If there was any doubt that the Oscar-season engine is roaring, events, Q&As, screenings and all that jazz is at a fever pitch — and it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet. Today’s big moment belonged to reigning Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey, who got his star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame followed by a lavish lunch at Spago in Beverly Hills hosted by Paramount Chairman Brad Grey and attended by his Interstellar co-stars Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain (who was excited to sit next to Martin Landau and hear his Actors Studio stories) and Mackenzie Foy, along with director Christopher Nolan and producer/wife Emma Thomas and brother Jonathan, with whom he co-wrote the screenplay. Oh, and did I forget to mention Paramount also invited scores of Academy members to celebrate with Matthew? His family including kids and wife Camila Alves were at the ceremony, and Alves also came to the lunch; McConaughey was beaming as if he had just won another Oscar (Paramount hopes there might be at least another nomination for his superlative work in Nolan’s film).
I was happy to be sitting at the table with the McConaugheys along with producer Don Phillips, who discovered the actor at an Austin bar and got him his first role in Dazed And Confused 22 years ago; Randal and Jeff Kleiser; director Scott Cooper; his The Paperboy producer Hilary Shor; actress Sally Kellerman of Hot Lips Houlihan MASH fame (who McConaughey said he was so excited to meet); and director Gary Ross, who told me he is preparing to start shooting his new Civil War drama, The Free State Of Jones starring McConaughey, in February. Cooper, by the way, could be in next year’s race with the Whitey Bulger movie he is currently making for Warners for fall 2015 release. He showed me a photo of Depp as Bulger and said this might be the performance of his career.
McConaughey could not have been more thrilled to receive the WoF star and told me the placement was great too. “I got some prime real estate right in front of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. It’s very cool,” he said. At the luncheon, Grey offered a toast to his Interstellar star, noting that the movie is doing great around the world after two weekends. “Not that I keep checking numbers,” he laughed. McConaughey, I think, used the word “bonkers” to describe the worldwide reception so far. After Grey’s toast, he offered his own words of thanks to everyone as well as his co-stars in the room. I asked Nolan if he had a star on the Walk of Fame. “Actually I don’t, but I did get the hand and footprints treatment at the Chinese Theatre when Dark Knight Rises opened,” he recalled. “They rarely do directors, and they told me I was probably the youngest to get that. It was a thrill.” I asked him what he thought about today’s announcement that Paramount and AMC Theatres are offering a special deal for moviegoers with a ticket they can buy for unlimited screenings of Interstellar, a rather unprecedented idea for a movie (but not for Disneyland). Are they leaving money on the table? “Actually no, I don’t think so,” he said “If it encourages people to come back multiple times, they will likely be bringing a new viewer with them.” More than one Oscar voter in the room (and there were plenty) told me they planned to see it again, so that could be a good sign for its Oscar prospects, even if critical reaction was mixed. Of course, it also was mixed for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, when it was released in 1968. Nolan said he has spent the weekend doing Q&As with the WGA, below the line guilds and the DGA, where he was happy to have Edgar Wright moderate.
Grey told me Paramount should have a great fall with Interstellar (which the studio has domestically and Warner Bros has international), the upcoming Chris Rock comedy Top Five, The Gambler and Selma, which had a smash AFI Fest debut last week and another screening last night at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, which both he and Par’s Megan Colligan told me played like gangbusters. It’s clear that Selma, which bows December 25, is becoming a major awards player for Paramount, even more than anyone expected based on this early reaction. It hits New York tonight.
I can’t remember a busier time than the past 10 days. Q&As and screenings are off the charts; there were tons over the weekend. The Weinstein Company followed up its Film Independent world premiere of Big Eyes on Thursday with packed guild screenings on Friday night. I moderated an overflow showing for the PGA, which included a Q&A with all the principals including director Tim Burton, Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, writers-producers Scott Alexander and Larry Karasewski and producer Lynette Howell. The distributor is going all out with a strategy to land Golden Globe nominations for Comedy/Musical categories. TWC’s The Imitation Game gang was in town Saturday afternoon for Q&As with SAG and the official Motion Picture Academy screening, which I am told was heavily attended. One consultant for a rival movie said it got the best reception they had seen yet for any movie at an Academy screening this year. But there was no standing ovation by the staid Oscar voters like there was at the SAG screening across the street. The Q&A had started with director Morten Tyldum, Keira Knightley and co-star Allen Leech when a slightly tardy Benedict Cumberbatch arrived (he had been doing a roundtable with other Best Actor contenders that began late), and when he hit the room, the entire audience stood and gave him a huge ovation. “All that for being late?” he joked.
Sunday morning, Universal hosted a Soho House brunch for its Get On Up star Chadwick Boseman, who plays James Brown in the musical biopic. Producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and director Tate Taylor were there schmoozing the many Hollywood Foreign Press Association members who attended. If there’s any justice, Boseman will receive a Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical Globe nomination for the role. He told me he wished more moviegoers had gone to see the film when it was released right in the heat of summer, but with all those comic book and special effects movies out there, the competition was lethal. Speaking of that, he’s very excited to have just signed a five-picture deal to play Marvel’s Black Panther. “Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” he laughed.
Howard also told me how happy he was for Michael Keaton’s success in Birdman. He goes way back with Keaton, directing him in films including Night Shift, Gung Ho and The Paper. Later on Sunday, U’s specialty division Focus Features hosted a cocktail reception at Craft in Century City for its The Theory Of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, who are really hitting the circuit this year. Just before that started, I moderated a Q&A with the pair in Hollywood, where they received a standing ovation before and after the Q&A from another turnaway SAG crowd. At the reception, Oscar-nominated actress Sally Kirkland practically grabbed the good-natured Redmayne, telling him she was definitely voting for him.
No rest for weary awards campaigners who, quite frankly, are just getting started.