A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
UPDATED WITH FURTHER CLARIFICATION: Oscar ballots are due today at 5 PM PT, capping one of the most intense pre-nominations weeks in memory. Voting for the nine semi-finalists for Best Foreign Language Film though is still continuing, in fact, with special screenings in New York, San Francisco and London for voters only in those cities. L.A. members have been involved in the process since the beginning and are also in the mix but only with a privately selected panel -similar to past years – in that city alone; and international members (which includes many of the newest AMPAS inductees) are the only ones allowed to stream the remaining contenders but their ballots must have been submitted by 5pm Friday. Previously, specially chosen panels of heavy hitters in L.A. , NY and London were hand-selected to judge these films to determine the final nominees, but new rules have also opened it up to any member in NY, the Bay Area and London who opted in and can prove that they have seen all nine, as well as the international streamers who opted in. Complicated? You bet. Convoluted? Definitely. Count on the Academy to further refine the process as their Beta experiments with streaming get more sophisticated.
The weekend in the selected cities listed above started this morning with Lebanon’s The Insult and will end late Sunday afternoon with Sweden’s The Square, which really will bring Oscar nomination balloting to a complete close. That will put the results for all 24 categories in the hands of (god help us) PriceWaterhouse, the Academy’s longtime accounting firm, which managed to hang on to their business even after last year’s massive Best Picture envelope screwup. The Academy, proving it still has a sense of humor, put out its official Oscar poster this week featuring several shots of host Jimmy Kimmel and the tagline: “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” Funny.
LAST-MINUTE CAMPAIGNS IN HIGH GEAR
Meanwhile, last-minute campaigning has been going at high speed even for long-shot contenders like Scott Cooper’s late-breaking Western, Hostiles, and Sofia Coppola’s longer shot, The Beguiled. Jerry and Linda Bruckheimer, who have been hosting several screenings at their Beverly Hills home this season, opened their doors for a screening and dinner for both films this week. Cooper and star Christian Bale turned up at the Bruckheimers’ home, as well as at a packed Soho House screening and lunch reception on a rainy Tuesday morning that also included a Q&A I moderated. That drew several Academy members including John Landis, a visibly moved Tyrese Gibson and actress Frances Fisher, who clearly was impressed with what she saw.
But is it too late? Some voters said they couldn’t recall getting the DVD screener for Hostiles, but this really is a film designed for the big screen anyway. It doesn’t open wide until next weekend, a date originally pegged to cash in on possible Oscar nominations but might be hampered by its lower profile on the awards circuit despite the best efforts of its consultants and newbie distributor Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios, which picked up the film after its Telluride and Toronto premieres. But even with the end of balloting looming, and no mentions from other awards-giving groups, there was still hope enough members might see it, like it and vote for it. If so, it will be one big, but welcome, surprise when nominations are revealed on January 23.
Most voters I talked to had already cast their ballots by midweek, rather than waiting until the last minute to send them in today. Last Friday night I was watching the classic Cinema Paradiso at a private home with a very well-known Oscar-winning actress who told me she had spent two hours that day filling out the ballot she had just received (voting opened then), disproving my theory that most voters wait. In case you’re curious, she voted heavily for The Shape of Water. Another Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated actress I spoke with yesterday had cast her ballot on Wednesday, with her top choices in the acting categories being recent Golden Globe winners Frances McDormand, Gary Oldman, Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell. She was confused by the preferential Best Picture instructions but put Call Me by Your Name high up there without knowing why it mattered how your number your choices.
One voter I caught up with at Focus Features’ Tuesday night reception for Darkest Hour after a London Hotel screening told me he had voted as well but found some fault even with his most-liked films. “The ones I voted for were what I call 80/20 movies, 80% being great and 20% not so great. There was only one 90/10 movie for me and that was Call Me by Your Name,” the veteran executive said. At a TV Academy theater Q&A the same night, Darkest Hour star Gary Oldman was musing about how hard it is to make a really good film when he started talking about one of his competitor’s decision to stop acting. “I can really understand why Mr. [Daniel] Day-Lewis is quitting,” he said, though Oldman assured the crowd he was going to stick around.
Focus also had a big soiree Wednesday evening for what Day-Lewis says is going to be his swan song as an actor, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. If you ask me, it’s a lead-pipe cinch to bring home the Best Costume Design Oscar for past winner Mark Bridges’ (The Artist) stunning 1950s period clothes, which were on display in a nicely choreographed fashion show in the Chateau Marmont courtyard. It was an elegant affair that also drew several Academy voters including Liev Schreiber, who was staying at the hotel and wandered in by mistake. “This is a really nice event we stumbled into,” he mentioned to a couple of producer friends he was just planning on having a drink with. Day-Lewis wasn’t there, but Anderson and his star Vicky Krieps were. She told me that fitting into some of those elaborate dresses wasn’t easy, both for her and the character of a waitress with whom Day-Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock becomes infatuated. Anderson and I talked about the stunning 70MM film prints he got Focus to agree to that are playing at the Arclight and Landmark Theatres. Focus even sent over its own projectionist to make sure the presentation was perfect, and believe me it is and definitely worth catching the film a second time.
CRITICS MAKE THEIR CHOICES
One of the week’s highlights for me was last night’s lively Critics’ Choice Awards, put on by the Broadcast Film Critics Association (I am a member) where I got to sit front and center with Fox Searchlight’s The Shape of Water group which turned out to be the big winner of the night taking Best Picture and Best Director for Guillermo del Toro’s romantic fantasy that had led with a whopping 14 nominations, winning 4 overall. Octavia Spencer, Sally Hawkins, and Richard Jenkins were all there along with their director who was still celebrating his first-ever DGA nomination that day. In fact we all raised our glasses to Guillermo to toast the DGA nod, not once but then again just to have something to cheer after Shape lost two early awards in the night to Get Out. Not to worry though because in the end they triumphed and there was no one more deserving than del Toro who had a great week since also winning the Golden Globe for directing on Sunday.
