A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

As I have been taking the temperature of the race so far, at this early stage no movie seems buzzier among voters across the board than Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This is the name you increasingly hear over and over in Best Picture conversations, the title most enthusiastically mentioned by those who have seen it. But don’t count on hearing it mentioned at the Writers Guild Awards this year. The WGA has deemed McDonagh’s original screenplay ineligible for a nomination due to its arcane rules requiring any potential nominee to have been made under the auspices of the Guild’s Minimum Basic Agreement.

WGA

Pundits at our sister site Gold Derby named McDonagh’s script as the front-runner for the Original Screenplay Oscar, and it would seem at the very least a shoo-in for a nomination along with other such top prospects as Lady Bird and Get Out at this point. McDonagh is no stranger to getting derailed by WGA rules as his 2008 Oscar-nominated script for In Bruges also was ineligible at the guild. Another top Best Picture and Screenplay prospect, Darkest Hour, written by Anthony McCarten, also is said to be ineligible at the WGA this year, along with others including Victoria & Abdul, Breathe and Coco (unlike the Oscars, animated features do not get consideration at WGA). McCarten also went through the same thing with his Oscar-nominated adaptation of The Theory of Everything was ineligible at WGA then. But both ‘Mc’s,’ Donagh and Carten, can take heart as they are very much in the running to get an invite to the Dolby Theatre anyway and can look to examples of recent Oscar-winning scripts Birdman and 12 Years a Slave, which also were WGA snubees. Both films still get official WGA member screenings this weekend.

PETITION TO GET ‘GET OUT’ INTO GLOBES DRAMA CATEGORY

Get Out Box Office
Universal

Universal’s Get Out, from writer-director Jordan Peele, won’t have a problem landing with WGA as it is completely eligible under its rules for Original Screenplay and has a very good chance, especially with Three Billboards out of the way. And if the studio continues to have its way, it also won’t be competing with that film at the Golden Globes as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association splits its Best Picture competition between Drama and Comedy/Musical. Universal pushed to put the horror suspense thriller Get Out into the Comedy category (where there is less competition), and the HFPA bought it. Peele, though, has dissed the idea publicly, stating that he thinks of his film in a much more serious vein and even facetiously tweeted that it is a “documentary.” But, as Deadline reported earlier today, he doesn’t care how it is categorized, only that people see it. But now Care2 Petitions, in between more pressing social causes on their site, has taken up this cause, demanding that the HFPA put the film in the Globes Drama category, and with a goal of 10,000 signatures, already has 8161 supporters. “It is very clear the commentary is not meant to be so lighthearted. The ultimate story is about white people stealing the life from black people — nothing about that is funny,” the petition states.

Baby Driver is another dubious entry into the Golden Globe Comedy/Musical category with a rep for the summer action-thriller claiming it is really a “musical” since, according to this logic, it has wall-to-wall tunes (mostly with the word “baby” in them) on the needle-drop soundtrack. It is hard to believe that HFPA voters will buy into the idea that Baby Driver is on the same level musically as genuine entries such as Beauty and the Beast and The Greatest Showman, where people actually sing on camera.

BRINGING UP THE REAR

20th Century Fox

Pretty soon we will have all the pieces of the puzzle of this year’s Oscar contest finally in place as both Steven Spielberg’s The Post and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread start multiple screenings — and, in the case of the latter, daily screenings at the Fine Arts and Aero Theatres beginning the day after Thanksgiving. Spielberg’s film, for which he just finished the final mix Monday, rolls out Sunday in LA and NY, followed by other screenings early next week. Take it with a grain of salt, but one person who is working on the Fox film — who always gives me an honest read of a movie — saw it this week and said simply and without further comment, “I think the race is about to change significantly”. Hmmmm. CBS Films President Terry Press, who has worked on past campaigns for Spielberg (Lincoln, Saving Private Ryan), is moonlighting as a consultant on this one as well, I hear, as CBS Films has no dog in the race.

As for Phantom Thread — which stars Daniel Day-Lewis, coincidentally last seen onscreen in Spielberg’s Lincoln, for which he won his third Best Actor Oscar — I hear the film is stolen by his co-star Vicky Krieps.”This is definitely a ‘star is born’ time for her,” one early viewer told me. And I thought the last thing we need now is yet another Best Actress prospect.

