A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
You know the season is starting to roar when actual awards results start to roll in. This week The Gothams put Call Me by Your Name in the Best Picture game, the National Board tf Review went gaga for The Post, and the New York Film Critics anointed Lady Bird. In the mix and getting various honors from at least two of the three groups were such contenders as Get Out, The Florida Project, Phantom Thread, The Disaster Artist and Coco. Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) came on strong with two Best Actress wins from NYFCC and the Gothams, and Meryl Streep (The Post) was back in the hunt thanks to NBR. Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) also did well, collecting Best Supporting Actor from NBR and NYFCC. Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) has to go to all three early bird banquets to collect Breakout prizes and even the top Best Actor nod from NYFCC, while Tom Hanks (The Post) and James Franco (Disaster Artist) also got Best Actor nods from the other groups.
Oddly the man who is considered by most pundits to be a lead-pipe cinch to take it all, Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour, was completely AWOL, as was any mention of his film. Hmm. Perhaps this week’s kudos fests were just awarding the actors who eventually will be losing to him at the Oscars. The LA Film Critics have their turn Sunday, so maybe they can hand him something — or, knowing how quirky they can be, will just add to the mix with yet another name. Speaking of quirky, the New York Film Critics’ choice of Tiffany Haddish as Best Supporting Actress for Universal’s summer crowd-pleaser Girls Trip came out of left field. I have yet to see any concerted effort by the studio to push her scene-stealing, over-the-top turn into serious contention, but if ever there was the impetus to do it this might be the reason. Certainly the studio can’t forget when Melissa McCarthy grabbed a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for the similarly raunchy female-focused comedy Bridesmaids, so despite competition from the most likely candidates — Allison Janney, Laurie Metcalf, Phantom Thread’s Lesley Manville, Mary J. Blige and others most mentioned — there could be room for Haddish or this might just be an abberation. Certainly it might be a head-scratcher to some that, with three awards group winners already announced, plus last week’s nominations for the Indie Spirits, presumed contenders including The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, Victoria & Abdul, Dunkirk, Hostiles and others have yet to land, but Girls Trip already has a major award!
Among the missing this week that surprised me most was the omission of Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which went unmentioned and also failed to receive a Best Film nom even from the Indie Spirits (though it did get acting noms for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell plus a Screenplay nomination).
STREEP, BENING, DENCH MAKE THE ROUNDS
If I have to come up with any reason to declare why I love this business, consider that this week I got to spend time chatting it up with three acting icons who, if you ask me, all should be nominated in the incredibly crowded Best Actress race, with each doing some of the best work of their career — and that’s saying something. What other time of year can you have conversations with Meryl Streep, Dame Judi Dench and Annette Bening in the course of 24 hours? I was pleased to moderate the SAG screening of The Post on Monday night with Streep, Tom Hanks and Bradley Whitford. Streep, who has already picked up the NBR Best Actress prize for the December 22 release from director Steven Spielberg, likely will receive an unprecedented 21st Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham in this riveting, pertinent and urgent drama. She was attached even before Spielberg, having been sent the script early from producer Amy Pascal, but was astonished that it got made, and especially that it got made so quickly, as she told me in front of the packed SAG audience at Fox’s Zanuck Theatre.
“Amy sent me Liz Hannah’s script, and I just loved it. I didn’t think that it could get made. But then Steven stepped in, and it came together in about 20 minutes,” Streep said, noting that the director was prepping another film in Italy and had his whole crew there but still was looking for a child star who had to be bilingual in Italian and Hebrew and couldn’t find him. “So someone passed him this script and he flew his crew to New York, set them up and started two weeks later. It is amazing how quickly he did it, and how quickly he made the film. We finished shooting the end of July, this July, and he had a cut two weeks later and it’s a film.”
Hanks, who plays Post editor Ben Bradlee, explained that he read it in February and they started the shoot in May, with Oscar winner Josh Singer (Spotlight) brought on board to work with Hannah on the script, particularly the parts dealing with the Pentagon Papers case that form the basis for the drama. Hanks, by the way, is terrific as Bradlee and hopefully — despite being a two-time Oscar winner already but not nominated in 17 years — will receive a Best Actor nomination after being overlooked in recent years for some of his best work in Captain Phillips, Bridge of Spies and Sully. Maybe it was the curse of winning back-to-back Best Actor Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump in 1993 and 1994. He hasn’t been nominated since 2000’s Cast Away. It is interesting to note that the only other back-to-back Best Actor winner — Spencer Tracy in 1937 and 1938 — had to wait 12 long years to be nominated again for 1950’s Father of the Bride.
