Viola Davis), Best Adapted Screenplay, and more.

Hugo, produced by Graham King, Martin Scorsese
Maybe. As recently as October, when Hugo debuted as a stereo-3D work-in-progress at the New York Film Festival, it seemed like a non-event. Buzz wasn’t especially strong at that point, and it looked like Hugo would be a minor work. But the film’s actual release was met with rapturous critical reviews and warm word-of-mouth from cinephiles. Box-office returns are iffy — $50 million isn’t a lot for a family film to collect over the holidays — but the Academy is likely to be considering this one seriously.

The Ides of March, produced by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brian Oliver
Not likely. How can the PGA not recognize Clooney for one-man-band status — the fellow writes, acts, directs and produces? What’s more, he’s well liked and is thought to have exceptional taste. Reviews were mostly positive, box-office mildly so, but it’ll be a surprise if this one manages to nudge its way onto Oscar’s Best Picture list.

Midnight in Paris, produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum
A shoo-in. Woody Allen’s latest isn’t just one of the modest successes he’s been enjoying lately, but a genuine hit, racking up nearly $150 million worldwide on a reported budget of $17 million. Allen’s optimistic mood, his highly literate script, Parisian cinematography by Darius Khondji and the film’s smorgasbord of showy supporting performances should be catnip for the Academy.

Moneyball, produced by Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt
Probable. When the project originally collapsed under the stewardship of then-director Steven Soderbergh, it looked like Moneyball would never get made — at least not at the scale Soderbergh was proposing. Enter director Bennett Miller, already an Oscar nominee for his feature-film debut, Capote, who wrangled the project and got it in front of the cameras. The result? The kind of classic sports drama that Oscar has always cheered.

War Horse, produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg
Almost certainly. “War Horse is the best film of the year. The year, unfortunately, is 1942,” cracked Boston Globe critic Ty Burr. That was meant as a slam, of course, but as far as the Oscars go, it’s a selling point. Look for Spielberg’s brand of old-fashioned filmmaking craft to earn him and his team generous Oscar plaudits.