LUMPS OF COAL FOR THE CRITICS OF CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER

Tri Star

So after those two films are unveiled, all eyes will be on Ridley Scott. who doesn’t seem to have a problem taking his time to make a splash in the race and just started reshoots for Sony’s All the Money in the World yesterday, with Christopher Plummer replacing Kevin Spacey in the movie that was supposed to have closed the AFI Film Festival last night but was otherwise occupied trying to rise from the ashes of the Spacey debacle to make a December 22 opening date. Sony’s TriStar, which is distributing, also wasted no time in releasing two new one-sheet posters today, with Plummer getting second billing behind Michelle Williams — who also could be a late-breaking entry into that impossibly overcrowded Best Actress competition. If Scott can pull this off, and if the movie is good, Sony might have a real contender since this Hail Mary pass to rescue the film in time for this season is simply unprecedented. And the heroes could be Scott, who turns 80 on November 30, and Plummer, who turns 88 on December 13.

Pete Hammond/Deadline

Plummer, by the way, is terrific as a Scrooge you have never before seen in the great holiday treat, The Man Who Invented Christmas, opening the day before Thanksgiving through Bleecker Street. The film, starring Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens, is an origin story about the creation of his Christmas classic. So far, critics are being kind, with the exception of one Rotten Tomato rating from the critical version of a Scrooge at The Wrap. The distributor is taking it to heart and sent him a lump of coal in a red stocking with a holiday card, in which they wrote: “Humbug to you! We were sad to hear the film didn’t warm your heart with a festive feeling in the spirit of the season and Dickens himself. We’ll be making a donation to the Bowery Mission on your behalf.” Bleecker Street tells me they plan to send lumps of coal to any other critic who goes negative on the movie.

MARTIN MCDONAGH LIKES AWARDS SEASON

Pete Summers/REX/Shutterstock

Getting back to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I got a chance to have drinks the other day with its writer and director, Martin McDonagh, who, as I mentioned, is getting a lot of Oscar buzz for this film. In fact, past nominees like Sally Kirkland are already buzzing about it and its cast, as she did this week on Facebook in order to spread the word. “Just came from the Academy where I saw what could be the best picture of the year. Martin McDonagh wrote it for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, who could win Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor Oscars. McDonagh writes like Harold Pinter meets Sam Shepard. TOTALLY BRILLIANT. I had a chance to talk with him afterwards and tell him I was voting for the film and how brilliant he was,” she wrote. Actually, McDonagh, who dabbles in movies in-between a lot of great plays that he writes, has been down this path before, not only as an aforementioned Oscar nominee in 2008 for In Bruges, but also as an Oscar winner for Six Shooter, the 2004 Live Action Short he directed. He told me he was nervous on that Oscar evening, but when nominated for In Bruges, he already knew he was going to lose to Milk, so it was a much easier time. “You know who the competition is and you kind of know that you’re not going to win, so it was much more relaxing than the first time around,” he laughed. Three Billboards became the surprise winner of the often-prescient People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, which really shocked some pundits who didn’t see that coming. But McDonagh had been gauging audience reaction at screenings since the Venice opening, and San Sebastian as well as TIFF, and saw how it played. So when I asked him if he could believe it took the top audience prize, he said he could. “Completely. I was sitting in the auditorium and you could feel it. I mean, you can always tell if they’re going for the laughs, but you could hear the gasps and shocks. But it’s been consistent everywhere.”

Fox Searchlight

He continued: “Toronto was the biggest, because it’s an English-speaking place, too. But it played like a crowd pleaser rather than a dark indie,” he said of the movie that had one of the top specialty openings of the year last weekend. “I think it was Toronto that really kind of kicked us on and made us think we are going to be part of the conversation. I just dip in to making films every four or five years, so it’s kind of fun. I’d rather be part of it than not be talked about. A film like this could have gone a different way, so it’s much nicer to be considered. Fran, Sam, and Woody (Harrelson) are great friends. It’s good to hear their names being talked about.”