A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

The tsunami of critics groups awards has hit in a big way, and they all seem to be circling around the same few indie-centric films so far, though the AFI and Critics’ Choice Awards broadened the scope this week by including the likes of Wonder Woman and Dunkirk, as well as other major studio releases that largely have been AWOL from the earlier contests that favor the little guys. As we move into the Golden Globes nominations Monday and SAG on Wednesday, the field of true contenders will narrow, but that won’t stop critics from trying to wield their influence. There are more of these groups ever, and it seems like every city other than Monrovia has one.

Deadline

The latest to spring up this week is the Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society (not to be confused with the often quirky Los Angeles Film Critics Association) — which, in order to bring attention to itself, came up with the novel idea of splitting the Best Director category between Best Female Director and Best Male Director. Although it might be heartening that there are enough female directors to constitute a separate category this year, I think it comes off as condescending and kind of insulting. In a year where female empowerment seems to be really taking hold in ways it hasn’t before, why separate the two as if to say the art and craft of direction is different based on what your gender happens to be?

LAOFCS touts itself as the “first ever critics group to feature two best director categories: one for female and one for male.” And what is the reasoning for that? “There has been so much conversation about the power of female filmmakers and we wanted to embrace it,” one of the group’s founders, Scott Mantz, said in its release, possibly indicating they wouldn’t be acknowledged any other way? They compare it to the idea that male actors and actresses are separated into their own categories, so why not directors? This seems to be really stretching logic, and I can’t imagine that the nominees in the initial LAOFCS lineup of Female Director — Dee Rees, Greta Gerwig, Kathryn Bigelow, Patty Jenkins and Sofia Coppola — will be too happy to be ghettoized like this. And I am not sure it has been entirely well thought out since when I asked my good friend Mantz what they might have done if the Battle of the Sexes husband-and-wife directing team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris had been nominated, he said fortunately they didn’t have to face that problem. But he seemed caught off-guard by the inquiry. Exactly which category would they have gone into? Hmmmm. Talk about a battle of the sexes

MORE PARTIES THAN EVER

Even though it seems every year the Academy tries to impose tighter restrictions on parties that their members can attend without having their vote “compromised,” it appears studios find a way to throw them. I have been to a series of receptions that are attached to screenings per the Academy rule that you can serve food and drink as long as members have the opportunity to see the movie either before or after the party. That really has become a popular option for campaigners who need to find a way to let their awards contenders mingle with potential voters.

Get Out had receptions/screenings at Chateau Marmont last weekend hosted by Universal’s Donna Langley, and at U’s Jeff Shell’s home. Both well attended and featured appearances from Jordan Peele, Jason Blum, producer Sean McKittrick, and cast members and even a musical performance at the Marmont. Molly’s Game did one at the London Hotel that included a reception and an Aaron Sorkin Q&A that I moderated, before Sorkin headed off to the WGA to talk to members there. I have to say it seemed to work. The buzz was palpable at the party for this Christmas Day release. After that I ran over to the Beverly Hilton, where Wind River was trying to turn things around after extricating itself from original distributor the Weinstein Company by hosting a reception that featured stars Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen and writer-director Taylor Sheridan. At that one I was belatedly congratulating Sheridan for his Director win from Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard in May. He said he already was back home by the time he got word that they wanted him to come back for the ceremony and mentioned that to this date he still never got the actual award. Quel scandale! I asked someone else in the know, and they said it was Harvey Weinstein — then the only Wind River representative still in Cannes — who picked up the award for Taylor.

In the official photo of all the winners holding their prizeson stage, Weinstein is there but appears to be the only one not actually sporting the award. So the mystery remains: Who has it, and how do they get it to Taylor, who is now on the circuit hoping for other prizes for his acclaimed movie directorial debut? By the way, Acacia Entertainment and  the Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Nation took out a double-truck ad in the Calendar section of today’s Los Angeles Times with a letter from the vice chairman of the tribe imploring voters to “consider a film whose story and whose characters are as real as the world it depicts.” It also mentioned the reason they have jumped to the rescue. “Unfortunately, shortly following the film’s release, a controversy enveloped its distributor … [so we] are reaching out to you — audiences and voters — directly.” They are now paying for the campaign to get this fine film recognition this season. So far it has been overlooked, but hopefully that is not because of the association it once had with The Weinstein Company. Wind River deserves better.

