A new weekly column talking up the season with dispatches from the awards circuit.
The BAFTA nominations were just released with their usual surprises and sure things, and with less than a week to go before the 88th Academy Award Nominations are revealed next Thursday. Plus, we have DGA on Tuesday, and before that we’ve got the Golden Globes and all the hoopla to get through this weekend. Crazy time. Many voters I have talked to are sounding off about the intensity of this particular awards season, with its non-stop invites. Indeed, I can’t remember a season more filled with campaign events, screenings, brunches, lunches, dinners, cocktail receptions, Q&As, etc. “Will I see you at the Spotlight dinner and the Paramount party?” one Oscar nominated actress asked me after she had just come back from yet another lunch for Netflix’ Beasts Of No Nation just a day before ballots are due. Even last night, as the deadline approached, Jerry Bruckheimer and Colleen Camp threw an unheard of joint party for David O. Russell’s Joy and Will Smith’s Concussion, drawing several Academy members’ attention to the two films from two different studios. Hmmmm. Campaigning has come down to the wire this year and there seemed to have been virtually no holiday break of any significance. The circuit hit the Palm Springs International Film Festival Gala just about the same time the ball dropped in Times Square. Often you see a combination of the same 30 or 40 voters at most of these events, two or even three times a day. I sometimes feel like I’m on a cruise ship.
OSCAR VOTERS FEEL THE PRESSURE
“The Academy keeps sending me these daily reminders to vote. Okay, I get it,” one besieged member lamented to me. Indeed not a day goes by when there isn’t something in voters’ email boxes from Uncle Oscar with a reminder like “Have you voted yet?” or “You can vote anywhere from your computer, tablet or phone. It’s fast and simple,” or “48 hours to go. Remember, the online system will shut down exactly at 5pm PT regardless if you’re in the middle of casting your vote.” Of course most have already voted, except the stragglers at this point, who probably number in the hundreds today. One actress told me on Monday at The Hateful Eight party that she still had six more movies to watch. “I have been keeping up all year, but I don’t want to vote until I have seen everything,” she said (while mentioning she wants to put the French foreign language entry Mustang up for Best Picture), but that’s a sentiment not shared by all Oscar voters. “I have to admit I did my ballot a couple of days ago and I mostly voted for my friends,” another acting branch member told me. Some shared their Best Picture choices. Spotlight, The Big Short, Sicario, The Revenant, Straight Outta Compton made up the top five in that order on one producer’s ballot. Another member, who was really torn at only having five choices (though up to ten can ultimately be nominated), was looking at Brooklyn, Spotlight, Sicario, Bridge Of Spies and Star Wars but was still “pondering.” Certainly the studios and distributors are leaving no stone unturned. There were plenty of opportunities everywhere from NY to LA to still see contenders and then attend food-driven events to press the flesh and talk about the movie. Awards consultants are taking full advantage of having hopefuls in town around all these other awards events to make last minute Oscar pushes.
THE BIG SHORT COMES ON STRONG
To use a term mostly heard about candidates in the Presidential campaign, I would say Paramount’s late season entry The Big Short has been “surging” (even before landing those five key BAFTA nominations earlier today) and both Brad Grey and Rob Moore have been enthusiastically watching it happen. If Oscar campaigns are about momentum this one seems to have it in spades. Grey hosted a lunch Sunday at the Palm in honor of writer/director Adam
McKay (who just landed a Best Director BAFTA nom) and the cast of the film (who had just accepted the ensemble award at Palm Springs the night before) where Grey was publicly touting New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s latest love letter to the movie. He told me he remembered bringing in producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner when Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B was being formed over a decade ago. “And look what’s happened now,” he said of the Oscar winning producers. I got to sit with Roger Corman at that event, a real treat since the legendary 89-year-old producer has total recall of his long career, with a great story about everything. I told him I loved the Edgar Allan Poe picture The Pit And The Pendulum that he made in 1961 and he proceeded to tell how he tried to calm actor John Kerr’s nerves by actually lying under the massive pendulum himself in the low budget (what Corman film wasn’t?) horror movie, just to prove the device was safe. It is opportunities to talk to people like this that make this whole job worth it for me. Grey, along with Moore, were back in Beverly Hills Wednesday, this time for a Spago lunch honoring Big Short’s Steve Carell, who had just gotten his star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in the pouring rain. Grey sat next to Carell and his family as the lunch turned into an opportunity for some improv comedy with past co-stars like David Koechner (Anchorman), Ed Helms (The Office) and Carol Burnett (Horton Hears A Who) roasting and toasting Carell, along with heartfelt speeches from Chris Meledandri (Despicable Me) and director Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine). Moore told me he is particularly high on the movie’s chances. “We’ve come a long way from that AFI premiere (Nov. 12), haven’t we?” he said. Indeed. The film could take the Golden Globe Best Picture Comedy/Musical come Sunday, giving it further momentum, though it has to defeat Fox’s The Martian, which generated controversy after being placed in Comedy, rather than Drama. Carell and Christian Bale are competing against each other in the Comedy Actor category, so there’s a good chance Martian’s Matt Damon could triumph there. We shall soon see. As if all this wasn’t enough for Big Short this week there was another party thrown for it up in the Hills on a rainy Wednesday night, and then last night the film packed the WGA theatre for a SAG screening and cast Q&A (Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Finn Wittrock, Jeremy Strong and McKay), which I moderated.
