A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

OSCAR NOMINATION BALLOT DEADLINE LOOMS 

It has all come to this. Nomination ballots for the 89th annual Academy Awards are due today at 5 PM PT. Months of campaigning and attempts to influence the some 7000 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have come down to the final few hours of what is commonly known at Phase I of the seemingly endless awards season that lasts half a year and began in early September.

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Certainly the Academy is doing everything it can to remind members to vote, with lots of email notifications including one earlier this week saying “it only takes two minutes.” That may be true, but it takes a lot longer to go through the piles of DVDs sent by the studios or hit the endless screening/Q&A circuit. The Academy also sent members Volume 3 of their “Academy Bulletin” this week featuring a photo of last year’s Best Actress winner Brie Larson holding her Oscar and urging in a message to fellow members (she joined just this year) that “The Nomination Starts The Journey.” That plea is followed by a note from CEO Dawn Hudson headlined “Your Vote Matters.”

GALA OPENING OF 'AND THE OSCAR WENT TO' EXHIBITION OF 100 OSCAR STATUETTES, ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURE ARTS AND SCIENCES, LOS ANGELES, AMERICA - 23 JAN 2003
REX/Shutterstock

What was most interesting was the next section: “A Note From Our Accountants,”  in which PricewaterhouseCoopers co-balloting leaders Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz try to answer oft-asked questions like “Why aren’t there 10 films nominated for Best Picture each year?” (each movie must receive at least 5% support, or no go); or, “What do you wish more members knew about the nominations process before casting their ballots?” (your second-, third-, fourth-, even fifth-place preference could wind up meaning as much as your first, so fill them out); or “Has online voting changed anything about how votes are turned in or counted? (PwC accountants contend the “overwhelming majority” are now voting online and many wait until the last minute, well, because you can).

The Academy is also really trying to push streaming, promising in the newsletter that after the January 24th Oscar nominations announcement, members will be able to stream (on Members.Oscars.org) nominees in Foreign Language Film, Documentary Feature and Short, Animated and Live Action Short, reels from the Visual Effects and Makeup and Hairstyling bake-offs, and all nominated song clips. “Streaming is easy and convenient,” the missive claims. Good luck with that. Maybe it’s just me — and there’s a decent chance of that — but every time movie publicists have sent me a film to stream it usually freezes within 10 minutes and buffers constantly when I try to hook it up to my big-screen TV. What a great way to watch a subtitled two-hour and forty-five-minute German film, eh? I sure as hell don’t want to watch this stuff on my laptop.

In the last three years the Academy sent members a gorgeously made DVD set with nominated movies from the above-mentioned categories. No word if that has now been permanently replaced by this new initiative. If so, I predict the Support Center, which is said to be standing by, will be very busy just keeping technically challenged members from steaming instead of streaming. There was a time the Academy wouldn’t even suggest seeing their nominees on a TV screen, much less via something like streaming and downloading. It’s all a good reminder that the best way is still to catch nominees on a theater screen, the way they were meant to be seen.

By the way, even though final nomination ballots are due, the special, very exclusive committees of rather high-profile Academy members assembled in Los Angeles, New York and London to pick the five final Foreign Language nominees from the previously announced nine finalists will be working all weekend watching those films and then casting their votes. Fortunately, they will see them on the big screen, not the big stream.

RYAN REYNOLDS ON THE “LITTLE BIG MOVIE THAT COULD”

On Thursday morning I made my way through what seemed like a monsoon to have breakfast at a Bel Air hotel with Ryan Reynolds and his fellow Deadpool producer Simon Kinberg. To say their smash-hit comic book superhero movie is on a roll this awards season is an understatement.

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A&E

Reynolds just put out a tongue-in-cheek For Your Consideration video last night, but “Consideration” is really what this movie seems to be getting for real. Just this week, the 20th Century Fox release was nominated as one of the year’s 10 best movies by the Producers Guild Of America, Deadpool director Tim Miller got a DGA nomination as Best First Time Director, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are up for a WGA award for adapting the Marvel comic book. Reynolds and Kinberg were front and center along with producer Lauren Shuler Donner at the Golden Globes, where the movie was nominated not just for Reynolds as Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, but also Best Picture in that category — a first for any movie in this genre at the Globes. It also has gotten guild recognition from the American Cinema Editors, Casting Society, Make-Up Artists and Hairstylists, and a couple of wins at the Critics’ Choice Awards.

Say what?  A Marvel comic book movie has become a serious contender this Oscar season? With three out of the four major guilds giving their blessing, you have to say yes. That is three more that Loving, Sully, Patriots Day, 20th Century Women, Silence or many other usual suspects you might have thought far more likely to fare for these awards. The bigger surprise to me isn’t that Deadpool is breaking the jinx for its popular but usually voter-snubbed genre, it’s that it came out in February — almost a year ago. What a a feat for this memory-challenged industry. Only two films in this century — Erin Brockovich (2000), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) which were both March releases — have managed a Best Picture nomination for any movie released even before May. To find a Best Picture winner from February you have to go back to 1991’s The Silence Of The Lambs.

