A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Heading into the last big weekend before final Oscar voting begins Monday (with all ballots due in by February 21), we have the British Academy Awards (BAFTA) on Sunday, which is the same day as the Grammys, And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Scientific and Technical Awards are on Saturday, which is same day as the Art Directors Guild. It is just two weeks to go until Oscar Sunday, and any added or new momentum for contenders is going to happen now or never.
This week I was happy to drive in the rain to the Santa Barbara Film Festival where I hosted the festival’s annual Outstanding Directors Of The Year tribute at the grand old Arlington Theatre on Tuesday night. The four directors who were mutually nominated for both Oscar and DGA top directorial honors — Damien Chazelle, Barry Jenkins, Kenneth Lonergan and Denis Villeneuve — were joined by 13th Best Documentary Feature nominated director Ava DuVernay, who actually had to be sprung from the Santa Clarita set of her $100 million dollar film AWrinkle In Time which stars Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon. It’s the big movie job that sadly kept her from attending Monday’s Oscar nominees lunch, but she made it just in time for the SBIFF tribute show, and even took selfies with the group of “gents” as she called them, posting later to her Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Although SBIFF has had a parade of star tributes all week including Denzel Washington, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, Isabelle Huppert and others, the real stars of this medium as I pointed out in my intro are clearly the directors, so it was great fun to sit and talk to each individually and then all together before they got their awards. DuVernay actually talked about how she used to drive up from Compton where she said there were no theaters and come to movies in Santa Barbara, including the enormous and stunning Arlington where we were onstage. “It was just something I liked to do,” she said, clearly something the large local crowd loved hearing.
Her Netflix documentary 13th, which chronicles the unbalanced history of incarceration and racial injustice during the past two American centuries, is getting a big Oscar push from the streamer. It faces tough competition from the ESPN documentary miniseries O.J. Made In America, which at 7 1/2 hours is the longest docu ever nominated and has been piling up awards — likely partially due to its sheer length, which helps it dominate the conversation. In a sly For Your Consideration ad perhaps pointed a bit at that lengthy competition, Netflix came up with the line, “Over 200 Years In 100 Minutes” and, just to further point out its credentials to the mostly liberal Oscar voter, highlights a critical quote saying, “Of all the films in the Oscar race, 13th is the only one to address Trump’s America.”
It’s pretty effective, as well DuVernay’s Selma,which was a Best Picture nominee two years ago even if she was overlooked as director. She intelligently makes the case for the startling real facts (not “alternative facts”) in her docu. I pointed out in our conversation at SBIFF that at the nominees lunch Steven Spielberg told me he wished he had known what her docu had uncovered about the 13th Amendment when he was shooting Lincoln because he would have included it. “Leave it to Ava to discover this stuff,” he said. She was genuinely touched to hear that.
Also during the SBIFF tribute, I finally got some payoff from my vast collection of movie memorabilia when I had La La Land director (and DGA winner) Damien Chazelle help me unfurl on stage a large silk banner from the 1950s that reads CINEMASCOPE and designed to hang in big theater lobbies like the Arlington. It cost me $1600 on eBay but I am glad I was able to bring it back to the kind of venue that once proudly proclaimed the process Chazelle pays tribute to at the beginning of his 14-time Oscar-nominated musical. That’s when the screen widens to announce it was shot in CinemaScope, the wide-screen process that almost singlehandedly saved the movie business from the threat of television in the 1950s. Thanks to SBIFF executive director Roger Durling for always including me at the fest, which wraps on Saturday with the always great Women’s Panel moderated by Madelyn Hammond and closing-night film Their Finest.
IS ‘LA LA LAND’ HEADED FOR BROADWAY?
Two nights later I was back on another old movie theater stage with Chazelle, this time at Quentin Tarantino’s refurbished revival house The New Beverly in Los Angeles, where a special screening of the first-ever showing of a 35MM film print of La La Land had just unspooled. The crowd, full of true film aficionados as well as a few Academy voters like David Foster (who later followed Chazelle out into the alley to ask about the music) seemed to eat it all up.
When he bought the theater, Tarantino removed all the digital equipment and has a policy of playing only film prints, largely from his own collection. Getting the world premiere of the 35MM La La was a coup as there are precious few theaters anywhere that can even still play the venerable format. “We shot this on film so I am really glad because it feels like closing the loop to be back where we shot it on,” Chazelle told me when I led off with a lot of geek questions about seeing the movie on film as opposed to the digital version in which 99.9% of theatres now play movies. “I am not opposed to digital — I shot Whiplash digitally,” he said. “But I think most stories are better served by film. In terms of depth and richness and color, which is important for this, it is probably the superior medium. I think digital will eventually catch up, but it has taken longer than people thought it would. It’s very important to me to try and shoot on film while I can, while it is still around, and do my part to keep it around.”
Chazelle is off to London for the BAFTAs, where La La Land has a leading 11 nominations, so he is sorry to miss the public double feature New Beverly is showing tonight and Saturday of La La Land and Peter Bogdanovich’s critically derided 1975 musical attempt At Long Last Love that starred Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd. I am told Tarantino personally selected the latter to be paired with the former as he is a big fan of the movie that was a bit of a box office disaster. I didn’t ask Chazelle his opinion of that movie but did wonder about rumors that La La Land might eventually be making its way to Broadway.
“I know people have mentioned it. I’m not closed to the idea,” he said. “I will say though that part of the intention of this movie was to try to make something that had to be on the screen, to make a true screen musical in the fullest sense of that term, not an adaptation, not something that was kind of cross-media, but something that was made and written and intended and composed and sung and danced for the screen. So it’s not to say it couldn’t work on the stage, but it would have to be completely re-conceived and I don’t know if I’m even the person for that job.” He said he is not nearly as obsessive or familiar with stage musicals as he is with those made for the movies.
