A new weekly column talking up the season with bits and pieces from the awards circuit.
On Monday night, Sony Pictures Classics hosted a “special screening” of its October 16 critically acclaimed drama Truth at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to very good response from an Oscar-voter-heavy crowd who swarmed stars Cate Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss and writer-director James Vanderbilt at the reception afterwards in the lobby.
Co-star Robert Redford was absent, but will be at the New York premiere later this week. He plays Dan Rather in the film about a 60 Minutes scandal revolving around a piece about then-President George W. Bush’s Vietnam war record (or lack of it) that ended the career of producer Mary Mapes (played brilliantly by Blanchett) and the downfall of Rather at CBS. I’d seen and written about the film at the Toronto Film Festival last month, so I just made the party after moderating a Q&A with Sarah Silverman, star of I Smile Back, which drew a packed crowd of SAG and American Cinematheque members at Santa Monica’s Aero.
When I spoke with her earlier in the day, Blanchett didn’t want to speculate on her Oscar chances for this film, or Carol (November 20), as others have. “I am just interested in getting people to come out and see these films,” she said adding she is enormously proud of both. She just sold her stunning Australian home and is moving to L.A. with the family — just in time for awards season.
Speaking of Academy screenings, it may not be enough that The Martian killed at the box office with a near-record October haul of $55 million or so this weekend, it also had a smash turnout at its official screening at the Academy’s very same Samuel Goldwyn Theatre on Saturday night where officials had to close the doors with a number of members left out in the cold. That happens sometimes, but rarely. It certainly indicated the want-to-see factor of the film among Oscar voters. And now the feel good sci-fi epic is getting some serious Best Picture talk. Who would have thought? It would be nice if Ridley Scott got some consideration as Director. He’s never won even though his Gladiator did take Best Picture in 2000 (he wasn’t one of the producers). And I am told most audience members stayed for the post-screening Q&A with Scott, screenwriter Drew Goddard and composer Harry Gregson-Williams. Actually the Academy asked me to moderate that one but I was already committed to going to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Kirk Douglas dinner Saturday honoring Jane Fonda. And I am glad I got to do it.
Fonda was beaming at the Bacara Inn and Spa where the event was held. The clip reels showing off her 55-year film career were also great. When I spoke with her after one of the montages ran I told her I especially liked seeing some of the early films like 1967’s Fonda-ly remembered (sorry) Barefoot In The Park opposite Redford. They’ve made three films together (The Chase and The Electric Horseman are the other two) but Fonda told me they are going to do a fourth when they team again for a Netflix project that was recently reported: It’s called Our Souls At Night. Can’t wait.
Fonda already has a Netflix connection of course as she is now shooting the second season of her sitcom with Lily Tomlin, Grace And Frankie. She seemed excited to receive the SBIFF ‘s Douglas award. She told me she knew him when she was younger and that he actually came to visit the set of The China Syndrome, the 1979 film she made with Kirk’s son, Michael, and Jack Lemmon (a pony-tailed 99-year-old Douglas appeared briefly in a clip saluting Fonda).
In December she will be on the big screen again in Youth in which she has basically one big scene. Since the film debuted in Cannes in May I have been touting this as a seven-minute performance that is a surefire contender for a Best Supporting Actress nomination. At the SBIFF dinner a Fox Searchlight publicist corrected me on that. “It’s actually 8 1/2 minutes,” he said. That’s about the same screen time for Judi Dench in her Oscar-winning role in Shakespeare In Love. And it’s double the time Meryl Streep has in Suffragette, but in this unforgettable scene — in which she plays an aging actress telling her frequent director Harvey Keitel she is not going to do his next movie — she all but steals Youth from a first-rate cast that also includes a terrific Michael Caine. In his opening remarks, SBIFF director Roger Durling called it a “pulverizing perfomance. A gorgeous masterpiece in which she defines herself once again as an actress.” Trumbo’s Diane Lane and Love And Mercy’s Elizabeth Banks did the celebrity tributes to Fonda, with the latter mentioning to me about the dance parties (!) she has attended at Fonda’s house. “First they started out to be all women but then they expanded,” she said. Nice to know Jane Fonda likes to dance.
At the same dinner, Fox Searchlight co-president Steve Gilula was enthused about all his fall films (which include Brooklyn and He Named Me Malala) but thinks this season is wide open. He pointed to a couple of perceived front-runners like Spotlight or the yet-unseen (by most) The Revenant (from big Fox and New Regency, which teamed with Searchlight on the last two Best Picture winners ), but thinks it is an unusual year. “I actually think the four major guild awards could split between four movies. It’s an interesting season,” he told me.
As past Best Actress winners Blanchett and Fonda, who may both be in contention to win a third Oscar, were talking up their new films, some anonymous buyer just managed to get their own Best Actress Oscar simply by shelling out some big bucks. It was as easy as that to pick up Norma Shearer’s 1930 statuette for The Divorcee at the Hollywood Profiles In History auction Saturday. And it only cost $180,000, the exact same price paid in this auction for Clyde De Vinna’s 1928-1929 (the Academy’s second-ever ceremony) Cinematography Oscar for White Shadows In The South Seas. And you thought you had to win one of those things.
And speaking of actors who actually did win, Benicio Del Toro, the 2000 Oscar winner for Traffic, is getting lots of buzz this time around for his hit drug-cartel thriller Sicario. In my opinion he should be one of the five supporting nominees for his chilling performance as the enigmatic and mysterious Alejandro. Even before the film started posting some great box office numbers, there was word that Lionsgate is already plotting a sequel. Over the past weekend, Del Toro appeared in person for some in theatre Q&As including the Arclight in Hollywood which I moderated. Asked about the possibilities of doing another one? “They announced something, yes, but I don’t know about the sequel. I read about it like you did but no one has talked to me about a sequel. But hey, my team loves the idea. I don’t really know about it and I have no idea. So cut to: I’m out of the sequel,” he joked. “But it would be great if it happened.”
Finally, another Oscar winner opened up his lavish Beverly Hills home to promote a project near and dear to his heart that he hopes will result in an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Short. Lionel Richie, who won the Best Song Oscar for White Night’s “Say You Say Me,” is from Tuskegee, AL, home of the famous all-black Tuskegee Airmen World War II squadron. And he’s helping filmmaker Joshua Colover get the word out about his remarkable Large Screen Format docu, The Tuskegee Airmen: Sacrifice And Triumph, which is eligible in the shorts category. The shortlist for that comes out October 15 and inclusion on it would bring the film one step closer to that dream. Richie has a lifelong fascination with the subject and among the guests at his small private screening (which included a number of docu filmmakers, Herbie Hancock and others) was 95-year-old Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Ted Lumpkin, who was sharp as a tack in describing his own experiences in the squadron that brought brave African Americans into the war effort. Richie made no bones about hoping the Academy will recognize the film and so he has called lots of his friends.
Said Richie: “I love when you get the announcement by the town (meaning Tuskegee) that says, ‘Lionel we’re trying to figure out how to get this noticed at the Academy Awards.’ And I said, ‘Well who have you called?,’ and he said, ‘Well we have got a call in to a few people,’ and I said, ‘Well are any of the people in Hollywood?’ and he said ‘Well no. He’s in Atlanta.’ So I said, ‘OK let me make a few phone calls for you.” So immediately I was commissioned.” Good luck to all. It’s a deserving film that shines a light on World War II veterans that didn’t always get the spotlight they deserved after the war.
Richie has his own big honor coming up in February: He is going to be the Music Cares honoree for the Grammy Awards weekend.