A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Timing is everything. No sooner do the latest shocking sexual harassment allegations hit, this time about comedian Louis C.K., than I open my mail on Thursday about an hour later to discover distribution company The Orchard has sent the For Your Consideration screener of his new movie I Love You, Daddy. That film, which is in black and white and sort of an homage to Woody Allen’s Manhattan mixed with Lolita, deals in part with an older man’s infatuation with a teenage girl and was scheduled to open next week, but you now can be assured that the only showings of the movie for the foreseeable future will be in the living rooms of voters for the Critics’ Choice Awards (of which I am a member) and other critics groups that just received the newly collectible screeners. The Academy has also gotten the screener I am told but don’t expect anymore out there as The Orchard has officially dropped the movie. It is unlikely to be picked up by anyone else, and you can bet The Orchard wished it had waited before letting this one out in a mailing that also included nine of its other hoped-for contenders.
Again, timing is everything. and coming on a day where the comic was accused by five women of rather unspeakable and unwanted exposure, the film he has made takes on new overtones that are pretty creepy. The movie features now-20-year old Chloe Grace Moretz as the alluring teenage daughter of Louis C.K.’s over-protective character who is seduced by a 60ish director with a thing for young girls (played with undeniable lust by John Malkovich). C.K.’s character also has his flirtation with a 17-year-old classmate of Moretz’s before it all wraps up. One character played by Charlie Day even pretends to masturbate in front of others, something that is included among those NYT allegations against C.K. In retrospect, this just seems like another movie that eerily has art reflecting life these days. The film received mixed notices (currently standing at 58% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) at September’s Toronto International Film Festival and sold to The Orchard for a hefty reported $5 million. The company, high on its award prospects, quickly ramped things up to a mid-November opening, a very quick turnaround for a TIFF acquisition, but it was high on getting the film out there this season. The distributor clearly was caught off guard by The New York Times‘ revelations yesterday about C.K., and just hours before the bombshell story broke, it abruptly canceled the film’s scheduled Thursday night premiere, as well as all interviews set up for the star.
Critics’ quotes included on the screener packaging include Manohla Dargis of The New York Times saying: “Bountiful and oh-so-topical. A brutally and often uncomfortably funny comedy.” Variety called it “laugh-out-loud funny. It’s like Louie meets Manhattan.” And New York magazine’s Vulture said it’s “honestly worth laughing about.” Who’s laughing now? As companies with high-profile associations with Louis C.K. including HBO, Netflix and FX distance — or completely disassociate themselves — from him, The Orchard had little choice for a movie that suddenly had become too hot a potato to be promoting for Oscars.
The ramifications of the sexual harassment scandals triggered by Harvey Weinstein’s downfall are having a far-reaching impact on this nascent awards season with films like Wind River (formerly distributed by The Weinstein Company), and Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World already deeply affected, and even Dustin Hoffman‘s chances for Netflix’s The Meyerowitz Stories, for which he has been heavily on the circuit of late, clouded by a couple of decades-old allegations against him. As Deadline exclusively reported, Scott announced this week he is cutting Kevin Spacey out of his film and replacing him with Christopher Plummer in scenes to be shot in the next couple of weeks and inserted into the movie quickly in order to keep its December 22 release date. Oddly, if this all works out, Scott could see Oscar prospects actually increase for his Sony movie just because of the circumstances of getting the film into theaters in light of overwhelming, and unforeseen, odds.
AFI Fest Embraces Netflix; Santa Barbara Lifts Dafoe
All the Money in the World was scheduled to close the AFI Film Festival on November 16, but was abruptly pulled when the Spacey sex scandal broke, leaving the fest at
this point with no announced replacement. But it got underway Thursday night with its opening film, the terrific and powerful Mudbound from director Dee Rees. There can be no question that gaining this prestigious opening-night slot from the last of the key fall festivals that launch serious awards contenders was a real coup for Netflix. Let’s face it: If the American Film Institute can embrace the streamer in this way, especially considering that it won’t budge from its policy of day-and-date minimal theatrical and widespread Netflix TV releases, then that’s a real statement where the business is headed, particularly the awards business. Although Netflix has cracked the Emmy code (nearly 100 nominations across the board this year alone — and climbing) the streamer has yet to gain Oscar traction outside of documentary categories. Its first big test, 2015’s Beasts of No Nation flatlined with the streaming-resistant Academy. This year with Mudbound getting a huge push on the fall fest circuit, as well as The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), and maybe even Okja, which it just put back in limited play in theaters, there is a real litmus test with Academy voters. Netflix has hired the most seasoned of Oscar campaigners to push the envelope in its direction. If it works, the sky is the limit for the service, which claims it will release over 80 movies next year.