The CCA results further muddy the waters, so to speak, for pundits trying to predict just which way this Oscar race is heading after Searchlight’s other pony, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, took Best Picture Drama over Shape at the Globes. The CCAs do have a great track record of matching eventual Oscar winners, though so it looks like this race could be going down to the wire with no definite front-runner in sight yet. I am looking ahead to the Producers Guild Awards on the 20th to crack it open, as it often has done in recent years. Despite the grueling pace of the awards season, the turnout was great at Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hangar last night for the awards, whose live broadcast on the CW clocked ratings 300% ahead of last year’s show on A&E.
Another DGA nominee I got to congratulate was Dunkirk’s Christopher Nolan, who was sitting at an adjacent table. As I pointed out in yesterday’s piece on the DGA noms, this is his fourth Directors Guild nomination, but he’s never been up for Best Director at the Oscars. That has got to change. Still he’s an old hand at the DGA Awards and loves going because, win or lose, you get to make a speech. “I really like being nominated at the DGA because each one of us gets to get up there and thank everyone who worked on our films,” he said. “It is a great way to do a show like that. Everyone’s a winner in some way.” At the Warner Bros table, I caught up with Sue Kroll, who it was just announced is transitioning from her top marketing post to being a producer on the lot starting with Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, which the studio moved from May to October, better positioning it for an awards run. Kroll seemed really happy to take on a producing role and told me she already has a few projects lined up. She also confirmed that co-star Lady Gaga will be billed that way on the movie and not as her real name Stefani Germanotta as some publications had wrongly reported early on.
AMY PASCAL COMPETES AGAINST HERSELF
Speaking of former top studio executives becoming producers, I jumped on the phone this morning with ex-Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal. She called in from Berlin, where she is prepping her latest film, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which goes before the cameras on the 22nd and which she is producing with Scott Rudin and Elizabeth Cantillon for director Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe). Claire Foy is stepping into the Lisbeth Salander role in the sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As for Pascal’s two current productions, The Post and Molly’s Game, they are competing not only for adult-audience dollars at the box office but also at the PGA awards, where she is the only producer to be running against herself by landing two top picture noms (she produced Post with Kristie Macosko Krieger and Steven Spielberg, and Molly’s Game with Mark Gordon and Matt Jackson). In addition to that feat, she also is producing the PGA show itself with Donald De Line.
She’s got a lot on her plate, which also includes follow-ups to the Spider-Man franchise she successfully helped reboot with last summer’s hit, Spider-Man: Homecoming. Pascal said she thought becoming a producer would be “less busy” than her corporate job, but she’s happily been proved wrong. She admits the Sony hack that eventually led to her exit from the top job was “not her best period,” but she loves being a producer. I asked about rumors in other trades that she was on a shor list to take over the top Amazon job, but she just laughed. “That has nothing to do with reality. I am really happy doing what I am doing. I only just got started,” she said. “I love it so much being a producer. It is so thrilling, and I am so lucky at this point in my life to have had a whole career and now to have a second one. I don’t think everybody gets to do that.” She’s extremely happy with Aaron Sorkin’s First Time Director DGA nomination for Molly’s Game. She notes it is not always such an easy transition for a writer, but she thinks he knocked it out of the park. Her experience with Sorkin goes back to the Sony days on films The Social Network and Moneyball. “This was just the culmination of all that. I am so glad this was the movie he decided to do,” she said, adding that she’s very pleased with the box office results so far for the film, as well as expectations for The Post going wide today.
“Molly’s did really well and it looks great for The Post. Exit polls have been insane and now we just have to hope adults will go to the movies. But the truth is the baby boomer audience, the over-50 audience, those people go to the movies. They grew up going to the movies and they still go to the movies,” she said emphatically. “The audience is there. You just have to make movies they want to see, like in every other instance.” The Post picked up Best Picture, Actor for Tom Hanks and Actress for Meryl Streep from the National Board of Review right out of the gate, and it has that PGA nomination, but otherwise the film shockingly has been snubbed by SAG, WGA, DGA and BAFTA — all must-have key indicators of eventual Oscar success. It had several nominations at the Globes and Critics’ Choice but went home empty-handed at both.
Asked about the snubs for an acclaimed film that was expected to be an Oscar season juggernaut, Pascal would only take the high road. “The movie is doing fantastically well, and we are excited for this weekend,” she said. “We are thrilled about the PGA, and whatever happens, happens. The reward was making the movie. It is such a good movie. I am so proud of it.” She should be. It is a remarkable achievement since she only got Liz Hannah’s draft of the script in October 2016 and turned around a movie she and Spielberg felt urgently was needed at this time in just 14 months from soup to nuts. “I think a lot of the movies that were made in the days of old were made that way, a lot of the movies that we love,” she said. “You just decide you are doing it and you do it.”
In addition to all her other projects, Pascal is going to produce a new version of Little Women, with Lady Bird’s Greta Gerwig directing in the fall. Pascal loves Lady Bird. “I think she made a wonderful film. She always had it in her. It is what she always wanted to do,” she said, adding that Gerwig wrote the Little Women adaptation a couple of years ago and now is doing a rewrite. Meanwhile for Amy Pascal, producer, it is full steam ahead.