Speaking of being overlooked by Oscar, Annette Bening deserved her fifth nomination last year for an extraordinary performance in 2oth Century Women but inexplicably didn’t get one. She is long overdue and once again is great as, ironically, Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame in the touching Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. When she and her equally good co-star Jamie Bell stopped by my Deadline-sponsored KCET Cinema Series on Tuesday night in Sherman Oaks before heading over the hill to do Deadline’s own screening series, Bening told me she had been circling the idea of doing Grahame’s story, an actress hot in film noirs of the 1940s and ’50s whose career took a downward turn only to lead to a relationship with a much younger man she met while doing a play in Liverpool years after her Hollywood success. Bening is unforgettable in the role, getting to the real essence of Grahame without trying to imitate her. By the way, another piece of Oscar trivia: Grahame held the record for the shortest Oscar-winning performance, just 9 minutes and 32 seconds in 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, until Beatrice Straight came along and won for 1976’s Network with a 5-minute, 40-second performance.
QUEEN FOR A DAY
Dench is another Oscar winner with a short performance, clocking in at 8 minutes for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love. She’s back playing a queen now in Stephen Frears’ indie hit Victoria & Abdul, which could bring her an eighth Oscar nomination and yet another try in the lead category this year. On Tuesday Dench came by Deadline’s offices and my The Actor’s Side studio to tape an upcoming segment of the series in which we discussed her 60-year professional acting career on stage, TV and movies. Actually, though she said she had jet lag after just flying in from London the night before, she had perfect recall of every moment and even topped me when I congratulated her on the 60th anniversary of her professional stage debut as Ophelia in Hamlet in 1957. “Actually it was September 9th, 1957, ” she said without missing a beat.
We also talked about the mistaken idea that she plays a lot of queens. She doesn’t. She just happens to get nominated every time she does; in fact her first Oscar nomination came for playing Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown. But this time it was a whole different ballgame as she had no idea of the relationship between Victoria and the Indian Abdul (Ali Fazal), who became her associate and teacher. Wednesday night I saw Dench again at the Focus Features holiday party, where she held court at the Granville restaurant like any good queen would do: talking to her subjects — in this case, bloggers who wanted a piece of her time. On Thursday night she headed to Santa Barbara, where she received the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and discovered that she and Douglas share the same birthday, December 9. He will be turning 101 (!) next week. Her Victoria & Abdul co-star Fazal was among the presenters.
Fazal also was among the guests at the Focus bash the evening before along with Oldman, who huddled in the corner with Universal’s Donna Langley, and writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, whose upcoming Focus release Phantom Thread nabbed him Best Screenplay honors from NBR and NYFCC. Anderson is joining directors Kenneth Branagh and Christopher Nolan this year in singing the praises of 70MM projection and bringing it back in a big way. Anderson told me that unlike their respective films Murder on the Orient Express and Dunkirk, his new movie was shot in more traditional 35MM but is being blown up for about 10 special engagements around the country, in 70MM film prints that he said are almost finished and look spectacular. Can’t wait to see it again like that. The film looks great no matter which format. Anderson and I reminisced about the Christmas Eve we spent two years ago at Quentin Tarantino’s home screening room, where the three of us did a 45-minute filmed conversation on the wonders of 70MM; check it out here:
VANITY FAIR’S NEW LEAP INTO THE OSCAR RACE
Finally, Vanity Fair is getting ready for its Oscar closeup. No, not that one. Everyone knows the magazine holds the glitziest of the Oscar night parties each year, but now it has decided that amidst everything else going on in the world, it is time to get serious about Oscar even earlier than usual. Thus, now in the post-Graydon Carter era of the magazine (Radhika Jones is the new editor), it is launching an “Awards Extra” of the Vanity Fair print edition, with the first issue hitting and going into voter mailboxes on Monday, and another planned for later in the season. Although this kind of thing is common for Hollywood trades — including Deadline, which does its own AwardsLine editions for the industry — this is unusual for a consumer magazine to move so heavily into the sector. But that just emphasizes how important the season has become in recent years.
“Our goal is to provide a valuable and practical service to voters while staying true to Vanity Fair’s tradition of stunning visuals, inside access and sophisticated analysis,” said Michael Hogan, Vanity Fair‘s Executive Digital Director. He added that the brand is expanding big time into digital areas, social channels and their daily HWD site among other efforts.The first issue has actors-turned-debuting directors Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele on the cover and features stories covering just about every aspect of categories in the Academy Awards. And check out the Intelligence Report at the back of the magazine, which is a very funny look at certain characters and events you encounter during Oscar seasons and where VF has named yours truly the “Alpha Dog” of awards pundits. Thanks, VF.