A new weekly column talking up the season with bits and pieces from the awards circuit. The Oscar race certainly is heating up with announcements almost daily from critics groups seeking to influence the race, screenings and Q&As galore for the final batch of films entering the race before the December 31 deadline and brunches/lunches/contender cocktailers nearly every day. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes
it doesn’t. Certainly the movie of the moment, Spotlight was in a partying mood over the weekend, picking up Best Picture wins from LA and Boston critics groups. Open Road threw a Chateau Marmont Penthouse 64 soiree Saturday night that brought out lots of Oscar voters to meet director Tom McCarthy and the real-life counterparts Mike Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer (played in the film by Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams). Most seemed really impressed. If you have the real people, it can be even more effective than doing these things with actors themselves.
As for other parties, there were lots of them hosted by studio heads who never would be inviting me to their homes in March. It seems to be an emerging trend this year. Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore opened up his oceanside home last week for dinner and drinks to celebrate his studio’s Oscar hopefuls The Big Short (with director Adam McKay and co-star Steve Carell among the attendees) and the animated Anomalisa (with Charlie Kaufman and co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh there) as Golden Globe voters and other press joined in the fun. On Sunday night, 20th Century Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos opened up his home (well, actually a giant tent in the back, covering the pool) for a jammed party celebrating the seasons (holiday and awards), while across town Universal Chairman Donna Langley opened the gates to her stunning home to fete the cast and creatives of one of their breakout successes and key Oscar contenders, Straight Outta Compton. I won’t reveal where she lives, but it ain’t anywhere near Compton, folks. Besides getting whiplash from all the crosstown driving (thank God it was a Sunday), these were classy affairs that also really show the support of the studios behind their Oscar pictures and those who made them.
At the Langley house I ran into Straight Outta Compton’s F. Gary Gray, who was talking about continuing his relationship with Universal by directing the next Fast & Furious installment. He recently returned from Cuba, scouting locations where he hopes to do part of the filming. Of course he was getting lots of praise from partygoers including AFI’s Bob Gazzale (AFI puts out its 10 best list on December 16), producer Tracey Edmonds and Selma director Ava DuVernay among many others. DuVernay, by the way, has a new Barbie doll just put out in her likeness in an effort to highlight a Mattel effort to feature inspiring female stories. After hearing about this, my wife tried to buy one but they sold out in about two hours and now there is a waiting list until next year when presumably more will be made — or not, since it was a limited edition.
Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and the young cast of Straight Outta Compton also were there, along with Jon Hamm. Hamm’s not in the movie, just a guest of Langley’s. “My Universal connection this year was as the voice of Herb Overkill in Minions. I’m just a part of the billions they have made this year,” he laughed. Also there was Phil Lord, who with partner Chris Miller is seemingly involved in everything these days including their Lego Movie sequel, an animated Spider-Man movie, TV series The Last Man On Earth, etc etc. He says much of their time will be devoted to the 2018 untitled Han Solo film, which they will direct as part of the yearly Star Wars series of films for Disney. He says he keeps reading about potential Han Solo stars he has never heard of but whose names keep popping up in the press. No one has been cast yet, and the whole project is top secret, of course. He hasn’t even seen the first of the new Star Wars films, The Force Awakens, which opens next week. So how are they supposed to even know what happens to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in this version? “We got to read a rough draft,” he said.
SLY STALLONE GOING ONCE, GOING TWICE, SOLD!
Over at the Gianopulos bash, about 300 people from press, Oscar, Globe and Critics’ Choice voters and names like Sylvester Stallone, Bradley Cooper, David O. Russell and Ridley Scott were in the crowd, which was so dense you could hardly move during crush hour. Cooper, who plays the program director of QVC in Joy, was telling me how his mother was basically addicted to the home-shopping channel. “Growing up there were always new packages sitting by the door most days,” he said. “I just talked to her this weekend and she bought two more things today — some kind of creams and a device that tells you how to get places. I told her there were apps for that sort of thing, but she fell for the device they were selling,” Cooper laughed. Diane Ladd was there from Joy, as was Virginia Madsen who plays the soap opera-obsessed mother in the movie. At the Academy’s official screening of the film on Saturday, Ladd got big laughs from the Oscar-voter crowd when I asked her about her own experience in soaps at the start of her career. “I was on The Secret Storm,” she said. “It was originally called The Storm Within, but they had to change the name when a new sponsor came on board. They couldn’t call it The Storm Within brought to you by Ex-Lax.”
Stallone, who is winning big Supporting Actor talk as Rocky Balboa in Creed, told me he is dumbfounded by all of the reaction to this movie, which he says he never saw coming. From December 18-20, Stallone is putting the hammer to virtually his entire career in a huge Heritage auction of his showbiz memorabilia. Some of the proceeds are going to charity. “I am keeping a few key things, but I just decided now was the time to sell off most of my stuff,” he said. “This usually happens when you’re dead anyway. I decided, why wait until then?” A black leather jacket he wore in Rocky is estimated to go for $70,000 on up, just to give you an idea if you plan to bid.
Scott, not one to rest on kudos he is now getting for The Martian, his most successful film ever and the one being buzzed to finally bring him a directing Oscar, says he’s moving on. “I am getting ready to do Alien: Covenant,” the 78-year-old director of the original Alien told me in the middle of a crowd trying to take selfies with him. “That’s what I do. I am here promoting The Martian, but I am moving on to the next thing. That’s the way I like to work.” I asked Fox Searchlight’s co-President Nancy Utley if she was happy with the opening-weekend grosses for Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth.”Yes, but we are waiting to see what happens on Wednesday and Thursday,” she said, referring not to midweek numbers but what happens when the SAG nominations are announced on Wednesday and Golden Globe noms on Thursday. That kind of early Christmas gift can be key to specialty films like Youth or their other current contender, Brooklyn.
