A new weekly column talking up the season with dispatches from the awards circuit.

The lunch and dinner circuit that was so prevalent pre-Oscar nominations has now morphed into the awards banquet circuit, still providing lots of great opportunities for contenders to get their face time with voters who attend these affairs night in and night out, usually at the Beverly Hilton or Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotels. The Producers Guild, Art Directors, American Cinema Editors, Visual Effects Society et al have already had their say, as has SAG of course last weekend.  I drift from one to another, and as most of them tend to honor both movies and TV, these things can Pete Hammond badgedrag on. The Art Directors for instance started Sunday at 6:30 and didn’t finish until well past 10 PM. That’s a lot of people to thank for sets. And I don’t know if it is the nature of their craft or not but I found the Film Editors who won an  “Eddie” gave the briefest thank yous of all.  I go to these to try to get a sense of the race. After all, many of the industry people in these ballrooms are also Oscar voters and Guild results can often be a great bellweather. If that’s the case, BCJoJqPCIAAZEIS_jpg-largejust like the Presidential primaries running concurrently, this thing is just too close to call. Every new awards show seems to be sending mixed signals. That is why with six different movies having already won “Best Picture” honors from six different (and very often predictive) critics and industry groups, I am looking towards tomorrow’s biggie, the DGA Awards (at the Hyatt) to crown a potential winner. I can see five different winning scenarios for each of the five DGA nominees (The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, Spotlight, The Big Short, The Martian) and I cannot recall a year in which that could ever be done before. This is one banquet on which all eyes will be glued for the golden clue.

SPOTLIGHT SHINES ON THE POPE AFTER SAG WIN

The closeness of the race means no one can let up and, though they are limited by stricter phase 2 campaign restrictions from the Academy, the Q&A circuit is still hopping. Spotlight SAG AwardsLast night I moderated one at the SOHO House screening room with Spotlight’s co-writers Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy (who also directed) and they said they were buzzing in the ride over about news that had just broken in The Guardian regarding a screening of their film that took place  just before the Vatican Commission on clerical sex abuse began. McCarthy was thrilled that his movie could be making a difference in tackling the worldwide problem that exploded in Boston after the Globe’s investigative “spotlight” team exposed the maxresdefaulttruth. “It is a big deal that they are screening it,” McCarthy said when I brought it up. “We understood with this particular story there was a lot at stake. Specifically at the heart of the story is the plight of the survivors and the continuing action that they are calling for on behalf of the Catholic Church. This is the most concrete example we could hope for at this point. As filmmakers it is incredibly gratifying but it provides such a wonderful platform for this disenfranchised group, who while they are very well organized , have not had much of a voice.”

Singer echoed that. “The fact that the Papal Commission on abuse has actually screened this film and taken it as a call to action is really super exciting, and the fact that they might push Pope Francis to do more as opposed to just saying more,” he said. McCarthy also mentioned co-star Michael Keaton’s acceptance speech at the SAG awards last weekend where Spotlight won the Outstanding Cast award. He brought up the contaminated water situation in Flint, Michigan as analogous to the need for strong local investigative reporting. “As this does open up it does start to speak to larger themes and I think Keaton sort of did that, just ad-libbed, that night,” he said.

THE BIG SHORT LOBBIES CONGRESS

Of course getting the Pope and the Vatican in the same sentence as your movie’s name can’t hurt an Oscar campaign. Gravitas  and important subject matter are very impressive to voters. philomena_pope_francisSpotlight isn’t the only contender having a brush with the Pope this year as  The Revenant Best Actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio met with Pope Francis last week to discuss the environment. And two years ago the real-life Philomena Lee flew to Rome and got a quick meeting with the Pope to discuss the concerns of forced adoption brought up in the movie which was then in the midst of an Oscar Best Picture campaign. In all these cases it is not clear if the Pope has actually even seen the movie in question, but the connection looks good in print. NOT to be outdone, Spotlight’s Best Picture rival The Big Short, which focuses on the disastrous financial meltdown of 2008, is headed back to Washington D.C. with director Adam McKay in tow on February 10, just a TheBigShortcouple of days before Academy voting begins, for a special screening of the film hosted by several members of Congress and held in the Congressional Auditorium, right after a panel discussion on lessons learned from the financial crisis. All members of Congress are being invited. This follows a January 27th  Brookings Institute screening McKay had in D.C. with several influential economists in attendance.