And speaking of parties, Paramount Chairman Jim Gianopulos continued his tradition of opening up his West L.A. home for a holiday party to which Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice members along with other press and industry types were invited to mingle with the studios contenders in both film and TV. Gianopulos regularly did this when he was at Fox and the ambiance is the same, even if the studio is different. Alexander Payne, director of Paramount’s big holiday offering Downsizing, was among those there. He just got back from Greece, where his wife gave birth to their first child. He told me, as a board member of the Film Foundation, how grateful he was to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for the generous amounts — now in the millions — they give for film preservation each year. He said an HFPA member offered him the chance to personally pick a movie he believes needs restoring and they will cut the check when the time comes around again.

CAN KEN BRANAGH JOIN THE OSCAR RECORD BOOKS?

20th Century Fox

Kenneth Branagh is back in town again tonight for a special screening and Q&A that Fox is doing for his Murder on the Orient Express, which Sir Kenneth directed and starred in as Hercule Poirot. He also happened to put on another hat for the film, that of lyricist for the end-credits song “Never Forget,” a haunting tune sung by none other than Michelle Pfeiffer, one of the movie’s stars. The film’s and song’s composer Patrick Doyle will be joining him  for the Q&A, and questions are sure to come up about the songwriting future of Branagh. When he recently taped an edition of my Deadline video series Behind the Lens, I asked Branagh about the song and how Pfeiffer came to do it. “I just remembered how great she was singing in The Fabulous Baker Boys and of course she did Hairspray, so I asked her to do it,” he said. At first she shied away from the idea but eventually agreed, though she said she would probably have to ring up a vocal coach. No need. It turns out to be a very poignant song that Branagh says is about loss, one of the themes of the film.

“Never Forget” might be significant for another reason, if Branagh and Doyle manage to get nominated for a Best Song Oscar for it. Branagh so far has been nominated for five Academy Awards, but remarkably each came in a different category. Best Actor and Director for Henry V (1989), Best Adapted Screenplay for Hamlet (1996), Best Live Action Short for Swan Song (1992) and Best Supporting Actor for My Week with Marilyn (2011). A Best Song nomination would tie Branagh with George Clooney and Walt Disney as the only individuals to have been nominated for Oscars in six different categories. Disney’s comes with an asterisk since as head of his own studio he collected Oscars in a number of short subject categories, some that no longer exist, for films he actually didn’t direct or make other than greenlighting. Clooney’s six — Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay — and Branagh’s five are for actual individual achievements.

WILL OSCAR TRADITION PREVAIL?

Rex/Shutterstock

Nearly every Oscar show has maintained the tradition of having last year’s winning actors return present to the new year’s winners, usually actor for actress, actress for actor, etc. That would mean show producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd would be offering Casey Affleck, last year’s Best Actor winner for Manchester by the Sea, the opportunity to present Best Actress. Of course, as was brought up during the campaign last year, Affleck settled a civil lawsuit from two women regarding alleged sexual harassment on a movie set. It didn’t affect his chances to win, obviously, but with the Academy having just issued a new code of conduct this week after previously expelling Harvey Weinstein, things are a bit sensitive. Plus, a petition started by Change.Org that gathered 19,545 signatures opposing an Affleck invitation to appear on this year’s Oscar show is sure to be brought up in media reports should the Academy go ahead with tradition in this case. Organizers of the petition already are claiming victory saying they have gotten the ear of the Academy’s CEO. I hear discussions have been taking place, even with past producers of the show, to get ideas on how not only this problem might be addressed without incident (i.e. ditch the tradition altogether), but also on a larger scale in how to deal with the subject of sexual harassment at all, particularly with host Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue. Is it too soon for jokes?

Hosting the Hollywood Film Awards recently, James Corden completely ignored the subject after being criticized for making fun of it at an earlier amFAR event. Interestingly, a YouTube video circulating around town with nearly 5,000 views so far uses Jennifer Aniston’s heartfelt Oscar show intro to the annual In Memoriam tribute, set to the song “Hallelujah,” for a dead-on parody of the segment called “Hollywood In Memoriam: Sexual Assault Edition” and features everyone from Harvey Weinstein to Donald Trump to Bill Cosby. I can’t imagine the Academy will find it funny, but it’s out there. One solution to the Affleck dilemma could be to return to the format on the 2009 show in which five major past winners come on to present in each of the four acting categories. I hear it is an idea that has been floated. With the Academy celebrating their 90th anniversary on this year’s show it would be easy to shake things up. To be continued.