A new weekly column talking up the season with bits and pieces from the awards circuit.
20th Century Fox and New Regency took the veil off one of the season’s most anticipated movies, reigning Oscar winner Alejandro G. Inarritu’s brutally beautiful snowy western, The Revenant (Dec 25) this week , with press and Academy members getting a first look at it the past three days. Initial reaction , predictably , has run from “masterpiece” to “I can’t handle it”, but reviews are embargoed until December 4th at 1pm (PT). I imagine most critics will go gaga over the bravura filmmaking which is undeniably impressive. Without breaking the embargo for my own Deadline review let me just say the bear attack scene , near the beginning of the movie , is one for the ages as Leonardo DiCaprio and a Grizzly fight to the death. WOW! I thought the bear was real , but afterwards in the Academy lobby was returned to reality when an awards consultant for the film set me straight. ” Are you crazy? If that bear was real we could have killed Leo,” she said. ” Oh, so was it a guy in a bear suit , then?” I asked. “Nooooooo! It’s not a guy in a bear suit. It’s CGI using an actor to do the movements like Andy Serkis does,” she replied. You could have fooled me. Movie magic. I got several emailed reactions from Oscar voters who caught the movie. One said “truly amazing filmmaking but so unrelentingly brutal and hard to watch. I’m not sure Leo deserves an Oscar as much as he should be given the Congressional Medal Of Honor for what he went through shooting the film. Wow, what a year. Brooklyn, Spotlight, and now The Revenant. Talk about diversity!”
I saw the movie at the Academy where the temperature seemed fine, but one Academy member who caught it Sunday night on the Fox lot swears something was fishy.”2 1/2 hours plus credits. I don’t remember winter ever being that long even when I lived in New York. Think thermostat was turned down to maximize conditions in the film (seriously it was freezing during the film and instantly warmed up during Q&A).”. At both those screenings the audience gave Inarritu (and cast and crew including Leonardo DiCaprio) a standing ovation when he came out for the Q&A. “This was the most difficult film that all of us have ever done. And a lot of what we did there shows up on screen. It’s in the narrative,” DiCaprio said. “This was such a unique process for all of us as actors to come on board a film that was very much like performing theatre every single day. You had to rehearse meticulously and then there was this mad, intense scramble to capture this magic light, this precious hour and a half of beautiful illustrious Chivo light, ” he said referring to the stunning cinematography of Emanuel “Chivo” Lubezki who has won Oscars the past two years for Gravity and Birdman and could well pick up a third for this film, all shot out of necessity, according to Inarritu, in natural light. Competition will be stiff in that category though thanks to career work from 12 time nominee Roger Deakins on Sicario and John Seale on Mad Max: Fury Road to name just two. Despite its intensity and stomach-churning violence in some parts, The Revenant should score across the board in terms of Oscar nominations. Watching it I was reminded of Malick and Kubrick in parts, but ironically neither of those landmark directors won the big Oscars as Inarritu already has.
A WHIRLWIND DAY FOR EDDIE REDMAYNE
Another contender, The Danish Girl from Focus Features had its L.A. premiere over the weekend on Saturday . The screening at the Village Theatre in Westwood went well beyond capacity and organizers had to turn away 150 people for the 6pm showing , so they added one at 9:30 to accomodate everyone. Star Eddie Redmayne who has been shooting J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them in London has not been able to hit the circuit this year, so Focus arranged the premiere around the Oscar winner’s schedule and flew him and wife Hannah in from England for the day. And it was literally just for the day so he could do some in person press duties and key screenings before hitting the red carpet. My wife Madelyn and I caught up with Eddie and Hannah in a private room transformed for the film’s after party at the Skylight Gardens. Sparing no expense Focus even brought in all the original paintings from the film. The problem was the Redmayne’s were on such a tight schedule they couldn’t stay for the party as he had to catch a plane so he could be on set for a night shoot the next day. Following his interviews at the theatre they came over and we had a little dinner and drinks while the movie was playing. He was remarkably unfazed by the whole thing, and used to it by now after jet setting back and forth last year from shooting Danish Girl to promoting Theory Of Everything at the height of Oscar season. “Actually it has been quite fun for us. We left snowy London, got on a plane and arrived in sunny Los Angeles this morning. It is quite the adventure, ” he laughed about the fact he and Hannah didn’t even get so much as a sleep over in L.A. As for the movie he’s shooting now , he said Rowling has been enormously helpful to him in building the character for what could turn out to be a series of films and a new franchise for Warner Bros. Redmayne is great in Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, and he could be going for a second consecutive Best Actor Oscar . No one has done that since Tom Hanks in 1994. There is stiff competition from DiCaprio as well as Johnny Deep , Will Smith and several others who are only going for their first Academy Award, but the movie appears to be resonating with Oscar voters to whom I have spoken and has the kind of emotional resonance that some of the competition doesn’t.
