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Movie Planner: Producers pick the Oscars, Ride Along 2, Norm of the North, 13 Hours open

WIN YOUR OSCAR POOL: THE PRODUCERS

It isn't easy describing what movie producers do, since an executive trumps an associate, and a line producer is a bean counter. And don't call anyone a co-producer unless you're certain he or she is answering to someone.

One thing easy to understand: Movie producers know their stuff when it comes to picking best picture Academy Award winners.

Among all pre-Oscars indicators — critics' balloting, guild nominations, early award results — few can compete with the Producers Guild of America's (PGA) annual producer of the year prize.

The PGA started honoring its own in 1990. Over those 25 years, 19 winners later added the best picture Academy Award to their mantels, including the past eight in a row. Every Oscar winner since 1990 was PGA-nominated first.

Take a look at today's Oscar nominations for best picture and compare them to the PGA's list of 15 live-action and animated nominees. Any movie not mentioned in both places is bucking long odds.

This year's live-action PGA nominees are, in alphabetical order: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Sicario, Spotlight and Straight Outta Compton.

Animated finalists are: Anomalisa, The Good Dinosaur, Inside Out, Minions and The Peanuts Movie. No animated film ever won Oscar's top prize, which isn't likely to change this year.

The usual suspects are there — Spotlight, The Big Short, The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road — but the nominees also include and omit interestingly.

Straight Outta Compton and Bridge of Spies get strong late Oscar bumps (if nominated), especially the latter, which hasn't received much attention except for Mark Rylance's supporting performance. Brooklyn appears to be this year's Whiplash-type indie darling.

Yet while the guild has enough sci-fi/fantasy savvy to nominate apocalyptic action, Franken-feminism and Matt Damon on Mars, it left out Star Wars: The Force Awakens, bringing to mind this pessimistic piece of trivia:

The most recent best picture Oscar nominee that didn't first receive a PGA nomination was 2009's The Blind Side. It would take a Jedi mind trick to reverse that trend.

The PGA awards will be handed out Jan. 23 in Los Angeles, without the splashy televised red-carpet or celebrity wattage of Oscar night. Check the results before filling out that Oscars office pool.

OPENING FRIDAY: Ride Along 2

Just as Will Smith used to be king of Fourth of July movies, Kevin Hart is ruling the Martin Luther King Jr. Day box office.

For the third year in a row, Hart top-lines a comedy appealing to African-American audiences over the long holiday. This time it's a sequel to his first MLK weekend hit, Ride Along 2 (PG-13), with Ice Cube and Olivia Munn.

Ride Along 2 continues the misadventures of tough Atlanta detective James Payton (Cube) and his future brother-in-law, Ben Barber (Hart), whom he can't stand. Ben is now a police officer tagging along with James to Miami, where a weapons dealer (Benjamin Bratt) operates, trafficking guns to Atlanta.

The movie marks the sixth collaboration between Hart and St. Petersburg native Will Packer, one of Hollywood's most successful producers these days. Four of those releases debuted in first place at U.S. box offices, and if not for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ride Along 2 would be a solid bet to join them.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Hart's movie won't get much competition from 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (R), a movie from Transformers director Michael Bay that is actually being taken seriously in some circles. Of course, those folks aren't seeking quality filmmaking; they're panting for clues to prove Hillary Clinton isn't fit to run for president.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi reportedly never mentions Clinton's name, but during her Secretary of State watch the U.S. compound in Libya was attacked by Islamic militants in 2012, leaving four Americans dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Political opponents laid blame on Clinton for security lapses and alleged a coverup, leading to a congressional investigation.

Bay's movie focuses on six CIA security contractors who defied orders to stand down, and fought to protect the compound, so politics will likely be drowned out by gunfire and explosions. That's what Bay does best.

Norm of the North

Finally, there's Norm of the North (PG), in the dubious tradition of Hoodwinked!, Happily N'Ever After and every other crummy animated January release coming from an undependable source.

This isn't Disney-Pixar, Dreamworks or Blue Sky, folks. It's a joint production of Splash Entertainment — creators of Lalaloopsy and Bratz — and India's Telegael studio (Wild Grinders, My Phone Genie). If those credits mean anything promising to you, be my guest.

Norm (voice of Rob Schneider, another red flag) is a polar bear transported to New York, where a climate-changing corporation uses him as a mascot. Norm is accompanied by lemmings who jabber, stagger and fall like Minions but likely aren't as amusing. Joining in for a paycheck are the voices of Heather Graham, Ken Jeong and Bill Nighy, but in the case of strenuously unfunny comedian Gabriel Iglesias, Norm of the North may be a good move.

in theaters: our Top 5

Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:

1 The Revenant: Golden Globe winner Leonardo DiCaprio takes us extreme camping, in 2015's best movie.

2 Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Skywalker saga returns full Force.

3 Room: A unique experience, with terrific performances by Golden Globe winner Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.

4 Carol: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are Golden Globe nominees playing lovers in 1950s Manhattan.

5 Creed: Worthy successor to Rocky Balboa's underdog boxing title, starring Golden Globe winner Sylvester Stallone.

UPCOMING RELEASES

(dates subject to change)

Jan. 22: Dirty Grandpa; The Boy; The 5th Wave

Jan. 29: Kung Fu Panda 3; Fifty Shades of Black; The Finest Hours; Jane Got a Gun

Feb. 5: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; Hail, Caesar!; The Choice

Feb. 12: Deadpool; How to Be Single; Zoolander 2; Where to Invade Next

Feb. 19: Risen; Race; Viral

Feb. 26: Eddie the Eagle; Gods of Egypt; The Witch; Triple 9

Movie Planner: Producers pick the Oscars, Ride Along 2, Norm of the North, 13 Hours open 01/13/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2016 10:36am]
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