Meanwhile, in other fest news, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival announced that its first honoree this year will be veteran Willem Dafoe, who will receive the fest’s Cinema Vanguard honor on February 1 in a tribute at the Arlington Theatre. SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling has an uncanny knack for locking in, very early, eventual Oscar nominees and winners for this kind of appearance at the fest, which runs during a prime period for maximum Oscar-voting recognition, this year opening on January 31 and closing February 10. Dafoe, being recognized for his acclaimed work in The Florida Project, is a two-time Oscar nominee going for No. 3 with this unexpectedly warm and winning performance. By the way, The Florida Project comes from distributor A24, which has been on a hot streak of late as the reigning Best Picture champ with last season’s Moonlight following the previous year’s Best Picture nomination and Brie Larson Best Actress win for Room.
Not to take any chances, this week it announced a contest for another of their 2017 contenders, The Disaster Artist, in which A24 put itself into the awards-giving business. The distributor is asking the public to videotape their own performance of a favorite scene from the godawful inspiration for the James Franco comedy about the making of Tommy Wiseau’s woeful cult classic, The Room (not to be confused with the aforementioned Room). Grand prize is winning the Tommy statuette as well a hometown screening of Disaster Artist. The company calls it an award “for uninhibited artistic expression inspired by Tommy Wiseau.” This might spark a new trend about distributors. If you can’t wait to actually win an award for one of your contenders, why not hand them out yourselves and hope it rubs off on voters?
Steven Spielberg Heads for the Finish Line
I got to spend some time talking to Steven Spielberg on Monday afternoon at a reception following the screening of the remarkable new documentary Arthur Miller: Writer, which is an up-close-and-personal account of the great playwright as seen through the eyes of his filmmaker daughter Rebecca Miller, who spent many years conducting intimate interviews with her father. Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw hosted a screening at the Soho House for Rebecca and her movie. The film comes from the HBO Documentary Films unit and will air in March after the Oscar season ends. I am told it qualifies for this year’s Documentary Feature Academy Award competition and will open for a week’s qualifying run in December. Attention Must Be Paid! It is extraordinary work for anyone who cares about perhaps the greatest American playwright and the creative process to see. Spielberg said he and Capshaw not only are close to Rebecca Miller (and husband Daniel Day-Lewis, who as Lincoln became the first actor in a Spielberg-directed film to win an Oscar), but more importantly have grown “close to this film.” Arthur Miller: Writer was made on an extremely tight budget, and Spielberg told me his foundation came in to provide completion funds for Miller in order to get her ultimate vision and version of the film on the screen for all to see. It’s fascinating stuff and definitely among the best documentaries of this year.
As for his own films (he has two in postproduction concurrently), Spielberg says he has color-corrected The Post, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, and will do the final sound mix on Monday. After that, he said, it will be in the hands of the studio as it goes into limited release December 22 and wide on January 12 via 20th Century Fox. His other film, Warner Bros’ spring release Ready Player One, is a complex one to pull off, and he says he goes back to it just about every other day. “It is the hardest film I have done since Saving Private Ryan,” he said at the reception, and there is much anticipation from fans to see the final result. Spielberg seems to work well under pressure and has in the past worked on two movies simultaneously. His Best Picture Oscar-winning 1993 film Schindler’s List opened same year as Jurassic Park. Oscar-nominated Amistad and The Lost World both were done in 1997. His 2005 Best Picture nominee Munich followed directly on the heels of War of the Worlds. He makes it look easy. It isn’t.