A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Christmas weekend is starting and the town is emptying, but it’s still crunch time for Oscar campaigns, even though ballots aren’t going out to Academy members until January 5 — which is later this year than usual. Ballots in past years have been sent the week between Christmas and New Year’s (last year on December 27), but with the Oscar show coming a week later on March 4, there is a little more breathing room. That will enable voters to pack those screeners in their suitcase and watch over the break without the pressure of facing a balloting deadline in the middle of all the fun. Nominations will be announced January 23.
One tradition, now in its 26th year, is the Aspen Academy Screenings in the Colorado ski resort, which charges the public for its series of contenders but admits AMPAS, BAFTA and guild members free to see a series of hopefuls. This year I, Tonya opened the program at the Wheeler Opera House, which runs through December 30 and closes with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In between, The Post and other Oscar hopefuls will be aiming to grab the attention of Academy-member skiers after they get off the slopes. Hawaii is another AMPAS member destination place aware of the needs of the season. The recently renovated Four Seasons Hotel on Maui purposely saved a significant number of DVD players that were going to be tossed after the rooms’ redesign but were kept just for this time of year as a courtesy to those in need of a screener fix between mai tais. In terms of those screeners, most have already been sent to Academy members at this point but the late-breaking potential game-changer All the Money in the World is not expected to land in mailboxes until December 28. It is a miracle Sony is managing to get this film even in theaters on Christmas Day!
ALL THE MONEY FOR A LATE OSCAR RUSH
Indeed, the big news on the awards circuit this week has been the unveiling of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, the movie that was infamously dogged with sexual assault charges against one of its stars, Kevin Spacey, leading to his unprecedented replacement by Christopher Plummer after the film was completed. Even though Plummer only just shot his scenes less than a month ago when the film pulled off a Hail Mary and went back in production to save its Christmas release date, Scott got a rough cut together in time to show the Hollywood Foreign Press right at their Golden Globe nomination voting deadline on December 4 and received three nominations for Scott’s direction of the true story, Plummer’s supporting performance as J. Paul Getty and star Michelle Williams, who plays Getty’s daughter-in-law and mother of the 16-year-old J. Paul Getty III, who was kidnapped and held for ransom over the course of seven months in 1973.
The director and stars have been on the interview circuit making up for lost time, and I caught up with them at the world premiere on Monday night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theatre. There was a huge turnout of Oscar voters (one member told me the biggest percentage she has seen so far this season). The film was very well received and spirits were high at the post-screening reception in the lobby, where I talked to Plummer. He was besieged by admirers, not just for pulling this off with no time to prepare but simply for a sensational performance from a man who just turned 88 (!) this month. He told me that once he got past the unique circumstance of getting to England quickly and learning those lines, he found the whole experience to be a lot of fun. He said it was particularly helpful to be in the Getty mansion outside London, in terms of slipping into the role of this miserly man who refused to pay the ransom demanded for the return of his grandson. Getty really seemed like a bit of a Scrooge, obsessed with hanging on to every last dime of the billions he made in the oil business. Coincidentally, Plummer also is on screens this holiday season amusingly playing Scrooge in the delightful A Christmas Carol origin tale, The Man Who Invented Christmas. It seems like he warms up to playing these guys who can’t part with a dollar.
Plummer just smiled when I congratulated him on his instant Golden Globe nomination, certainly something he wasn’t expecting just a few weeks ago when he wasn’t even in this movie. Plummer won the Globe and the Oscar for 2010’s Beginners, and I recall him saying at the time that Oscar win could give him another good 10 years in movies. Turns out he wasn’t kidding. Although he and All the Money in the World are late to the game this awards season I wouldn’t bet against a possible Globe victory on January 7 despite tough competition. And since the Academy doesn’t even start its nomination voting until two days before that, it would seem likely he is heading for yet another Oscar nomination. The performance is memorable to say the least. Actor John Savage, an AMPAS member, was still shaking in the lobby Monday saying he had seen “the performance,” referring to Plummer. Another acting branch member said, “I thought Gary Oldman had it in the bag (for Darkest Hour), but now I think Plummer gives him a run for his money.” I pointed out that Oldman is in Best Actor while Plummer is supporting. She seemed relieved, but such is the impact of the role in the film.
Screenwriter David Scarpa was among those expressing his awe at the new version of All the Money in the World and he had not seen it completed until Monday’s premiere. He was telling Scott how happy he was that certain scenes Spacey had shot as Getty but were cut now are back thanks to Plummer. He explained that for whatever reason they played too flat and were excised, but they popped when Plummer shot them, so there is actually more of J. Paul Getty now than the Spacey version, at least as far as those scenes are concerned. There has been some Internet speculation that maybe one day Spacey’s version might appear as a Blu-ray extra, but one of the film’s producers told me in no uncertain terms that will never happen. That is the right decision. This is Christopher Plummer’s J. Paul Getty, and that is how it will remain (other than brief shots of Spacey on the now-jettisoned original trailer). Michelle Williams was at the premiere but didn’t last long into the actual movie, which she still hasn’t seen completed. “There is no way I am going to sit there with a thousand people watching my movie. What if they start to fidget in their seats or get up to leave, ” she told me at the afterparty, where she re-emerged far less nervous than having to see herself on that giant AMPAS screen.
Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman, who had to approve the unique gambit of putting the movie back in production, introduced Scott to a rollicking standing ovation before the film screened. “Just a few months ago, I didn’t expect to be standing here at the Academy in front of this particular film,” he said with no lack of irony. “It isn’t over until it’s over, but trust me it was over. It was blocked, mixed, dubbed and it’s over. Over. There are a lot of isms out there — racism, sexism and, yes, ageism. Experience is totally undervalued in this business. I don’t know more than four or five people who have the skill or will to do this, but probably only Ridley Scott would have the balls to try.”
GARY OLDMAN FINALLY MEETS CHURCHILL
And finally, from our “this is what you have to do- for an Oscar” file, the aforementioned Oldman was at a reception following Sunday’s screening of his brilliant turn as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour at the London Hotel in West Hollywood when the management mentioned the hotel’s bulldog mascots were named Winston and Churchill. In no time, fast-thinking Focus Features publicists arranged a photo op with Oldman, director Joe Wright and an accommodating Churchill — who seemed pleased to meet the man who plays his namesake. By the way, there is no rest on the circuit for Oldman, who turned up Wednesday night for an SRO Q&A at the Landmark and will be doing another New Year’s Eve Eve at Harmony Gold, as well as even more in New York City during the break as the race heats up just as we move into the new year.
Happy holidays to all the contenders.