The second phase of awards season kicked off this morning as the Producers Guild of America announced the nominations for the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award. Following suit with the Oscars doubling up on their nominations, the PGA also selected ten finalists as science-fiction had a surprising showing on the list.

Avatar wasn't much of a shock on the list, joining other favorites for a Best Picture nomination - AnEducation, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Invictus, PreciousandUp In The Air. But instead of such presumed contenders like Nine, A Serious Man and commerce-over-quality, The Blind Side, they were replaced by the likes of Neill Blomkamp's sci-fi allegory, District 9, and J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. (Congrats to Sasha Stone at Awards Daily for calling those two.) Bringing some long lost hope to those who believed the reboot had a legitimate shot at a nomination when the Academy went up to 10, Star Trek now looks to be back in the running. Or is it?
Over the last decade, the PGA is only sporting a 69% success rate with its nominees. Just 36 of the last 52 Producer's Guild nominees were in contention for the big prize and only twice in their history did they produce an exact match (1993 & 1994). Since 2003 they have come close going 4-for-5 with such titles as The Incredibles, Walk the Line, Dreamgirls, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and last year's The Dark Knight being left off the dance card. After Pixar muscled its way into competition in 2004, the PGA created a separate category for animation and speculation continued (as it does with the Oscars) that such segregation prevented the best that animated features have to offer (such as last year's WALL-E) from having a chance at the top prize. Alas, perhaps inspired by the WALL-E outcry (or, just having some extra room on the list), the 10th PGA nominee is, indeed, Pixar's Up, which is also in contention for their animated prize along with 9, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Princess and the Frog. And may I be the first to ask - really, 9? Over Ponyo, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs or Mary and Max? Any thought that the voters got confused and nominated that instead of the Rob Marshall musical? Categories be damned, of course. Maybe its just a part of their science-fiction initiative this year.

Back to the real question though - what does this mean for Oscar? Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious and Up In The Air have now all received nominations from the PGA as well as the two groups that shouldn't be paid attention to but somehow always are (The Hollywood Golden Foreign Press Globes Association and the Broadcast "Film Critics" Association). If we were still dealing with five Oscar nominees, these would likely be your list. An Education, Invictus and Up have maintained a pretty steady flow of mentions during awards season to make them pretty good bets. Now we have eight. If the PGA's 70-ish percent rate holds then the numbers dictate that three films are going to get screwed. Feeling pretty comfortable with those aforementioned eight and that the group's percentage rate is going to go up come the morning of Feb. 2, that has us looking squarely at District 9 and Star Trek as the potential odd boys out.

It's still hard to feel Star Trek as a serious contender when you have Oscar favorites like the Coen Bros. and Rob Marshall out there. Nine has been waning of late with both the critics and at the box office and this PGA snub could be the first serious nail in its coffin. Its certainly worthy of a suit fitting as the coffin metaphor may still be a tad premature as it's the only other film to receive nominations from the Globes and the BFCA for Best Film. A Serious Man was nominated by BFCA, the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society for the top prize while this is the first non-technical nod for Star Trek. On the other hand, Peter Jackson, whose Lovely Bones has pretty much disappeared from the Best Picture race, could nevertheless wind up with a nomination as producer for District 9, which continues to hang on as the underdog to look out for on the final list. With any number of tech nominations possible and the Screenplay by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell getting nods from not just the OFCS (which bestowed the film with 5 nominations) but also the Globes and BFCA, District 9 may have become a serious contender for a Best Picture nomination this morning.