Let's just say that if you were expecting any film besides "The Artist" to triumph at the Producers' Guild of America Awards, you clearly haven't been paying attention. After dominating the critics' awards and taking three Golden Globes, the French phenomenon had its first taste of Guild glory last night -- solidly confirming its status as the film to beat (if indeed it can be beaten) for the Oscar.

As with "The Hurt Locker" two years ago, the PGA rewarded by far the lowest-grossing of the 10 films nominated: many pundits speak of them as a commercially-minded voting group, but their choices don't really bear this idea out. Consensus has simply landed on Harvey Weinstein's black-and-white pony as the most loveable in the race, and if it has the money men in its corner, it's good to go.  

We'll know next weekend just how comfortable the film is in the race as the Directors' and Screen Actors' Guilds announce their winners -- a DGA win for Michel Hazanavicius (which is probable) would just about lock things in place, but if it manages to beat "The Help" to the SAG ensemble award (which is more of a question mark), Oscar pundits may as well take up another hobby until February 27.

The more eyebrow-raising result is over in the animation category, where "The Adventures of Tintin" pulled off its second big win over precursor leader "Rango" in the space of a week. We put the Spielberg film's Golden Globe victory down to name appeal with voters, and it's tempting to wonder if something similar was behind the PGA victory. When a film is steered by three super-producers as powerful as Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Peter Jackson, it's hardly surprising that their peers are going to pay respect -- even if the film is, like "The Artist," the lowest-grossing in its field.

What this means for the Oscar race, where I suspect the quirkier charms of "Rango" will still carry the day, is less clear. Indeed, Kris is still predicting "Tintin" won't be nominated at all by the Academy's mocap-wary animation branch. If it clears that hurdle, however, might residual admiration and/or sympathy for Spielberg's failed Best Picture bid "War Horse" boost his chances in the lesser category? Or will voters feel he's been amply rewarded as it is? We'll see, but in a perennially suspense-free category that hasn't had an actual race to the finish since 2006, it'd be nice to have two strong contenders.

Over in the documentary category, meanwhile, the Guild did little to affect the overall race, surprisingly selecting Michael Rapaport's Oscar-ineligible hip-hop doc "Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest" over Academy-shortlisted titles "Project Nim" and "Bill Cunningham New York," as well as British favorite "Senna." I haven't seen the film myself, but I'm glad Rapaport, the bloke-ish New York character actor here making his directorial debut, finally has something to show for 20 years in the game.  

To recap, the list of film winners:

Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures

"The Artist" - Producer: Thomas Langmann The Producers Guild of America

Producer of the Year Award in Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures 

"The Adventures of Tintin" - Producers: Peter Jackson, Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg

Producer of the Year Award in Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures 

"Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest" - Producers: Michael Rapaport, Edward Parks  

Remember to keep track of the ups and downs of the 2011-2012 film awards season via The Circuit.

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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