Harvey Weinstein also was among the moguls throwing a party to celebrate his contenders, but since he lives in New York he took over the Palm Court at the Four Seasons late last week so Golden Globe voters and others could mingle with the likes of Bradley Cooper, Marion Cotillard, Carol director Todd Haynes, Hateful Eight cast members etc. He also was front and center at Monday night’s world premiere of The Hateful Eight at Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome, where the presentation of the movie in stunning 70mm film projection was flawless this time — as opposed to last week at the Crest Westwood, where I saw only the first half in 70 due to problems “with the gate.” They had to switch to digital to show the second half of the three-hour epic Western epic then, but that certainly wasn’t the case last night. At the Dome it was complete nirvana for movie nerds including its director Quentin Tarantino, who clearly was blown away by what he saw on that huge screen. “I made The Hateful Eight for the Dome,” he told me at the Le Jardin afterparty, which didn’t get started until 11 PM. “This is the first time seeing it at the Dome for me too, and it was like I hadn’t even seen it before, not like this.” Bob Weinstein made opening remarks at the theater and then called brother Harvey up to present Tarantino with a special gift: a framed piece of 70MM film with the opening credit title on it. Tarantino was floored. Those opening credits also have an homage to the Cinerama itself with a title card just after a new Weinstein logo which Tarantino created for this film only.
I complimented co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh, who really takes a beating in this film, on her comic timing with Kurt Russell, to whom she is handcuffed the entire time. “We really worked on that, like an old married couple ” she laughed. She’s already picked up a National Board Of Review Supporting Actress award, and if anyone deserves an Oscar nomination it’s her. But I would also say that for this entire cast, a truly great ensemble. That goes for Samuel L.Jackson, Russell and Walton Goggins, who steals every scene that Leigh hasn’t already snatched. Goggins told me he gives a lot of credit to Jackson for helping him be able to even do the movie when it appeared his shooting schedule on Justified might KO his participation.
GOING GAGA FOR GAGA
The Weinstein Company, through its subsidiary Radius, also is hopeful for an Oscar nomination for the powerful Lady Gaga/Diane Warren song, “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground, the shortlisted feature documentary about campus rape. Gaga appeared at a Beverly Wilshire lunch last week attended by members of the doc and music branches of the Academy and blew away that tough crowd when she sang the song before their chicken was served. People clearly were shaken, especially since she revealed that she had been raped at age 19, giving the song a personal connection. “We actually wanted a song that sounded masculine, that was full of rage,” she told me when she came over to my table. I was sitting with Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, who also helmed the music video for this song. “We have gotten 21 million hits so far on it, ” she told Gaga. I asked the singer if this was the first time she has ever written a song for a movie. “I did one, ‘Hello Hello’ with Elton John for Gnomeo And Juliet, an animated movie, but this is the first time I have really written one that has real impact in a film,” she said. Director Kirby Dick, who actually heard that his movie had made the Academy’s shortlist of 15 Feature Documentaries while the lunch was going on, said he originally told producer Amy Ziering he didn’t want a song in the film but she persevered. “It’s one of the best ideas I ever had,” she told me. The multi-nominated, always-an-Oscar-bridesmaid Warren is hoping the eighth time is a charm for her. I would say a nomination is a sure thing, at the very least. “Can’t you just see Lady Gaga singing this on the Oscar show two months from now?” Warren asked. Yes.
The Hunting Ground didn’t win anything at Saturday’s IDA awards held on the Paramount lot, but neither did front-runner Amy, which brilliantly dissects the Amy Winehouse story. I thought it was a sure thing, but The Look Of Silence took the IDA’s big prize. Amy director Asif Kapadia told me at the pre-reception he had just flown in from London to make the IDA event, thereby having to skip Sunday’s British Independent Film Awards, where Amy had several nominations including Best Picture. It turns out the movie was upset there too, so Kapadia didn’t miss much. One person consulting on the film told me it is almost more important at this point just to be seen where lots of potential Oscar voters might be than even to win something.
One person who did get something from the IDA was Pioneer Award winner Ted Sarandos, whose Netflix was the main sponsor for the smartly produced event. In his acceptance speech, he pointed to the number of docs Netflix runs (two of his this year are on the Oscar shortlist as well). Before the show he told me he’s keeping his fingers crossed for Beasts Of No Nation, Netflix’s first foray into the Oscar race outside of documentaries, noting that it got mentions from a few critics groups. Netflix is putting a considerable financial commitment behind the effort to get Oscar voters to pay attention to a film that had very limited exposure in theaters and can be seen only on the streaming service. It’s definitely a new day though.
Yesterday, A24 had a screening followed by lunch at Ocean Prime in Beverly Hills that drew a lot of Academy voters for the poker movie Mississippi Grind, which stars Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn. This film also had a very limited theatrical life, having debuted on DirecTV a full month before it hit theaters. Nevertheless it played very well with this crowd, and Mendelsohn — who also has a Netflix connection as the Emmy-nominated co-star of Bloodline — worked the room with great charm as did filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. A24 chief David Fenkel and producers Jamie Patricof and Lynette Howell also were on hand for the well-attended event.
Later this week the tsunami of award nominations continue with SAG and Golden Globe voters further trying to define this wide open year.