A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
With the all-important, and perhaps foretelling, Producers Guild Awards on Saturday followed by the SAG Awards on Sunday the Oscar race is at boiling point. But of course the really big event is Tuesday morning, when nominations are revealed for the 90th annual Academy Awards. While as yet-unseen potential contenders for the 91st Oscars are unveiled in the freezing cold of Sundance this weekend, the temperature could not be hotter in Hollywood to get answers finally of who will be nominated this year.
The PGA results will be especially interesting as that guild in recent years often has signaled which way the Academy will turn. But in the last two years, with its selections of The Big Short and La La Land for the top film prize, the guild didn’t match Oscar’s eventual choices, though La La Land seemed like a lock even after Faye Dunaway’s ill-fated announcement of Oscar’s Best Picture winner. This year is anybody’s guess, and even top PGA officials are wondering what the outcome will be in a race with no apparent front-runner at this point.
And then, of course, there are the questions of how the ongoing diversity and sexual harassment controversies are going to affect the outcome of this year’s oh-so-tight race to the finish line. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Get Out, Lady Bird, and The Shape of Water would seem to have the best shot at PGA’s top honor out of their whopping 11 nominees, as well as for SAG’s often-prescient Outstanding Cast award (with the exception of Shape, which isn’t nominated there), but no matter this weekend’s results, it is likely that Guillermo del Toro’s crowd-pleasing The Shape of Water will be the leader among Oscar nominees just as it was with Golden Globe nominations, Critics’ Choice (where it won Best Picture), and BAFTA. We shall see soon enough.
As for the actual announcement of those Oscar nominations Tuesday, AMPAS is reverting to the new format they adopted last year in jettisoning the decades-old press conference revelation for a more controlled and slickly produced affair. The Academy will reveal, via a streaming format, all 24 categories, beginning with several crafts at 5:22 AM PT followed at 5:38:30 with the marquee nominees everyone is biting their nails over. The former will include some taped segments mixed with the live results, while the latter will be totally live featuring a celebrity (i.e. past winners?) component to celebrate the 90th anniversary and promote the March 4 show.
In the mid-1950s, the Academy had a charmingly innovative, if primitive, live primetime network special on NBC announcing nominees, with some of them even appearing at night spots around town. That might have been a nice way to go for this particular anniversary but AMPAS is doing its own new age thing. For decades, news crews from around the world would gather, along with publicists, for an early-morning breakfast and announcement at the Academy’s Beverly Hills headquarters with the current AMPAS President and a past winner or nominee doing the reading of nominees.
Last year, likely partly out of fear of having to answer to a potential third consecutive year of #OscarsSoWhite (which didn’t happen), the Academy ditched the press and made what looked like a very canned announcement. There was disappointment and criticism in some quarters (including here) for losing the tradition and spontaneous excitement of the event. An Academy spokesperson tells me this year’s announcement — a global livestream on Oscar.com, Oscars.org, the Academy’s digital platforms, as well as a satellite feed and local broadcasters — will be “an evolved version of last year” but not the press conference version of previous years. It is easy to see why this is attractive to AMPAS as it has complete control over the message; that way questions won’t come up that morning such as what to do about a potential Best Actor nomination for former Oscar host James Franco or if 2016 Best Actor winner Casey Affleck gets invited to present Best Actress on the show. Controversies aside, don’t we all just want to see how our predictions come out?
KUDOS AND CONTROVERSY
Meanwhile, it seems whenever you have Oscars involved, controversy does follow — even if not directly related to AMPAS. Other groups also are figuring out what to do in this new age of enlightenment and accusations. I heard the board of Film Independent quietly met Tuesday to discuss what it might — or might not — do relating to Indie Spirit nominations for Franco (Male Lead, The Disaster Artist) and The Florida Project (Best Feature nominee) producer Andrew Duncan, who recently had to leave June Pictures, the company he founded. In the end I am told they decided to, as the Beatles might sing, let it be regarding both individuals, who have been in the news regarding various sexual harassment accusations.
