pete_hammond_300x100Now it’s getting busy. Awards season, that is. Judging from the frantic calls trying to schedule interviews and other things as various voting deadlines loom, I would say we are in the thick of it. Golden Globe nomination ballots are due back Monday. SAG nominating ballots go out now, and both key precursor verdicts will be announced next week along with AFI’s annual 10 best list coming out on Monday morning. LA Film Critics will be announcing their picks on Sunday, then its the nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics Association’s Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, which wound up predicting every eventual 2013 Oscar winner except Makeup and Foreign Film. There are junkets galore and tons of events going on in NYC this week, and here on the West Coast the activity is no less crazy, with several contenders trying to make any impression they can on voters — particularly Oscar voters who possibly can be influenced by all this action and will be weighing in themselves by the end of the month.

Image (1) the_lego_movie_2014-wide__140206192640.jpg for post 678212Warner Bros threw a party last night in honor of its hot Animated Feature contender The Lego Movie, drawing voice cast stars Chris Pratt and Will Arnett along with writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller Lego Movie Partyand a boatload of Warner execs including Sue Kroll, Dan Fellman, Jeff Goldstein and Greg Silverman. Lord and Miller were still reeling from their National Board of Review award for Best Original Screenplay earlier this week as well as the Animated Feature prize from the New York Film Critics. “You can’t believe how excited we were that whole day,” Miller told me. The event was held at the “Bricksburg Chamber Of Commerce,” actually the very cool, Lego-laden Hollywood production facility where the movie magic takes place (Warners’ Looney Tunes cartoons reportedly were created there at one time). Pratt told me he showed the movie to his 2 1/2-year-old son, who ate popcorn and yelled “Daddy!” every time his character Emmet Brickowski came on. Smart kid. Deadline had just reported earlier in the day that Pratt is in talks to join the Magnificent Seven remake with Denzel Washington. Pratt says he hasn’t signed yet, but it’s very close. He would play a character closer in spirit to the one Steve McQueen did in the 1960 classic, though the actor says this will be based more closely on Seven Samurai, the Japanese film that inspired it. Warners is going all out Lego Movie even though the film opened way back in February. It’s the likely front-runner at this point, and the studio sent personalized Lego characters complete with name tags to press members just to make them feel part of the action (mine was in the mail when I got home, though I am not exactly sure about my new “Lego look”).

FURY Special Screening and Q&AAfterward, I headed over to moderate one of many Q&As going on around town, this one for Sony’s riveting war drama Fury, where stars Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman and Jon Bernthal got a standing ovation from an enthusiastic SAG crowd. This group, bonded for life it appears by spending all that time in a Sherman tank, were catching up both before, during and after the lively Q&A. Pitt’sfury been in Malta and not on this circuit, but he was in top form and gave lots of praise and support to one of the absent co-stars, Shia LaBeouf. This was a happy group, having just been named Best Ensemble by the National Board of Review, a good call because if ever a group of actors had to work together it was the Fury cast that also included absentee Michael Pena. Pitt was particularly funny describing the rather crowded conditions he endured in the tank scenes. These actors are so tight they actually hung out outside in the back of the Pacific Design Center for 40 minutes following the packed session. Pitt also told me was very proud of his Plan B company’s Selma, another surefire Oscar contender for Plan B after winning with 12 Years A Slave last year. “It took us seven years to get this film made,” he said, later remarking how strange real life is mirroring some of the events in the film that happened a half-century ago.

The Theory of EverythingEarlier in the day, Focus Features had an intimate lunch for their Theory Of Everything director James Marsh, who arrived in town for a short visit to promote the Oscar-buzzed film. Marsh has been AWOL during much of the “campaign” so far because he has been working in New York on Steve Zaillian’s new series Crime for HBO. He chatted with several Academy members present for the Soho House lunch. So did I. I still can’t get much of a consensus for any one movie that is ready to run away with this thing, though all of them there — eating and drinking thanks to Focus — sang Theory’s praises. Focus is throwing a cocktail reception tonight for Marsh and star Eddie Redmayne to continue the momentum.

A few Academy members at Soho told me they had been to a screening and reception at UTA the night before for J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year, the film that became the surprise Best Picture winner at the National Board of Review. NBR, a mystery group to be sure, might be on to something this time. The Oscar voters I a-most-violent-year-poster-404x600spoke with loved it. One told me Barbra Streisand headed straight to Chandor afterward and kept him engaged in conversation for some time. Does tiny distrib A24 have a contender on its hands? The key will be screening the hell out it since it doesn’t open until New Year’s Eve, the last day to qualify. Stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain also won NBR awards. A few of the Academy members also told me they have been diligently attending the many Foreign Language Film committee screenings with Poland’s Ida, Sweden’s Force Majeure and Argentina’s Wild Tales earning the most enthusiastic talk of the afternoon, but the screenings of the 83 contenders continue through next weekend.

Speaking of lunches, between NY and LA there seen to be more than ever. On Monday, The Weinstein Company showbiz-hollywood-walk-of-fame-christoph-waltz-02threw one at Musso and Frank for its Big Eyes star Christoph Waltz right after he got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of the famed restaurant. Big Eyes writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karasewski, producer Lynette Howell and the two-time Oscar winner’s Django Unchained co-star Samuel L. Jackson were among the crowd there supporting Waltz, who is deliciously funny and wild in the film that’s getting a Christmas Day release and hopes for someBig Eyes Waltz major Golden Globe action next week. Quentin Tarantino also was there. He directed him to both of those Oscars. This was really a fun event for me as I got to sit in a corner booth with Tarantino and the Big Eyes gang just talking movies for a couple of hours. Tarantino told me he is supplying his own revival house, the New Beverly Cinema, with many of his own 35MM prints but also has a group of about six hardcore collectors he trades with. He also has a vast poster collection and only wants to show films where he can also display his posters. Obviously he is a big supporter of film (he got rid of the theater’s digital projector when he took over), and to support Christopher Nolan, another big proponent of the dying film form, Tarantino showed Interstellar there for a weeklong run.

I also had a great time at my KCET Cinema Screening Series this week with Al Pacino after a screening of hisal pacino awards contender The Humbling, which opens today for a qualifying run. He was totally unplugged, telling hilarious stories for nearly an hour about the making of The Godfather, Serpico and Scarface and revealing how he came up with the famous phrase “Hoo-ah” from Scent Of A Woman, the film — and the phrase — that won him an Oscar two decades ago. More Q&As with the likes of Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall and parties to come all weekend as it hits high gear and this stuff gets serious.