In fact, he says he won’t be returning to the musical genre any time soon and will next be doing First Man, the Neil Armstrong movie he plans to make with Ryan Gosling, and for which he has been getting advice from none other than Apollo 13 director Ron Howard. “I would be a little afraid to actually try a musical again,” Chazelle said. “It doesn’t mean I won’t return to the genre, but I definitely need to explore a little more and try something completely different.”
With the ever-changing status of President Donald Trump’s travel ban affecting seven countries including Iran, the race for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film has taken on new urgency and drama. As my colleage Nancy Tartaglione has written in the new edition of Deadline’s Awardsline magazine, the nominated Iranian film The Salesman has created waves as its Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) made a very public declaration that he would not be attending the Oscars even if it became possible for him to do so. He’s taking a stand and is clearly insulted by Trump’s attempted — and so far failed — three-month travel ban for citizens from those countries. But it is now officially on hold by ruling of the courts, and Farhadi still apparently has decided not to come even in the face of the Academy’s strong words of support.
Why boycott the Oscars? Some voters have publicly tweeted they plan to vote for the Farhadi film just as a method of protest, which I think would be a misguided reason because, fair or not, an Oscar win for The Salesman at this point could be looked at as just that: a political statement and not in the spirit for which the category is intended or the accomplished movie it is. A vote for The Salesman, or any other film, should only be because you think it is the best in order to keep the dignity of the Foreign Language Film category. I know Farhadi believes this whole Trump ban was insulting, but clearly Hollywood and much of America feels insulted by it as well, so why stay away and sit in Iran, something President Trump would probably regard as a victory for his side. Maybe Farhadi, whom I ran into at the Golden Globes where he was also nominated, will change his mind and attend now to make a much stronger statement to the world — possibly even on the Dolby Theater stage of he wins. He could even go to the pro-refugee rally his agency UTA is throwing instead of their usual Oscar party.
Others involved in the Foreign Language category are planning on coming even though they had initially the same concerns as Farhadi. Bahar Pars, the Iranian-born co-star of the wonderful and humane Swedish nominee A Man Called Ove, told Tartaglione she will come even though she respects Farhadi. “The world is burning, things are happening. Families can’t see each other, so my own problem seems very small. But if I’m standing there on the red carpet, it’s the biggest statement we can do… I totally understand and respect his decision. It is more important for me to stand there and support the Iranian team,” she said.
On Monday night, shortly after the Oscar nominees lunch where all the Foreign Language directing nominees were in attendance sans Farhani, I did a Q&A for American Cinematheque for A Man Called Ove with director Hannes Holm, star Robert Lassgard, and the hair and makeup artists Love Larson and Eva Von Bahr who are also nominated in their category for a second year in a row — a remarkable feat for makeup artists working with virtually no budget opposite gigantic tentpole nominees this year Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad. The film, which centers on an emerging friendship with crotchey widower Ove and his new neighbor, an Iranian immigrant to Sweden (Pars), actually has a message that seems more in line with current events than the mystery drama of The Salesman. which is ironically the film generating all the talk of a protest vote. I asked Holm about it all.
“I sat on a panel in Palm Springs three weeks ago with Asghar Farhadi. I couldn’t imagine just two weeks later that he couldn’t travel to the Oscars. Nobody could imagine that situation coming up,” he said. “For our actress Bahar Pars, it was the same situation of not being able to come here, but the situation is changing all the time,” he told a packed audience at the Aero Theatre.
“This is a story about an old man becoming more warmhearted, kind of like Scrooge, but we have to tell this classic kind of story over and over again because things change. When she moves into this neighborhood where Ove lives it is happening, but we put the story first and the message later,” he added. “Maybe we have a small message, but I think great stories are the best way to show what humanity is, and should be.”
Incidentally, when they were all here, the Foreign Language nominees — which also include Denmark’s searing Land Of Mine, Germany’s brilliantly funny Toni Erdmann, and first-timer Australia’s Tanna — connected with one another to see how they should address the political situations engulfing their category. One producer told me they concluded they were all sympathetic, but beyond that what else can they say? It’s out of their hands, except perhaps in the kinds of important and humane stories they can put on the screen.
STEPPING IN FOR DENZEL
I was honored Wednesday to have been asked by Gil Robertson, head of the African American Film Critics Association, to present this year’s Best Actor award to Denzel Washington at AAFCA’s big Hollywood ceremony. Deadline was proud to be a key sponsor of the event and even though Washington had to be in London for the English opening of Fences, it was great to fete him and step onto the AAFCA stage where I also got to accept his award. I told the crowd I was happy to accept on his behalf, and that if he wanted to get it he knows where to find me because otherwise I am keeping it. Moonlight was the big winner at the event with five awards, and Barry Jenkins was there to accept both Best Picture and Director.
By the way, that Best Actor Oscar race has really heated up ever since Washington pulled off a surprise SAG win over favored Casey Affleck. Affleck is on his way to London as well for the BAFTAs, where he is nominated for Best Actor, but not against Washington, whose film was virtually overlooked by BAFTA except for a Viola Davis Supporting nod. The movie wasn’t widely seen there though and is only now opening. The big showdown will be Oscar night, where Washington is next up against Affleck who could use the momentum from a BAFTA win that most pundits expect he will get. Still, the Affleck team is taking no chances and have arranged a Casey Affleck Retrospective at L.A.’s Landmark Theatre this weekend starting on Saturday with Gone Baby Gone, Sunday with The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, and Monday with his nominated Manchester By The Sea followed by a Q&A with producer Matt Damon and a likely very jet-lagged Affleck.
Tis still the season. Hang in there, nominees. Just two weeks and two days to go.