“It’s been one kind of shock after another, and I am saying this in an awfully humble way,” Reynolds told me, adding he has seen most of the movies in Oscar contention and thinks they are pretty great. “To be in that conversation is nuts, genuinely nuts. This kind of conversation was never in the front or back of our minds in the beginning of shooting, nor was it at the end of our box office run either. It’s been pretty unbelievable. The fact that it came out in February and is still part of this is icing on an already  pretty amazing cake… It is sort of the little big movie that could.”

Even the film’s publicity team just learned they have been nominated for an award. It’s spreading. “Craft Services Awards is next — we had some of the most beautiful de-shelled peanuts on our set. They were exquisite,” Reynolds said.

In fact, Reynolds said they actually found it hard to believe they were even seriously talking about this all with the awards columnist from Deadline, admitting he really just sort of hoped to win Best Kiss at the MTV Movie Awards. Of course, the Academy changed eligibility rules for Best Picture a few years ago after 2008’s The Dark Knight failed to land a Best Picture nomination, and now there is the possibility of 10 nominations rather than just five. It still hasn’t meant much for comic book adaptations or even popcorn blockbusters in general; nothing from the genre has yet made the cut, though in 2014 directors Joe and Anthony Russo spoke to me about how unfair and narrow-minded the Academy seemed in this regard and hoped to get them to seriously consider their highly acclaimed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but that campaign didn’t gain the kind of  traction this one seems to be getting. Could Deadpool be the first to  break that ceiling?

The entire ride has been pretty wild for this unexpected smash that was in the works for 10 years and eventually grossed $783.1 million worldwide. You can’t deny the impact of these guild nominations as their memberships generally overlap with the Academy’s and are the most reliable predictor of potential Oscar nominations — long as that shot may be in this case. Kinberg, who had a Golden Globe winner and Best Picture Oscar nominee last year with another Fox film The Martian, a more conventional type of contender, thinks maybe the Academy tastes are expanding, pointing to the 10 nominations and six wins for Mad Max: Fury Road. “It was a sequel and a big loud movie from the summertime. At one point during the ceremony when it was taking every Oscar, I turned to Ridley (Scott)  and said, ‘I think this is going to win Best Picture! Like Deadpool though, that movie was kind of batshi*t crazy too,” he said.

Kinberg, a producer and writer of numerous big-scale movies including Mr. And Mrs. Smith and the X-Men franchise for Fox, said they always felt the core audience for Deadpool would come out, but didn’t expect it to cross over as massively as it did. “I think the reason that it did is maybe the same reason  it is now being embraced by these guilds and these awards. It was just unlike anything anyone had ever seen,” he said.

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20th Century Fox

Kinberg added: “Forgetting the comic book genre, it is rare to find a movie with a freshness, originality and a voice that people haven’t seen before. That’s true of little movies, medium-size movies and big movies. In the context of superhero movies this one is tiny,made for a fraction of the budget. It now feels like a big movie, but when we made it, it was genre-defying, rule-breaking, a very daring and bold crazy film. I think the secret of Deadpool is that underneath it is also about a guy who falls in love, gets cancer, cures cancer and gets the love of his life back. So there is an emotional component to it that is buried underneath the humor and fourth-wall-breaking. Maybe it’s also a reason that some of the awards stuff is happening. They recognize there is a real dramatic story being told, and at the same time as this really wild and anarchic tone. The ability to do that is a real high-wire act.”

Reynolds gives huge credit to Miller, a visual effects wizard-turned-director, and was thrilled yesterday when I broke the news he had just been nominated a few minutes earlier for a DGA Award. Miller won’t be returning for the sequel however, and they have signed up stuntman- turned-director David Leitch for Round 2 of Deadpool which is now in the script-development process. In fact, Reynolds had been working with Reese and Wernick since 5 AM at that point, and actually was ensconced in a hotel room most of the week doing the same thing.  They put a big board on the wall with index cards and move scenes around, but he says most of the conversation about where to go in the sequel is about theme and character.

“Anytime you can weave theme into everything, including action, is a win, at least for us, and that is so much easier said than done. That’s the work we are doing now. It is all collaborative, a team effort,” said Reynolds, who adds there is no definite start date for the movie until they get it just right. He and Kinberg say Fox has been enormously supportive. “We got to take the boss’ money and make it our mistress of mischief,” Reynolds said. And apparently an out-of-left-field awards contender this season.

‘SILENCE’ GETS AN OBIT

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Pete Hammond

I have seen some weird things lately, but last Saturday when thumbing past the Obituary section of the Los Angeles Times, I ran across the unexpected placement of a For Your Consideration advertisment for Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Since every other movie ad in that paper is in the Calendar arts section, I wondered what possibly could be the thinking for putting an FYC ad for this powerful film with the Death listings.

True, it hasn’t scored in any of those same PGA-DGA-WGA guild contests that have embraced the aforementioned Deadpool, but isn’t it a little early to be writing its obit this awards season? On the other hand, clever Paramount, knowing the average age of Academy voters is not exactly under 60, might be thinking the obituaries may just be the first thing that group reads in the morning.