A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
And now it is crunch time.
Oscar nomination ballots went live yesterday and are due back a week from today on Friday the 13th. Hope that date doesn’t mean scary things for some contenders, but it is clear the campaigns are taking nothing for granted as events seem to have ramped up — especially for contenders in the hotly contested feature documentary, animation and song races, which all feature a slew of movies going for those five slots. I have never seen so many fighting like they have so much invested in a nomination in those categories. As for the marquee races, Oscar consultants are using the conveniences of having everyone in town for Sunday’s Golden Globes to basically work them to death with more Q&As. I would say this is likely to be the busiest week of the awards season.
If you needed any proof about the intensity of the documentary race, look no further than the high profile people trying to lure Academy voters to events for their films. Today, Marcia Clark will join filmmaker Ezra Edelman at a reception for his seven hour ESPN documentary OJ: Made In America at Chateau Marmont. Not to be outdone, Netflix just sent out an invite to a Norman and Lyn Lear-hosted event, Saturday at Lear’s house, for Ava DuVernay’s 13th, a docu getting a huge campaign push from the deep pockets of Netflix.
Another deep-pocketed campaigner, Amazon, seems to send out nearly daily updates to their invite to Monday night’s reception and screening of Gleason that will feature the film’s subject, Steve Gleason, and the likes of Rob Reiner, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Michael Strahan among those inviting voters to the event at WME. The next night, a large group of filmmakers including Empire co-creator Danny Strong and several documentarians are lending their names to a cocktail event for Weiner that will feature filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg. Another shortlisted contender, Tower, is having hosted events by the likes of producer Meredith Vieira, Amy Berg, David Gordon Green and Ed Pressman taking place in LA, San Francisco and last night in New York.
‘LITTLE PRINCE’ TRIES TO FLOAT INTO OSCAR RACE
Netflix is providing lots of headaches for other studios as it seems to have endless amounts of cash to bring attention to its contenders like 13th, but also in the Animation race where they have dived in this year with their pickup of The Little Prince. Originally that movie was slated to be released domestically by Paramount, but it is probably safe to say it is getting a higher profile campaign with this streamer. Netflix has been spending lavishly on full page newspaper and trade ads, billboards, TV spots, but the coup de grâce is something I have never before seen in any Oscar campaign: The Little Prince actually had its own float in Monday’s Tournament Of Roses Parade! That is an event that certainly gets a large number of Academy eyeballs watching, and if they were tuned to KTLA they would have heard one of the hosts say the movie was being “heavily Oscar buzzed.” You can’t buy this kind of publicity, but Netflix did.
Riding on the float were director Mark Osborne and his son Riley, who voices the title role. Although Little Prince, which actually debuted way back at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, is a dark horse in this year’s extremely competitive and crowded (a record 27 eligible movies) ‘toon race, this was a canny move that paid off. To date Little Prince has not been a winner or nominee in any of the precursor awards, but it was at the Rose Parade where it took the “Craftsman Trophy.” Netflix took out one of their full page ads to congratulate the movie on this big win. Hey, get it any way you can in awards season. By the way, the Animated Feature race has been shaping up to be one of the most interesting of all this year. It is entirely possible that the final five will be dominated by indie titles like Kubo And The Two Strings, Your Name, The Red Turtle and My Life As A Zucchini, which could be the first ‘toon to be nominated for both Animated Feature and Foreign Language Film, as the Swiss entry has been shortlisted in the final nine foreign lingo movies as well.
ZOOTOPIA GOES FOR THE WIN
One of the many major studio entries, Disney’s Zootopia, has probably noticed the level of stiff competition out there from the underdog titles and, though it is considered almost a certainty for a nomination, and seems to be the front runner for a possible win at this point, the studio threw a bash last night at the Sunset Marquis which got such a response they had to move it to a bigger room. Moonlight’s producer Jeremy Kleiner was among Academy members there singing the praises of the smart ‘toon which probably had some of the strongest social and political content of any movie, live action or animated, in 2016. He was congratulating screenwriter Phil Johnston, who had his mom and dad in tow from Wisconsin. Johnston and writing partner Jared Bush also made remarks to the crowd and introduced voice over actor Don Lake, who supplied the character of Stu Hopps and delivered what they referred to as “Stuisms” to the packed crowd. Lake noted he gets more of these every day and these were just gems he had gotten on Thursday, but Johnston later told me he had been collecting a few to send on. As Johnston noted in his speech, “Stu is really a philosopher that makes the world a better place.”
The movie may be ten months old but “Stuisms” live forever. New examples that Lake gave were: “When opportunity knocks hide under the bed. Nine times out ten it is going to be an intruder.” OR “It’s good to shoot for the stars but sometimes the bullet comes right back down and kills somebody.” OR “Believe in yourself in the same way you believe in Santa Claus, with that nagging feeling that it’s all just a myth.” OR “If people tell you can’t change the world thank them because they just saved you a lot of time.” Disney, in addition to going for Feature Animation domination, is also hoping for an Original Screenplay nomination for these guys and I am betting they will get it. Next up for them will be the sequel to their equally innovative Wreck-It-Ralph, set for 2018 release. Zootopia by the way was the only animated film to be included on AFI’s list of Top Ten Movies Of 2016 presented at a Beverly Hills luncheon today (see separate story).
BURT BACHARACH IS BACK
It has been 16 years since three time Oscar winner (Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Arthur) Burt Bacharach scored a movie, but was lured back by a very special project, a film called Po, which is about what is like to have an autistic child. The 88 year-old musical legend was intrigued by the prospect in part due to the very personal nature of the story, since his first child, Nikki (with Angie Dickinson) was autistic. She died at age 40, but Bacharach provides a dedication for his score to her on the end credits. In addition to an effective score, largely with just piano, he supplies (with lyricist Billy Mann) a song called “Dancing With Your Shadow,” which Sheryl Crow sings beautifully twice in the film. Director John Asher, who was at a Hancock Park reception for Bacharach last night, told me the whole thing was fate. He had missed a flight and got put on another plane in first class where he happened to sit next to a man who turned out to be Bacharach. Incredibly, he didn’t really know who he was, but after chatting and hearing about his movie, Bacharach offered to look through his catalogue and find a song he might be able to use for it. Once Asher realized who he was dealing with, he chose “Close To You,” the Carpenters number one hit. Turned out they were asking hundreds of thousands for use of the cut, pretty much the small indie film’s entire budget, but Bacharach stepped in and got him a very sweet deal (a nominal fee as it turns out), and then proposed that he score the movie and even write an original song.
The rest is history and the film is now running an Oscar campaign to land one of those coveted Best Song nominations in a year where there is heavyweight competition from La La Land, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder, Iggy Pop, Lin Manuel-Miranda, just to name a few. But the personal story behind this song and film is irresistible. Not only was Bacharach’s daughter autistic, so was one of Asher’s children, as well as Mann’s and also star Christopher Gorham’s child, to cite some of the filmmakers’ connection to the topic of the film. As Bacharach, walking with the aid of a cane, made his way through the crush of the crowd, I asked him why he so wanted to be part of this project. “The autism aspect was a big driver. It has touched us all. Hopefully the film can make a sort of rallying cry to an awareness of what is going on, one in every 67 children I believe is the statistic. When Nikki was born they didn’t even know what autism was,” he said, adding that we have a long way to go in understanding how it works. In this case maybe Burt Bacharach and his music can make a difference.