A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Welcome to a special Monday edition of Notes on the Season.
Hey, Academy members, you have just moments left to make your mark on this year’s increasingly heated Oscar race. Ballots for nominations for the 91st annual Academy Awards are due today at 5 PM PT. No more time to procrastinate. Nominations will be revealed a week from tomorrow in the same lifeless format the Academy has been using the past two years (last year was Tiffany Haddish and Andy Serkis, remember that?).
At any rate, before we hear what Oscar has in store, we will have heard from myriad critics groups, the Golden Globes and next Saturday’s Producers Guild Awards, which will deliver the first all-important verdict from the industry on this year’s crop of films — and that means fortunes can change in an instant. Although Roma has sailed through the critics’ awards-giving season, most recently winning the big prize from the often Oscar-predictive Critics’ Choice Awards last night, it can’t be cemented as a firm front-runner until at least the PGA has their say. Should it win there, Netflix could be looking at not only its first Best Picture nominee, but also its first Best Picture winner.
There have been many instances in the recent past where the PGA has been a kingmaker in this race, and quite literally in 2010, when The Social Network had made a clean sweep in the lead up to guild awards, only to be washed away at PGA by The King’s Speech which took that momentum and ran all the way to Oscar glory. With movies like Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born, The Favourite, Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman all still standing after early precursor awards and guild nominations have been handed out, it still seems to me to be a wide-open race, at least until PGA speaks. Perhaps that is why campaign ads are still running on TV today aimed at last-minute voters, and perhaps why the race, as sadly usual this time of year, has become increasingly heated, with accusations about dirty tricks flying back and forth — and this time we all know it isn’t Harvey Weinstein. When you talk to the players behind the scenes, you could be forgiven if you think this really is like a presidential campaign, not a contest for movies.
ARE OSCAR DIRTY TRICKS BACK?
Of course the most visible target of all this has been Universal and Participant Media’s Green Book, which until none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gave it a ringing defense today has been under siege, especially since becoming a real threat after winning big at the Golden Globes a week ago. From a 20-year-old article about director Peter Farrelly’s past practical jokes to a Trump-stained tweet from one of its screenwriters, someone pushed the send button to make sure those topics, not the movie’s triumph at the Globes and National Board of Review, were what people would be talking about just as Academy members were filling out ballots. Add to that several earlier accusations against the movie and it is almost like the famous attacks on major contenders in the past, notably A Beautiful Mind, which still went on to win Best Picture even after having a story about dirty tricks being played on it landed on the front page of the New York Times.
Who, if anyone is behind it and attacks on other movies is an open question, leading to speculation by many in the game. The most amusing take I have seen appeared in the often snark-heavy Ankler industry newsletter, which put it all in the context of an old-fashioned whodunnit. “The timing of both these things popping up post-Globes suggests the hand of someone extremely sensitive to the rhythms of the Oscar race, not some random film nerd on Twitter,” it said. “And who could it be? There are more suspects than trying to piece together who killed Col. Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick. Was it the Oscar-hungry heiress? The upstart app trying to capture the entire game? The near-legend director dismissive of and said to be bad-mouthing the film widely? The until recently front-running studio seeing its prize slip away? The rough elbows consultant linked to smears of years past? Or is it just the collective will of Backlash Twitter rising up to manifest a takedown when the time was right?”
‘GREEN’ WITH ANGER
Another dust up re Green Book happened after a tweet on Annapurna head Megan Ellison’s Twitter account appeared Thursday morning. The tweet in question is a meme that shows a smiling girl walking down the street passing a young man holding hands with his girlfriend who does not appear happy as he turns his head to look at the other girl. Superimposed over the first girl are the words “Green Book,” over the guy is “White Boomer, Liberal Critics, And Awards Voters,” and over the unhappy girlfriend are a number of indie-centric movie titles — “If Beale Street Could Talk/Blindspotting/Widows/Sorry to Bother You/BlacKkKlansman.” Above it Ellison’s tweet reads, “My cousin @stevie_boothe sent me this therefore I bear no responsibility for seeming petty.” It had been reweeted 281 times before being pulled down Saturday afternoon.
Complaints from rivals and others whose movies were also mentioned in the tweet went to the Academy, I am told, with one of those offended telling me it was a “flagrant disregard of Academy rules.” Obviously the meme wasn’t originally generated by Annapurna or Ellison (and mentions other films not produced by Annapurna), but it seems to fall into the no-no’s in the Academy rule book that specifically target social media including posts on Facebook and Twitter, although there is nothing I found in the rules regarding retweeting an existing post.
