Can a thousand producers be wrong?

From tea leaves to audience polls, fans, pundits and Industry weasels have tried using every means possible to predict the Best Picture Oscar winner. Few methods have proven more reliable, however, than the Producers Guild of America's Golden Laurel Awards.

In the past 11 years, eight winners of the Darryl F. Zanuck Theatrical Producer of the Year prize have gone on to capture the Academy Award for Best Picture. This year's winner, American Beauty, hopes to make it nine.

Last night the PGA held its annual awards shindig at L.A.'s Century Plaza Hotel, and American Beauty producers Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks won out over fellow Oscar contenders The Cider House Rules and The Insider. (The other two PGA Award nominees, Being John Malkovich and The Hurricane, were snubbed by the Oscar crowd this year in favor of the Tom Hanks-driven The Green Mile and top horror draw The Sixth Sense.)

For American Beauty, up for eight Oscars, this just adds steam to its awards express. The film also received Best Picture nods from the Golden Globes, the National Board of Review and the Online Film Critics Society. For the gamblers out there, Vegas odds list the picture in a dead heat with The Cider House Rules.

But don't put up the mortgage for American Beauty in the office pool, if last year's results are any indication. Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan won over the PGA crowd in 1999, only to watch Miramax's Shakespeare in Love take home Oscar. Spielberg has a shot at redemption this year: If American Beauty wins, it would be DreamWorks' first feature to bring home the top Academy Award.

In other PGA action, Jerry Bruckheimer brought home the David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award for blowing up things in Armageddon, Enemy of the State and Top Gun. T&A monarch Aaron Spelling received the David Susskind Lifetime Achievement in Television trophy for showing he'll give both of his kids acting work.

Conquering the Golden Globes was not enough for Sopranos godfather David Chase. He nabbed Episodic Television Producer of the Year over the producers of Judging Amy, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Sports Night and The West Wing. In the nonepisodic TV category, Oprah Winfrey and Kate Forte took top honors for Tuesdays with Morrie. They were up against the teams behind The Century: America's Time, Dash and Lilly, The Passion of Ayn Rand and Pirates of Silicon Valley.

In the rookie area, Gregg Hale, and Robin Cowie scored for The Blair Witch Project and Aaron Sorkin was honored for his TV two-fer The West Wing and Sports Night. They received the Year's Most Promising Emerging Producer awards, for film and television, respectively.

For the veterans, Some Like It Hot's Billy Wilder, Chinatown's Robert Evans and E.T.'s Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy were all inducted into the PGA's Hall of Fame for film. On the small-screen side, The Cosby Show earned Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner a spot in the Hall, where they'll be joined by The Fugitive's Quinn Martin and Alan Armer and Dragnet's Jack Webb.

The PGA's Vision Award for imagination and artistic achievement in film went to Michael Stipe, Sandy Stern, Steve Golin and Vincent Landay for the quirky Being John Malkovich. The boob-tube version went to John Wells for his work on his NBC troika ER, The West Wing and Third Watch.

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