A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
MEL IS BACK
It was an emotional night Monday at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater, where director Mel Gibson got a sustained standing ovation after Andrew Garfield, star of his new film Hacksaw Ridge, brought him up on the stage following the Los Angeles premiere screening of the movie. It’s the story of World War II hero and conscientious objector Desmond Doss, who saved 75 men without ever touching a gun. Doss’ son, also named Desmond, was brought onstage by Gibson, who told me later at the reception that it was quite a moment for him. Same for Garfield, who still was visibly emotional about meeting the son of the hero he played in the film.
“We didn’t really talk. We both just teared up for several minutes there,”Garfield told me about meeting the younger Doss, who said the portrayal allowed him to see a side of his father that the self-effacing war hero never really showed him when he was alive. “It was perhaps the moment in my career I will never forget.” Gibson said he did what he could with the movie, which has been a dream of producers Bill Mechanic and David Permut for years, but was filmed on a relatively low budget in Australia. Gibson said that if you translate the costs from Australian dollars and rebates, it came to somewhere around US$40 million. Considering what he got on the screen, including some of the most extraordinary war footage seen (and almost no CGI), it’s pretty remarkable.
“That is the reality of making movies independently these days. You have to do the best you can in the circumstances,” Gibson said as he was swarmed by well-wishers including several Academy voters who all told me they were very moved by what he was able to achieve onscreen. The trailers really sell the emotional aspects of the movie, and both Mechanic and Gibson said they have been heartened by the response of women to the film, something that might surprise some considering the level of realistic war violence. Mechanic said he purposely wanted a trailer that drove home those strong emotions. Permut was beaming. He has fought for 16 years to get this movie made after finally getting rights. Hollywood had been trying for decades with the likes of Darryl F. Zanuck and others attempting to do it, but Doss, with the exception of an appearance on the 1950s TV show This Is Your Life, kiboshed any attempts to tell his courageous story. His Seventh Day Adventist Church finally helped to make a difference in that decision, and the movie, with its strong religious undertones, should play exceptionally well with the faith-based audience that made Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ such a behemoth at the box office. Gibson will be on influential minister Joel Osteen’s program later this week to further get the word out to that crowd.
But make no mistake, the sheer power of this movie should make it a hit across the board once word-of-mouth kicks in. It could bring two-time Oscar winner Gibson back to the Academy contest for the first time in 21 years, since 1995’s Braveheart brought him Best Picture and Director statuettes. A great movie often can overcome past controversies. Co-star Vince Vaughn, looking like he was still in the Army, had nothing but praise for Gibson and Hacksaw Ridge, which he said nicely balanced some humor “before that descent into hell on the battlefield.” Also at the premiere was Mel’s 26-year-old son, Milo, who plays Lucky Ford in the movie.
NATALIE PORTMAN GETTING TOP ACTRESS HONOR
Gibson is going to receive the Hollywood Film Awards’ Hollywood Director Award on November 6 and also will be appearing at Deadline’s The Contenders event November 5 at the DGA. Speaking of those Hollywood Film Awards, more honorees were announced today, with Natalie Portman receiving the Hollywood Actress Award for her uncanny turn as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie; music star Janelle Monae getting the Hollywood Spotlight Award for the upcoming Hidden Figures (she’s also great in Moonlight); and the cast of the TWC/Dimension drama Gold receiving the Hollywood Ensemble Award, which goes to Matthew McConaughey, Bryce Dallas Howard, Edger Ramirez and Stacy Keach. The HFAs serve as a nice opportunity for awards hopefuls to hone their acceptance speeches and kick off campaigns. James Corden, who knocked it out of the park and the Beverly Hilton last year, will be hosting for the second year in a row, but after a low-rated CBS special two years ago, it is back to being a non-televised event.
SAUSAGE PARTY WEASELS ITS WAY INTO PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Not going to the Hollywood Film Awards this year (Zootopia is getting the feature animation award) is Columbia and Annapurna Pictures’ R-rated hit toon Sausage Party, which comes from the warped minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. But that setback isn’t slowing the movie’s growing Oscar campaign and its bid to be the rare raunchy adult nominee in the fiercely competitive Animated Feature category. The comedy, about a group of hot dogs and other foods being terrorized in a supermarket, is making aggressive early moves toward awards attention, and in addition to promising screeners the week of November 14, today a T-shirt arrived directly linking their campaign to that other one featuring Trump and Clinton.
“Dear Pete,” the cover letter reads, “In the midst of one of our nation’s most heated, controversial, and historical Presidential elections, we wanted to remind you of the only campaign this season that addresses the real, meaty issues. That’s why when you go to the election polls on November 8th, we are asking you to take a stand, change America, and vote Sausage Party!” The shirt pictures a voting box for the Republican Party, the Democratic Party and the Sausage Party, with the latter the only one with a check through it. An invitation for a special screening and reception November 1 in Westwood with Rogen, Annapurna’s Megan Ellison and director Conrad Vernon also is included. Actually, considering the negatives for the two major-party candidates this year, Columbia probably could drum up some write-in action for these hot dogs. But so far they have really missed the boat for the only campaign that truly counts (at least in Hollywood), and after November 8 I will be expecting a big tie-in with Oscar — Mayer that is. How can they miss that golden opportunity to grab Academy voters attention?
TIMOTHY SPALL TAKES ON THE DEMAGOGUES
Donald Trump, by the way, was very much on the mind of the great British actor Timothy Spall when I met up with him Sunday at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, where he joined a panel including director Mick Jackson and producer Gary Foster to talk about their hugely important new movie Denial. It deals with the libel trial of Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), an American academic named who accused, correctly, a British gadfly named David Irving of being a Holocaust denier. A true demagogue (with Trump-like qualities), he sues her, and she and her legal team must not only prove that he is a denier and Nazi sympathizer, but also, in legal terms, that the Holocaust existed.
Spall plays Irving, and he is chillingly brilliant in the role, a real candidate to receive his first Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. He should have been nominated two years ago for his memorable work in frequent director Mike Leigh’s lilting Mr. Turner, but I digress. Now Spall has taken on a role that most actors would shy away from and somehow manages to bring three dimensions to this monster. On top of that, when he got the offer, he also had been shooting The Journey, which is partly about Irish Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley, a man many consider also to be a demagogue. “I was already playing a man accused of demagoguery. It was a bit like the Number 77 bus: Nothing comes along and then suddenly two come at the same time,” he laughed. In terms of the comparison to the rise of Trump and Trumpism in this regard, Spall says the main difference is that Irving isn’t a politician. “He’s a historian and a writer. Obviously there are parallels. His views can be taken purely as a man who is a massive contrarian who thinks he has a revelatory view of history,” he said. “That is an inflammatory and upsetting view for a lot of people. It seems to me in the information age, in the world of accessibility of information, pinpointing the truth is becoming more elusive than it ever was. The more you search for the truth, the more people are determined to refute it.” Playing such reprehensible characters does take its toll,” he says. “I felt like wearing a button that says, ‘I really am a very nice bloke.'”