And the Oscar may not go to ... Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey.
Grey on Wednesday lost an aggressive bid to be recognized by the Producers Guild of America as one of the producers of Martin Scorsese's hit crime drama "The Departed."
That means the producer-turned-studio chief has zero chance of walking away with an Oscar for best picture should the Warner Bros. film win unless he takes his case to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Even then, the academy, which will award the gold statuettes on Feb. 25, would have to overrule the guild's decision.
But any such move to appeal carries big risks for Grey. Not only could it come off as an unseemly grab for personal glory to Hollywood insiders and his bosses at Viacom Inc., it would put him in direct competition with his own studio. Paramount's "Dreamgirls" and "Babel," which also received guild nominations, are strong contenders for the best picture Oscar.
In unveiling its annual nominations Wednesday, the guild deemed Graham King the film's only eligible producer. The guild decided just before Christmas to reject's Grey appeal to be named as a producer should "The Departed" be honored.
Grey was instrumental in getting "The Departed" made at Warner Bros. when he was a top Hollywood talent manager and producer, acquiring in 2003 the remake rights to the Hong Kong hit drama "Infernal Affairs."
Grey helped Warner hire screenwriter William Monahan and sent the script to Scorsese. He also played a key role in helping negotiate the deals for such key cast members as Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg.
Last week, Scorsese and King wrote a joint letter to the guild, asking it to reconsider.
"Brad absolutely got it to be a go-movie and, in my opinion, for that he deserves credit," King said in an interview. "However, I don't make the rules and I do respect the guild's decision making."
Others who lobbied on Grey's behalf included Warner Bros. production chief Jeff Robinov, who gave the studio's endorsement to crediting Grey. Steven Spielberg, whose company DreamWorks SKG is now owned by Paramount, purportedly encouraged Scorsese to speak up because the guild's decision seemed arbitrary to him.
Vance Van Petten, executive director of the Producers Guild, declined to comment on the decision, citing confidentiality rules.
The guild will hand out its awards Jan. 20, three days before Oscar nominations are announced.
Grey's position as head of Paramount probably cost him the credit. He started work more than a month before the movie began production in April 2005. He recused himself from the hands-on producing duties and spent no time on the set.
According to guild rules, executives who work for a studio or financier of a film can't earn a "Produced by" credit unless they "demonstrate a commitment of time and resources to the production of such significance that such commitment is tantamount to taking a leave of absence from his/her executive duties." Grey wasn't working for Warner Bros., but guild officials were concerned his Paramount job kept his focus elsewhere.
On the screen, Grey and Brad Pitt, his former producing partner, are listed as producers along with King. But under an agreement aimed at reining in the number of producers trying to grab Oscar glory, the academy accepts the Producers Guild recommendations as a stamp of approval.
Producers can appeal that decision to the Academy after it unveils its upcoming nominations Jan. 23. Producer Bob Yari last year made an unsuccessful attempt to retain credit on eventual Oscar winner "Crash."
Grey declined to comment. People who have talked to the studio chief said he was angered by the guild's decision but had not made up his mind whether to appeal to the academy. Scorsese reportedly advised Grey on Wednesday to appeal to the guild's executive committee should "The Departed" be nominated.
If Grey does nothing, the Producers Guild's decision stands, according to Academy Executive Director Bruce Davis.
Grey made a strong push to get the credit on "The Departed" before Christmas, after the guild decided during an arbitration procedure weeks earlier that King was sole producer. The guild arbitrates an average of 10 to 15 cases a year where a film has more than three producers or, in a case like Grey's, when a producer holds another full-time job.
Each producer is asked to submit a three-page eligibility form specifying what functions he or she performed on the movie. About four dozen tasks, including selection of the director, securing financing and being present on the set, are divided into four categories.
Of those groupings, the guild weighs development and post-production at 30% each; and pre-production and actual production at 20% each. Essentially, a producer must be responsible for 50% of the tasks.