LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Show business satire "Birdman" took the lead in what promises to be a competitive race for the best picture Oscar by winning the top award from Hollywood producers on Saturday.
"Birdman" beat nine other films, including "Boyhood" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel," to take the Producers Guild of America award for outstanding producer of a motion picture. PGA winners have gone on to win the Academy Award for best picture, the film industry's highest honor, for the past seven years.
"Birdman," the first comedy from Mexican director and producer Alejandro G. Inarritu, has won critical acclaim for its story of a washed-up former superhero actor trying to make a comeback. The lead is played by Michael Keaton, who has real-life parallels with his character.
The film also breaks visual ground, unfolding in what appears to be one continuous shot within the cramped confines of a Broadway theater.
Inarritu said his crew's "only ambition was a risky and experimental kind of exploration in the cinematic land, to go through the mind of an artist with this complexity and the stressful mind of Riggan Thomson played by the incredible Michael Keaton."
"Birdman," from Fox Searchlight Pictures, has been among the favorites in the Hollywood awards season. It tied with Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" for the most Oscar nominations with nine a piece.
But in recent weeks, the coming-of-age tale "Boyhood" appeared to pick up momentum in the best picture race. Awards experts believe voters at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wanted to reward the indie film that director Richard Linklater made over 12 years with the same actors.
Producers are influential in the Academy as one of the biggest voting blocs, along with actors, who will give out the Screen Actors Guild awards to their peers on Sunday.
One category in which the PGA and the Academy will differ is in best animated motion picture. The PGA's award went to "The LEGO Movie," which was not nominated for an Oscar, one of the most surprising exclusions of the Hollywood awards season.
The Academy Awards, Hollywood's biggest night, will be held on Feb. 22 and coming weeks will be filled with intense lobbying and promotion to sway the 6,000-plus voting members.
(Reporting by Mary Milliken; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Larry King)