petehammond2We are still two weeks away from the official start of the movie awards season with the launch of the Venice, Telluride and Toronto fall festivals  but quite frankly the Hollywood Foreign Press Association got things rolling Thursday night with their annual Grants Banquet. The organization doled out $1.9 million for worthy charitable causes. This year marks the first time the event, held at the Beverly Hilton each August, took place in the evening rather than as a luncheon. Considering that just about every studio awards consultant was present and that several hopefuls from seen and yet unseen movies were enlisted to accept the various grants, you could say the race is off and running. Especially given that the HFPA’s Golden Globes show ranks only behind the Oscars and Grammys in viewership among kudofests.

Second-term HFPA President Theo Kingma told me that switching the event to nighttime was his idea as it makes for a more relaxed affair, where attendees don’t feel they have to rush back to work, and more TV crews are available to cover red carpet arrivals than in the middle of the day. Stars are also more flexible Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Grants Banquet - Showas they aren’t in the middle of a work schedule.

In his opening remarks Kingma began by asking for a moment of applause to honor Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams (“No performer wants silence,”  he said) . He pointed out that the current contributions bring the overall total over the years to $20 million. Not bad for an organization that, notwithstanding multiple hits and legal tribulations, clearly now has the complete attention of Hollywood and has carved out an important niche for itself during awards season. Evidence of its increasing clout are the  Emmy nomination it received for Outstanding Special Class Program (which will be handed out at the Creative Arts Emmys on Saturday). There’s also the Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special nom, which will be included on the Primetime Emmy broadcast August 25th with  nominees including Globe hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and Emmy host Seth Meyers. Interesting to note that the Oscar show itself was not nominated in the writing category.  The Globes have come a long way since NBC moved them to clean up their act. A younger generation of leaders, including Kingma, has also helped to try and change perceptions.

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Let the awards season begin. Redmayne, tatum, lerman and arquette are all receiving early buzz but theres...

Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Grants Banquet - ShowWell over 40 organizations were grantees, including the Film Foundation, American Film Institute, American Cinematheque, Film Independent, Toronto International Film Festival, Echo Park Film Center, FilmAid International, Outfest, SAG Foundation, No Kid Hungry and Ebertfest Film Festival. Several universities and many others were beneficiaries of the HFPA’s philanthropic efforts this year, including New Filmmakers Los Angeles, which benefits movie-makers of every age.

Among those stars taking part in the ceremony and accepting checks on behalf of the various groups were current Golden Globe winner for Best Actor in a Comedy Series Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine Nine),  Anne Heche, Elle Fanning,  Hailee Steinfeld, James Marsden, Jason Segel, Kerry Washington,  Minnie Driver, Rose MacGowan, Morgan Freeman and Michael Pena. On the film side, it doesn’t hurt to show up to an event like this, even before your movie has beenThe Hollywood Foreign Press Association Installation Dinner seen and such  awards hopefuls like The Theory Of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne, Obvious Child’s Jenny Slate,  Foxcatcher’s Channing Tatum, Maps To The Stars’ Robert Pattinson, Fury’s Logan Lerman and Boyhood’s Patricia Arquette  are potential  Globe contenders who participated. There was even entertainment as Kristen Bell sang a song from last year’s Oscar and Globe Animation winner, Frozen.

Redmayne told me the experience of playing Stephen Hawking was an extraordinary one. He’s clearly excited to see how the film will be received and is looking forward to its debut in Toronto next month. The very affable Tatum said that working in a true life story  like Foxcatcher was bittersweet, since they are all excited to see the film come out but have to be sensitive considering the circumstances involving the death of some of the principals — including his character. He says he got to work closely with the family members in Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Grants Banquet - Insideshaping the part, which won him great notices when the movie premiered at Cannes last May.  It’s going to Toronto and tipped for Telluride (which doesn’t release its schedule in advance), so we will likely be seeing  Tatum a lot on the fest circuit. He told me that last May’s Cannes was the first time he’d been to that festival of festivals so this aspect of the business is all new to him. Lerman has yet to see any footage from the intense war drama Fury and is a little reticent but he’s excited by the prospects for the Brad Pitt-starring action drama, which Sony just moved up a month to October 17th and which will close the BFI London Film Festival two days later. Word from insiders is that Lerman, apart from Pitt, is the film’s acting standout and a supporting actor possibility.