A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
With the town either obsessed and/or depressed by today’s Donald Trump inauguration, headed to Sundance , or just looking forward to Tuesday’s early AM first-ever all digital announcement of Oscar nominations, it has been something of a slow week awards-wise, a purgatory especially for those waiting to move on to Phase 2 of the race. With ballots in to the Academy since last Friday, rumors abound that voter turnout was lower than hoped for this time around, and that’s despite the Academy honchos sending constant reminders to vote.
If true, how that affects the final list is anyone’s guess. All I can say is, based on my conversations this week, every Oscar voter to whom I spoke had voted (there were about 200 of them just at the Netflix 13th event Sunday night at Ted Sarandos’ house). If the past is any indication, there might be some surprises in store on Tuesday. There usually are. “Hey, predict the two biggest shocks for me,” one voter asked earlier today regarding the upcoming nominations. My answer is that if I could predict the “shocks,” they wouldn’t be shocks. That is what makes this all so much fun. I have been saying for the past couple of weeks, actually ever since La La Land’s record-setting sweep at the Globes, that the big question for this Oscar nomination morning will be if La La Land can tie the all-time noms record of 14 held by 1950’s All About Eve and 1997’s Titanic.
Expected nominations for Picture, Actor Ryan Gosling, Actress Emma Stone, Director and Writer Damien Chazelle, Original Score, Cinematography, Production Design, Costumes, Sound Editing and Mixing, Film Editing and Song for “City of Stars” bring it to 13, which would put it in the company of Best Picture winners like Gone With the Wind, From Here to Eternity, Shakespeare in Love, Forrest Gump and Chicago, along with some just nominated like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Mary Poppins. A second Best Song nomination for “Audition,” a tune I hear Academy music branch members like just as much or even more than “City 0f Stars,” would bring it to the rarefied record-tying air of All About Eve and Titanic. The astounding thing is Titanic got to 14 without even getting a Screenplay nomination or one for star Leonardo DiCaprio. The potential problem for this scenario is the Best Song category is impossibly crowded with high-profile contenders this year, so a double nomination there for La La Land is a big question mark.
The other nagging question is just how many Best Picture nominees there will be this year. Since the Academy changed the rules to allow anywhere from five to 10, we have had either eight or nine. One of the latter figures is likely to be repeated this time. We will know on Tuesday when the Academy goes all in on the digital revolution and presents nominations in a brand-new way featuring past winners and nominees, but with no formal press conference or 430 AM breakfast at the Academy’s Beverly Hills headquarters as in years past. This has upset traditionalists, though one publicist fearing the worst for their movie told me this might be the perfect year to stay home. With this new change, some pundits have suggested that perhaps the Academy should try doing a full-blown primetime TV show to announce nominations. Actually, this is an old idea. In 1955 and 1956, the Academy staged an NBC nominations special. The first year, cameras hopped around from nightclub to nightclub where expectant nominees were waiting for the news. The second year, Fredric March hosted the noms announcement in a studio with about seven soon-to-be nominees on hand; their name was called as a nominee and then written primitively on a chalkboard. Fred MacMurray even led a group around the piano singing the nominated songs! How about trying that again, Academy, if this digital blitz on Tuesday doesn’t work out?
RYAN GOSLING ON LA LA MANIA
Speaking of La La Land, its Golden Globe-winning star Gosling has been tireless on the circuit ever since missing the fall festival launch of the movie due to filming Blade Runner in Hungary. He showed up Tuesday night for an SRO SAG screening and Q&A for the movie at ArcLight Hollywood, which I moderated. Before bringing him out, I asked the crowd — packed with actors, of course — how many were seeing the movie for at least the second time. Three-quarters of the audience’s hands went up. That’s something Gosling says has surprised him as he goes around with the film. Not me. One top producer with a competing Best Picture prospect told me last week that he has seen La La five times already. Gosling told me he ran into Dustin Hoffman at a recent screening and Hoffman told him he had already seen it three times.
It reminds me of The Artist at a similar point in its 2011 Oscar run. I talked to numerous Academy members who had turned up repeatedly to screenings of that black-and-white silent Best Picture winner. For Gosling, it is a new phenomenon. “For some of my films people actually try to un-see it the first time, ” he laughed. Gosling told me he was amused by Jimmy Fallon’s Golden Globes opening-number takeoff on the film but knew about it beforehand since it was choreographed by Mandy Moore, who also did the movie. He even laughed at former Mickey Mouse Club co-star Justin Timberlake’s dance in the stars with Fallon emulating the Gosling-Stone musical number in the Griffith Park Observatory.
To prep for the movie, Gosling and Chazelle reached into Hollywood movie musical history and visited Patricia Kelly’s Gene Kelly Archive at her home, where he even saw Kelly’s personally notated script for Singin’ in the Rain. “During the Singin’ in the Rain number, he had written ‘hand off umbrella to passerby’ in the margins,” Gosling told me. It is interesting to note that the movie, now considered perhaps the greatest ever, received only two Oscar nominations for 1952: Supporting Actress for Jean Hagen and Scoring of a Musical Picture, losing the latter to With a Song in My Heart. The Best Picture winner that year was The Greatest Show on Earth. In a week where Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced it is closing up shop after 146 years, the musical spirit of that Oscar loser lives on in a film that could rewrite Oscar history for any musical.
JEFFREY KATZENBERG’S LAST STAND AT DREAMWORKS
Although Trolls represents the last full Jeffrey Katzenberg push for an Animated Feature Oscar nomination — and it is a long shot for that category but a real possibility for Timberlake’s chart-topping song “Can’t Stop the Feeling” — he apparently was feeling nostalgic about everything DreamWorks Animation accomplished during his tenure which just ended in 2016. So he stopped by the DreamWorks campus yesterday to deliver a real collectors item to every employee. It was a very elaborate book with the DreamWorks logo on the cover, and a hand-signed thank you card.
The book, when taken out of the case, is actually a collection of every single one of their movies on Blu-ray. Behind each piece of film artwork is the DVD that pulls out of a sleeve, and it goes from everything from Antz to the aforementioned Trolls. Each disc has its own artwork on it as well. The emergence of the Academy’s Best Animated Feature category came in 2001, and the very first winner was DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek. Unfortunately it was a short-lived dominance. The only other win for the company came in 2005 for Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, a movie DWA distributed.
BEST ACTOR CONTENDER ALREADY FOR NEXT YEAR?
It’s rare to have a major Oscar contender turn up in a January release, much less a horror film (although Anthony Hopkins did it in the genre with 1991 February release The Silence of the Lambs), but count James McAvoy — as a man living with 24 personalities in M. Night Shyamalan’s new thriller Split — as a real possibility for next year’s Academy Awards. The actor is mesmerizing in this movie, a big comeback for Shyamalan that is sort of a cross between Room and Sybil. Sally Field won an Emmy for the latter playing a woman with multiple personalities. In 1957 Joanne Woodward took a Best Actress Oscar doing the same thing in The Three Faces of Eve. It’s an irresistible kind of role, very showy, and when an actor latches on to something like this, it usually screams Oscar. Universal just needs to figure out a way to keep it alive for a solid year and hope memories don’t fade.