War thriller '1917' bags top PGA award ahead of Oscars

British filmmaker Sam Mendes is leading the charge into Oscars night with his war epic "1917"

Hollywood's producers handed "1917" their top annual prize Saturday, a reliable Oscars bellwether that puts the World War I thriller in the box seat for next month's showpiece event.

The movie, which follows two British soldiers on a perilous mission across no man's land, has already scooped the Golden Globe for best drama, and has 10 Oscar nominations including for best picture.

Collecting the Producers Guild of America (PGA) film award at a celebrity-packed ceremony in Los Angeles, director Sam Mendes said making the film was "humbling, joyful and by far the best experience of my professional life."

In a bold filmmaking experiment, "1917" travels through trenches and crater-filled battlefields in what appears to be almost one continuous shot stretching for two hours.

"From the first day we actually shot -- we did a six- or seven-minute take -- I thought 'this is exciting'," Mendes told AFP.

"And I didn't feel we ever looked back. We had difficult days but I never doubted it."

He added: "It's certainly unlike any movie I've made."

The PGAs have predicted 21 of the past 30 winners of the Academy Award for best picture, including Mendes's 1999 victor "American Beauty."

Chosen by the 8,000-odd Hollywood movers and shakers of the PGA, the awards were attended by A-listers such as Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Nicole Kidman.

Netflix programming boss Ted Sarandos was given the guild's historic achievement award for overseeing the streaming giant’s rapid rise in Hollywood.

"It's really hard to think that there's any bias against streaming," Sarandos told AFP, pointing to the firm's 24 Oscar nominations -- including two for best picture ("The Irishman" and "Marriage Story.")

"I think people are celebrating the films and the work, so it'll be great if we get the big one too."

Pixar sequel "Toy Story 4" won for animated film, while CNN's "Apollo 11" topped both the documentary and TV movie categories.

Comedian Billy Eichner poked fun at the lack of diversity in the television comedy category -- won by "Fleabag" -- announcing: "The five white devils nominated are... ".

HBO's "Succession" and "Chernobyl" won for television drama and limited series, adding to their Golden Globe wins earlier this month.

And the same network's "Leaving Neverland," a groundbreaking documentary that shed new light on child sex allegations against Michael Jackson, won the non-fiction TV prize.

But organizers were left red-faced as, after a lengthy pause, nobody appeared to collect the award.

"All seems to be going well so far -- excellently produced evening," joked Mendes.

Pitt, frontrunner for the Oscars supporting actor prize, accepted a career award for his production company Plan B ("Moonlight.")

"We've been at it for about 16 years, going on 17 -- I have no regrets, other than sharing our name with an emergency contraceptive pill," joked Pitt.

"I didn't see that one coming."