WILL SMITH AND ALBERT BROOKS GET REAL
And speaking of an emotional experience Smith and the real life forensics doctor he plays in Sony’s Concussion, stopped by my KCET screening series last night for a Q&A along with co-stars Albert Brooks, David Morse and writer/director Peter Landesman. When I introduced the doctor, Bennet Omalu, the 400 plus crowd rose to their feet with a rousing standing ovation. First question I asked the good natured Dr. Omalu was if he approved of the way Smith played him. Definitely affirmative on that one. Brooks , who deserves Supporting Actor consideration , said unlike Smith he actually never met Dr. Cyril Wecht, the real life boss of Omalu. “I just developed the character for a couple of months the way I thought I should play him and then on the night before shooting started, I was suddenly invited to have dinner with him. I said ‘no’. What if he wasn’t anything like I was going to play him? What if he turned out to be a hunchback or something? ” he laughed. Landesman, who was also an investigative journalist, isn’t worried what the NFL will think. In fact look for the movie to be advertised all over those Thanksgiving Day football games. He said they didn’t ask anyone’s permission to use real names. They just went ahead and did it for this true film about the Nigerian doctor who rocked the sports world with his discovery of the football related Brain Trauma known as CTE, the condition responsible for the early deaths of countless pro players on the Pittsburgh Steelers and now seemingly everywhere. This one couldn’t be more timely. Just today the family of the late Frank Gifford , who recently died at age 84, revealed his brain had been donated to science, and confirmed he too had suffered from CTE. The film doesn’t open for a month but is bound to continue generating controversy. I told Smith he seems to have good luck playing real life people. His two previous Oscar nominations came for Ali as boxing great Muhammad Ali and as Chris Gardner in The Pursuit Of Happyness. I think third time could be the charm with Concussion.
SLY STALLONE HEADING FOR SUPPORTING OSCAR BY SUPPORTING YOUTH?
With Di Caprio, Depp, Smith and Redmayne all looking to add to their nomination total , I have to say the most unexpected former Oscar nominee back in the game this year has to be Sylvester Stallone on his seventh time playing Rocky Balboa in Creed. In addition to getting great reviews for his portrayal of an aging Rocky back in the ring to train the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed played by Michael B. Jordan, Sly got a standing ovation from the SAG nominating committee members who saw the film on the Warner Bros lot last Friday night. Stallone could find himself in the impossibly crowded Supporting Actor race for a character he created and first starred as 39 years ago in the Best Picture winner , Rocky. He won his only Oscar nominations then for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay but lost both respectively to Network’s Peter Finch and Paddy Chayefsky. Since then he did five sequels , and now Creed, the brainchild of lifelong Rocky fan, 27 year old Ryan Coogler and the first not to be written by Stallone. Can you think of any other actor who bookended Oscar nominations for the same character nearly four decades apart? As for Stallone he’s just happy people are receiving it so well as he said during the Q&A which featured co-stars Jordan and Tessa Thompson. “I was very gratified that we came back from Rocky V which didn’t work at all, ” he told me referring to that film as a bomb, but not the sixth time around and what he thought was the end of it. “Rocky Balboa did work and I was very gratified with that. I was very happy to put the character to bed. And then here it is six years later and a fellow comes up and he reminds you of somebody, somebody like myself, and he just had a vision. And I thought it was very , very unique, ” he said explaining that it still took a while and a lot of convincing to get him on board. “Actually I am very humble about this. I can’t take credit. I followed a young man’s vision, and youth must be served. Our industry depends upon young blood that are very very hungry. You forget that you were there once, and now it’s their turn and you have to trust them. Give them the reins that they will interpret it in a fresh and vital way that is applicable to society today, whereas Rocky was more of a 70’s character. Maybe you have to do something that is a bit more relevant. I say put your trust in the youth.” Original Apollo Creed Carl Weathers showed up at the film’s premiere the night before and took pictures with Stallone and Jordan on the red carpet. Stallone told me he was surprised that Weathers, normally a very tough guy, was quite visibly moved by the movie which opens today.
Finally you know the season is really going when all the awards start rolling in. Right after the Thanksgiving break we will hear from the New York Film Critics and the (ahem) National Board Of Review, plus the Gotham Awards happen Monday. Yesterday Film Independent let loose with their quirky Indie Spirit nominations. It was an interesting list but definitely seems to be drifting further from trying to be a precursor to the Oscars, as has been this organization’s mantra in recent years. I won’t go into a rant about ‘how can you leave out Room on the Best Feature Film list in favor of a movie made on an iPhone 6?’ I won’t do that ( and yes, Brie Larson did get nominated) and just leave it at a congratulations to this group for going their own way. But really c’mon , no room for Room on the Best Feature list? Sigh.
Happy a happy holiday weekend. It’s about to get serious.