McKay and company have been very active on the Q&A circuit. After he and co-writer Charles Randolph appeared on Thursday night’s WGA panel for nominated writers (along with McCarthy and Singer and others), they headed over to the new Arclight in Santa Monica for yet another one that also included ACE Eddie winner and Oscar Editing nominee Hank Corwin who tried to compare what it was like working with McKay vs Terence Malick, but apparently the pace was different on The Tree Of Life.

Now I haven’t heard of any plans by Fox to try and up the ante for The Martian by sending Matt Damon to Mars during the voting period, but the studio is hosting a big confab next week with astronauts, space scientists, engineers etc in order to show how far we are coming in making the events depicted in their Best Picture nominee one step closer to reality. The forum is called “The Journey To Mars 101” and promises to take the GoldenMatt Damon in Ridley Scott's The Martian Globe Comedy (sic) winner to new heights of intelligent discourse in the campaign. If only the Repubicans running for President could get this serious! Of course none of this higher plane of discussion is new in Oscar campaigns. In 2010 for example nominee Inglourious Basterds replaced the Nazi swastika in its ads for a Star Of David and held seminars on  tolerance at the Simon Weisenthal Center, Avatar started touting its connections to the environmental community, and eventual winner The Hurt Locker put its filmmakers on panels exploring the war in Iraq.

KATE WINSLET ON THIS YEAR’S ODD SUPPORTING ACTRESS RACE

Meanwhile before doing a Q&A last weekend,  Steve Jobs Best Supporting Actress nominee Kate Winslet told me a hilarious story about being nominated for Leading Actress against herself at the BAFTAs in 2009 for The Reader and Revolutionary Road. [Video] Kate Winslets on 'Steve Jobs' Making Of“They called me up as the winner but there was such commotion I didn’t hear the name of the movie I won for. So when I got to the podium I kind of artfully tried to grab the envelope and gingerly push the card back out so I could see who  I needed to thank,” she laughed. We should all have these kind of problems. Winslet is enjoying her 8th OscarKate Winslet nomination this year although she says her category is odd, primarily because Alicia Vikander keeps turning up for a different film at every ceremony. At SAG and Critics Choice it was The Danish Girl (where she won) while at the Globes and BAFTA it is Ex-Machina. So far Winslet has a good track record of beating her when it’s Machina but losing when it’s Danish Girl.  Winslet said she was actually shocked to win the Globe this year. She noted she was once in the same position as Vikander when The Weinstein Company campaigned her for Supporting Actress for The Reader yet she ended up nominated for and winning Best Actress instead. “You never know how these things are going to turn out, ” said Winslet who finds herself rooting for two Best Actor contenders this year with her Steve Jobs co-star Michael Fassbender competing against her Titanic co-star and best buddy Leonardo DiCaprio. She does think it’s likely Leo’s year  and that hug she gave him when he won his first-ever SAG award Saturday was truly genuine. They went through a lot together on that boat.

EMMYS, ALREADY?

Finally, can the Emmys at least wait until we finish with the Oscars? Lifetime and A&E Studios just couldn’t be content to wait so they have already sent out the first “For Your Emmy Consideration” screener to all TV Academy members. The summer hit, UnREAL sent all ten episodes in mid-s-l225January hoping Emmy voters will get hooked before the real barrage of contenders start hitting their mailboxes sometime in the spring. Not a bad idea, actually. Who has time  to watch all this stuff?