Franco probably will lose at the Spirits to Call Me by Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet, who jumped into this conversation last week by donating his salary from Woody Allen’s upcoming A Rainy Day in New York to various charities including Time’s Up. The Producers Guild — which, like many other orgs, kicked member and past Milestone recipient Harvey Weinstein to the curb — and has just announced its own Anti-Sexual Harassment Guidelines, definitely will address the issue in some way on Saturday night, while SAG certainly will on Sunday, most notably in having a female host (Kristen Bell) and all-female presenters (other than the casts who introduce clips of nominated films).
This, of course, follows the Golden Globes, which were dominated by the subject onstage and the red carpet with its sea of black gowns, and Critics’ Choice Awards, where eventual Comedy Actor winner Franco was a last-minute no-show. What will happen with the almighty Oscars in this regard is anyone’s guess, but I was told by at least one firm that AMPAS — in the midst of drawing up its own set of new guidelines regarding personal behavior — has been seeking some outside counsel by trying to recruit a PR company to help deal with it all as the season builds to a crescendo. The times they are a-changin’, but hopefully we won’t lose sight of what all these awards are supposed to be about: rewarding good work.
JORDAN PEELE GETS IN WITH ‘GET OUT’
Speaking of good work, Jordan Peele continues on a tear with his much-acclaimed Get Out. The film already has won first-time feature helmer Peele several breakout directing awards and is prominently nominated for this weekend’s SAG and PGA honors; it also will receive the Producers Guild’s Stanley Kramer Award, which is given to a film with strong social values. Last week he nabbed not one but two DGA nominations, including first-time feature director as well as the top Guild honor. The low-budget Universal-Blumhouse smash hit is expected to be a major Oscar nominee come Tuesday: I am predicting Picture, Actor (for Daniel Kaluuya), Original Screenplay and Directing noms for sure.
What really is remarkable is that the film was released way back in February and only keeps gaining steam. Should it prevail at the Oscars, it would be the first February release since 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs to win Best Picture — coincidentally also only the second in the so-called “horror” genre to do so, with Lambs being the first. Even just a Best Picture nomination is monumental for so early a release. Only March releases Erin Brockovich and The Grand Budapest Hotel have managed to do it with such an early opening date in this century.
Even Universal was caught off guard by the across-the-board box office, critical and now awards success of this movie. When I spoke with Peele immediately after word of those DGA nominations came down last week, he was overwhelmed by it all. “It is crazy. You have dreams, but you don’t actually think this could happen,” he said. “I felt because of the genre of the movie, it would most likely be overlooked by now. I am catching up to reality here.”
There was a bit of controversy when the film was nominated in the Comedy/Musical category at the Golden Globes, but that actually pleases Peele since the film seems so difficult to define. “This movie has transcended the idea of genre when we have these fixed boxes we put things in. It is very satisfying to me as a creator,” the Emmy-winning Key and Peele alum said. “I cannot explain how honored I am. I wanted to be a director since I was 13 years old, just a gut-wrenching passion to do it. The first half of my career took me away from that partly because I found joy in performing, but I have so much respect for directors and the films that shaped me. I didn’t want to jump into it before I was ready, before I could make one of my kind of favorite films.” He cited John Singleton, Spike Lee and the Hughes brothers as early role models for what he aspired to do.
As for reaction to the film, and particularly the acknowledgement he has been getting as a director, Peele said he didn’t ever think he could even convince anybody he should make a movie. “I am still getting over the fact that I get to call myself a member of the DGA,” he laughed. “The big reward with this entire process is I get to make another movie, which is the most fulfilling thing I get to do, but in the same year to be able to get recognized by the people I am proud to call my peers, well it’s just nuts.”
As for that next film, he says he is writing it now — but because of time constraints put on by the demands of the unexpected awards season he finds himself in, he is struggling to find time to finish it. He says the film will be set in the similar horror thriller space as Get Out, with some more social ideas in there as well. Peele said he was halfway into writing the Get Out script when he suddenly realized he also needed to raise the bar and direct it himself. “I have been putting these things off for too long, and now I realized that who is better to direct this project than I am?” he asks. “With the next one I feel validated by the response, and I have had the great honor of speaking to several of my idols. It’s daunting but I have gotten encouraging words to continue to tell the stories that matter to me. What I will always do as a director, and always do as a writer, is try and make the movie that I wish someone would make for me.”