A new weekly column talking up the season with dispatches from the awards circuit.
As the dust continues to settle from last week’s Oscar nomination announcement — and the resulting fury about the lack of diversity on display — the final word has now been heard from the critics circuit before we head into the really important industry banquet circuit beginning Saturday with the Producers Guild Awards. On Sunday, the London Film Critics Circle anointed George Miller and his Mad Max: Fury Road as Best Film and Director, while the Broadcast Film Critics Association (of which I am a voting member) also gave Miller Best Director and his movie another eight whopping wins — impressive even if three of those were in the dubious “Action Film” category and the rest in non-televised craft awards — at the Critics’ Choice Awards, which for the first time combined film and TV in an evening that featured 51 categories (!).
No question the critics created momentum for Miller’s film which has 10 Oscar nominations, the second-highest total behind The Revenant. As Deadline reported last night (thanks for the continuing live blog to my colleagues Patrick Hipes and Jeremy Gerard), it was Spotlight, a critical favorite all season long, that took the top prize of Best Picture. That also gave that film, despite just two other awards — for Original Screenplay and Ensemble Cast — much needed momentum heading into the Guild phase of the season. I would say The Big Short, Room and The Revenant, three more major Oscar players, also got some needed wins to keep their Big ‘Mo alive and kicking.
I was lucky enough to be seated front and center at the Trumbo table with nominees Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren and David James Elliott (he played John Wayne and was there as part of the nominated ensemble). All seemed in good spirits (Mirren was really into snapping away selfies with us with the “Social Centerpiece” tablet on the table as well as “tweeting a drink” ) even if the film ultimately came up empty. Cranston is really riding high this season, having nabbed a Best Actor Oscar nod to go with SAG, etc.
Cranston lost Sunday to Revenant’s Leonardo DiCaprio who, in Europe and unable to make it, pre-recorded his acceptance on tape. That seemed a big miss to me for BFCA, which doesn’t tell attendees who won in advance. But according to president Joey Berlin, it did in this case since broadcast partner A&E wants a big star presence on the show. This is really a slippery slope for the 21-year-old organization as other publicists will now use this as an excuse to get BFCA to let their “winners” also pre-record a speech ala The People’s Choice Awards. (I turned to Cranston and jokingly said, “Looks like the fix is on” since Leo clearly knew he was going to win).
Best Actress winner Brie Larson from Room was also absent, but the presenter just accepted on her behalf. A rep for A24, the film’s distributor, told me afterward at the post-party they would have loved to have had the same opportunity for Larson and a taped thank you — but weren’t offered it or informed that anyone had that option. “We tried to spring her from her movie shooting in Australia but just couldn’t do it,” the rep said in frustration. In retrospect, some viewers may think, unlike DiCaprio, Larson just didn’t bother to send a tape.
Cranston, who also presented the Supporting Actress award to eventual winner Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl, snuck out right after his category near the show’s end. Mirren, who lost to Vikander, had an 8:40 PM flight to catch so she also had to leave near the two-hour mark. Supporting Actor winner Sylvester Stallone (sitting at the table next to us), very gracious in his acceptance and amiable to all who came by, also left shortly after his award. Like DiCaprio and Larson, Stallone seems increasingly in the catbird seat as we near the finish line. And I caught up with Vikander, at a front corner table, after her win, and she could not be happier. “This is the first time anyone has ever pulled my name out of an envelope,” she told me proudly, while also saying how thrilled she was when she heard about her first Oscar nomination.
Vikander got on stage twice actually, as she also accepted for surprise Best Sci Fi Film winner Ex Machina. That’s better than the treatment handed to screenwriting winners The Big Short and Spotlight, who only just got to sit in their seats as “announcer” William Shatner revealed they had won in their categories just as the show went to a commercial. Oh well, heck it’s only the writers , right? Embarrassing.
I ran over to immediately congratulate Adapted Screenplay winners Adam McKay and Charles Randolph from Big Short. They were excited so I asked McKay to give me his acceptance speech since he didn’t get to do it onstage. “Actually I had a really good one I wanted to do too,” he said. Eventually he got up there to say something when the movie later won Best Comedy.
Berlin told me he doesn’t ever want the show to follow the Oscar nominations again (for the past couple of years it has been held actually on the same day as those nominations, creating an interesting vibe in the room). “We lost some nominees who canceled after they didn’t get Oscar nominations,” he lamented, while praising the classy likes of Mirren and Michael Shannon who did turn up despite missing out on Oscar.
