Any doubt that awards season has not kicked into full gear even though it’s only early November were firmly erased Friday night as I kept running into the same Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Academy members as we dashed from an AFI Fest pre-party for The Weinstein Co.‘s August Osage County premiere in Hollywood, to a Lionsgate holiday (!) celebration at Spago, to Disney‘s Mary Poppins sing-a-long for Saving Mr. Banks at the Beverly Hills Hotel. And that doesn’t even count Sony‘s tribute to their American Hustle David O. Russell for the AFI Fest at the Egyptian. When the picture isn’t ready to show why not just throw a tribute with clips instead? (they sneaked the first six minutes). Deadline’s Jen Yamato was there and reports Jane Fonda and his Oscar winning Silver Linings Playbook star Jennifer Lawrence showed up for the pre-reception. Just down the street at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Gravity star Sandra Bullock was holding court doing a Q&A for SAG nominating committee members after a screening of the film (Warner Bros. had a separate Gravity press cocktail reception Wednesday night in West Hollywood which drew director Alfonso Cuaron and son, co-writer Jonas, along with producer David Heyman).
At Hollywood and Highland’s The Grill, August Osage County co-producer George Clooney was clearly the star attraction taking photo after photo with excited (mostly female) members of the HFPA who swarmed around him at the intimate, but crowded event before the North American premiere of the film at the Chinese. If anyone knows how to work a room like this, it is Clooney. When I managed to catch his eye he told me the film has been reworked a bit since I saw it at its Toronto Fest debut in September and that, after the balancing act of getting the adaptation of a 3 1/2 hour play down to a tight – and funny – two hours (it’s entered in the Golden Globes as a comedy), both Harvey Weinstein and director John Wells are happy with it, as Wells also confirmed. The director said he worked on honing the script for over two years with Pulitzer Prize and Tony winner Tracy Letts (also at the reception). As Clooney explained they had to take a rather insular play and open it up a bit which wasn’t easy, but the film I saw played like gangbusters in Toronto and was well-received at AFI, I am told by some who saw it last night for the first time. Co-stars Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson, Dermot Mulroney and Chris Cooper who has a couple of scenes that stop the show were also at the reception before hitting the red carpet (stars Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep were absent).
Clooney’s Smokehouse partner/Osage co-producer (and Argo Oscar winner) Grant Heslov told me he was jet-lagged after just returning from London where Alexandre Desplat was scoring their Monuments Men, now a February release and moved out of this crowded season. That’s a decision Heslov says they are happy with. He said it was never intended as an “Oscar movie”. Does everything have to be between September and December? The film about the rescue of art masterpieces stolen by the Nazis in WWII this week got more publicity when in real life 1500 works of art looted by Nazis were suddenly recovered in Munich. It would have been perfect timing for the movie’s original release plan but I guess the authorities who recovered the art weren’t aware of Sony’s recent date change.
Racing across town next stop was the Lionsgate “Holiday” party at Spago which was packed with just about everyone the company, which includes Summit and Roadside Attractions, works with in film and TV. Roadside’s Howard Cohen told me he was hoping for good results from this weekend’s expansion of All Is Lost starring Best Actor frontrunner Robert Redford as it moves into over 400 theatres. Paulina Garcia, star of their Chilean Foreign Language Oscar entry Gloria, was also there. She won the Best Actress Silver Bear at Berlin and is awesome in this film I caught at Telluride. I understand it already screened and played well for the Academy’s Foreign Language committee so should be a contender for a slot.
Of course the real biggie for Lionsgate is their November 22nd juggernaut The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Director Francis Lawrence is excited about this one which can probably be assured of the top box office spot among year-enders but he also told me he is now shooting the back to back final installments of the franchise with star Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) and is really excited about how it is all going to wrap up. Co-star Jeffrey Wright had nothing but praise for his director and the whole Hunger (a word otherwise not spoken at the pizza-heavy Spago party) experience. Although Catching Fire isn’t an “Oscar movie,” Lionsgate is particularly high on Globe and Oscar chances for Coldplay’s first-ever song written for a movie, “Atlas.”
Couldn’t stay for the whole party as I – and those HFPA members – raced up the street to the Polo Lounge for Disney’s one-of-a-kind awards season event, a Mary Poppins sing-a-along led at the piano by the man who (with his late brother Robert) actually won Oscars for writing those songs: The incomparable and, apparently at 85 indefatigable, Richard M. Sherman. He started the show with a walk down memory lane and some of the Shermans’ greatest Disney hits including those written for Annette Funicello, Hayley Mills and The Jungle Book before getting to the main attraction. Disney put together a collectible songbook and guests (a ton of Academy voters were spotted) from Sean Penn to Mickey Rooney joined in the chorus of tunes like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Let’s Go Fly A Kite,” and “Chim Chim Cheree.” Sherman called up the Saving Mr. Banks key team present to back him up including stars Emma Thompson who danced with Bradley Whitford and Jason Schwartzman (who plays Sherman) and B.J. Novak plus producer Alison Owen, writer Kelly Marcel and director John Lee Hancock who was taking praise all night. (In addition to last night’s AFI Fest premiere, the studio showed it for the all-important voting crowd Friday before their party). Composer Thomas Newman was also present sitting in Hancock’s booth. Disney Chair Alan Horn introduced Sherman and they were among the last to leave after midnight. Many in the delighted crowd, clearly with strong Mary Poppins memories of their own, told me they can’t remember an event quite like it. It was, in terms of awards seasons I have covered, one for the ages.