SO MANY PARTIES, SO LITTLE TIME
Oscar voters had to make decisions, decisions virtually every day this week. Competing with Big Short for their stomachs was a Spotlight brunch for director Tom McCarthy at Sunset Tower and a Steve Jobs lunch at Chateau Marmont with Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Aaron Sorkin. The stars also managed a Q&A that day. Spotlight, one of the consistent front-runners in this wide open year, is also doing a big pre-Globes party tonight. I try to cover the waterfront but had to email last-minute regrets to one event with the publicist responding, “but Ed Asner is here!” As voting continued, the rest of the week was no less crowded. The Danish Girl’s Alicia Vikander held court early Monday evening at Chateau Marmont’s Penthouse 64, with lots of acting branch members lavishing praise on her. Many of them then walked (or drove) over to the Weinstein Company’s bash for The Hateful Eight just down the street. That one really drew a crowd with directors like David O. Russell and Christopher Nolan cheering on Quentin Tarantino. Harvey Weinstein was in New York but I ran into TWC’s COO David Glasser who proposed that all the studios get together to have just one giant campaign party for the whole season, and then with the money that would have been spent on the rest of these events, buy everyone a new car instead. I think he was joking. The Academy might frown on that, doncha think? A lot of the same faces there made it over to the Ross House, where a screening of Trumbo ended with a reception featuring star Bryan Cranston and director Jay Roach, the latter telling me how great Cranston is in Roach’s HBO film version of his Tony winning performance in the LBJ bio All The Way. “Wait until you see him in this, he’s just phenomenal.” Cranston, by the way, said he is not going to reprise his role on Broadway in the planned sequel, Great Society. Although the HBO film, which will air in May, could easily be a mini, Roach says Executive Producer Steven Spielberg insisted it be just a single film, so it should come in around 2 1/2 hours. Looks like Cranston could have a shot at a very rare Oscar/Emmy one-two punch in 2016.
LESLIE MOONVES ROCKS OUT
I tried to get over to the west side for a Landmark reception for Mya Taylor, the Indie Spirit nominated transgender star of Tangerine that none other than Caitlyn Jenner was hosting, but hey, can’t do everything. Johnny Depp drew a nice Academy crowd to a screening of the shortlisted documentary Listen To Me, Marlon the same night and stayed for a couple of hours sharing his stories of Brando with the voters there, I hear. Tuesday night the rain subsided just before Fox Searchlight threw a reception for Brooklyn inside the Rodeo Drive Burberry department store with star Saoirse Ronanon hand as well as director John Crowley, producer
Fiona Dwyer and screenwriter Nick Hornby, who told me he knew he would NOT be receiving a WGA nomination (that were announced Wednesday). He said in order to make his scripts eligible he was told he would have to join the Writers Guild Of Great Britain but when he discovered that would mean giving some of his royalties to that organization he decided the money would be better than a nomination. That night there were also several competing music events aimed at gaining attention for Best Song contenders, with Lady Gaga performing The Hunting Ground’s “Til It Happens To You” at a Peninsula Hotel reception, Spike Lee touting “Pray 4 My City” from his movie Chi-Raq at an ICM reception and screening that drew Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, among others, and Linda Perry hosting and performing at a true rocker party at the No Name Club for her “Hands Of Love” from Freeheld, but other than a brief mention of the song she wanted it to be a night to celebrate rock with her friends Christina Aguilera, Courtney Love, Juliette Lewis and The Cult’s Ian Astbury, all of whom were rocking out for a packed crowd that included Tobey Maguire, Jodie Foster, Stephen Bishop (from the Academy’s music branch) and others, including the hosts of CBS’ The Talk, on hand to support co-host Sarah Gilbert, who is married to Perry. Talk host Julie Chen brought along her husband, Les Moonves (an Academy voting member too) who seemed to be having a great time throughout the night — and the place was conveniently located right across the street from CBS.
Whew! And just think there’s less than two months to go! On to the Globes.