A 9-YEAR-OLD STEALS THE SHOW
One of those people was also 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay, so great in Room, who had the time of his life as he turned up the winner of Best Young Actor/Actress and gave an all-pro speech that stopped the show and completely stole it (along with a hilarious rant by Amy Schumer presenter Judd Apatow). I caught up with him late into the after-party where he was swinging on the dance floor and obviously celebrating his big win. To give you an idea how totally he owned the show, Good Morning America’s entire coverage of the three-hour broadcast today was devoted to him. There were many deserving actors overlooked by Oscar this year obviously of every ethnicity, but none more so than this kid who may have been a victim of his age, certainly not his talent. #OscarsSoOld.
SPOTLIGHT GETS REVENGE OVER REVENANT
Although they hadn’t won much during the evening, the Spotlight team on hand was walking on clouds after taking Best Picture, and that included Open Road’s Tom Ortenberg, now in the position of being a David vs Big Studio Goliaths like The Revenant, Mad Max and Big Short. He smiled like a Cheshire Cat when I asked whether was going to match the inevitable big Oscar spending of those studio contenders. He has been down this road before with upset Best Picture Oscar winner Crash when he was at Lionsgate and knows what it takes to win. That whole group — including co-star Brian D’Arcy James and real-life Boston Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer — skipped the after-party and held their own at Shutters in Santa Monica where I caught up with them celebrating in the lobby. After being blanked just a week before at the Globes by The Revenant, this was sweet revenge. James, currently starring in the Broadway hit Something Rotten, loves the Great White Way but is hoping the Spotlight success leads to more film offers. He was having a great time on the Left Coast for a change.
IN LIGHT OF DIVERSITY WOES, WILL THE ACADEMY MAKE CHANGES?
The ongoing controversy about this year’s repeat lineup of all white actors was top of mind among some I talked to. Despite the Academy’s ongoing efforts to diversify membership, what can you really do about a democratic vote? One Universal executive told me the Academy’s Board Of Governors will have to come up with something, and suggested perhaps going back to the original idea of a hard 10 Best Picture nominees like the PGA (where Compton is a nominee). Since under the current rolling system of 5-10 nominees with voters only able to list their top five choices, that might be a good idea. This year and last there were only eight pictures eventually nominated. If 10 were required, I have a strong feeling Universal’s Straight Outta Compton would have been in there, possibly even Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or the female-driven Carol. It would have been a better result and you wouldn’t have Spike Lee running around boycotting despite the fact the Governors gave him a much-prized and sought-after Honorary Oscar this year.
JOHNNY DEPP: FROM OSCAR FRONT-RUNNER TO RAZZIE NOMINEE
Finally, I got my Razzie ballot this week. I am not at all sure how I became a voting member of the Razzies, given annually to the so-called worst films and performances of the year, but I can assure Hollywood right now, like Spike Lee, I am in a boycott mood. But the object of my ire is not the Oscars, rather the Razzies, which have decided to crap on Johnny Depp, one of our best actors, just when he is down after (also) being overlooked by Oscar for his great turn as Whitey Bulger in Scott Cooper’s completely ignored Black Mass. Say what?
So what do the Razzies do? He is up for two of these dubious honors for Worst Actor in Mortdecai as well as Worst Screen Combo for him and “his glued-on moustache.” Ouch. I guess I am in the small critical minority who loved him in this film that showed off his true comic gifts and is worthy of comparison to the likes of Terry Thomas and Peter Sellers for whom the movie is an obvious homage. It seemed in September that Depp was an absolutely sure thing Best Actor front-runner for Black Mass (he also lost to DiCaprio last night at Critics’ Choice). Now instead of an Oscar nomination, he’s competing for Razzies. The fickle winds of awards season sometimes blow in cruel directions, but there is no way he deserves to be in the same category with the likes of Kevin James for Paul Blart Mall Cop 2, or Adam Sandler in The Cobbler and Pixels. It just makes good copy for the guys behind these things. Sorry Johnny. When you are up, this town looks to take you down a notch.
Among the Razzie nominees this year are also last year’s two top Oscar winners Eddie Redmayne for Jupiter Ascending and Julianne Moore for Seventh Son, so take it with a grain of salt. The Razzies also give out a “Redeemer Award” for the most impressive comeback to quality, but that never seems to be publicized. Leading that list of candidates this year is “all-time champion” Razzie “winner” Sylvester Stallone. Ah, the irony of it all.