In the Oscar campaign guidelines, Rule 11 states in part: “anyone directly associated with an eligible film attempting to cast a negative or derogatory light on a competing film or achievement will not be tolerated.” Ellison’s Annapurna has a strong slate of contenders this year including Vice, If Beale Street Could Talk, Destroyer and Sorry To Bother You. Green Book was named Best Picture – Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes over, among others, Vice, and also won Best Screenplay over a group of films that included Vice and If Beale Street Could Talk (conversely, Green Book’s Viggo Mortensen lost to Vice’s Christian Bale in the comedy actor race).
Although the Academy didn’t comment directly on the matter to Deadline, a spokesperson for Annapurna did. “The intention was meant to be a commentary on inclusion and was removed when it became apparent that the message could be misinterpreted. Beyond that, Annapurna does not comment on memes,” the spokesperson said.
As the past has shown, the Academy frowns on anyone associated with one contender bringing negative attention to another, snarky or otherwise. In 2004, DreamWorks got in hot water for taking out a trade ad suggesting its House of Sand and Fog co-star Shohreh Aghdashloo was more deserving than Renee Zellweger, who was a front runner for Cold Mountain in that year’s Supporting Actress race. DreamWorks head Jeffrey Katzenberg profusely apologized and no sanctions were imposed by the Academy. In 2010, I broke a story involving emails sent by The Hurt Locker producer Nicholas Chartier imploring voters to choose his film “over that $500,000,000 movie,” and a later one in which he again targeted Avatar, this time directly by name. The Academy banned him from the ceremony and only weeks later quietly let him pick up his Best Picture Oscar for Hurt Locker at the Academy offices.
The matter of the Ellison tweet appears to be settled, and I would highly doubt there is any action being taken in this case. But beware to any campaigners deciding to go directly against a competitor because Rule 11 also says, “In addition to reserving all available remedies, Academy members that violate this regulation will be subject to a one-year suspension of membership for first‐time violations, and expulsion for any subsequent violations.”
This season is already proving that whether old or new, some tweets ain’t sweet.
SOPHIA LOREN RETURNS WITH MARY POPPINS
On a more collegial note, the final days of balloting brought some fun events including one on Saturday that our AwardsLine Screening Series hosted at Disney called “The Mary Poppins Returns Experience.” I moderated a number of panels with the key creatives behind the film including director Rob Marshall and star Emily Blunt for a series of interviews in front of a packed crowd of guild members on Stage One at Disney. The place was turned into Cherry Tree Lane for the afternoon, and it was fun talking with everyone about their craft including the production designer, sound editor, cinematographer, VFX and animation wizards, and composer and co-lyricist Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman. Shaiman told me later he gave an Oscar-winning performance since he felt sick as a dog, but he could have fooled us because like any good trouper sang a full-throated version of “There’s Nowhere To Go But Up,” the catchy tune near the end of the film. The crowd loved it.
The night before at Montage, none other than the legend that is Sophia Loren made a rare appearance to host and support a reception on behalf of Mary Poppins Returns and its director Rob Marshall, who cast her in his screen musical version of Nine. On Saturday, Marshall was still talking about her, telling me what an honor it was since Loren never does this sort of thing. Both he and Loren spoke briefly to the crowd of Oscar voters, and I got to sit down with them (and her filmmaker son, Edourdo Ponti) at the gathering where she told me she genuinely loves this movie and was happy to do this event. I have been to a ton of these kinds of Oscar-season things, but I have never seen such a star-struck crowd, many of them coming over to take selfies or get a word in with the Italian icon.
One Academy member told me, “I have just been staring at her for about 30 minutes, and that is all I need,” he said. A producer mentioned he once had a remake planned of her 1961 classic Two Women (you know, the one for which she won the Best Actress Oscar?), but I suggested that maybe it would be best not to say that if he meets her. Some things you just don’t remake, and Loren is a true original. “I think we are looking at the last of the great movie stars still living,” said another Oscar voter in the room. Sounds about right.
LAST WORD ON CRITICS’ CHOICE
Deadline thoroughly covered last night’s Critics’ Choice Awards from the Broadcast Film Critics Association (I am a member). It was another fun night because this is one awards event where I seem to get a front-row seat every year. This was no different as I got to sit at one of the Focus Features tables with, among others, Nicole Kidman (nominated for Boy Erased) and Charlize Theron (nominated for Tully). Nice. The two Best Actress Oscar winners seated side by side were the object of selfies and paparazzi all evening. Neither won last night, but when Elsie Fisher took Best Young Actor/Actress for Eighth Grade, Theron wondered how old you have to be for that category. I told her, “You have to be 21 for under,” and she suggested that maybe she could win it next year. Kidman agreed that maybe both could try. I have no problems with that.
Theron told me she had just wrapped a new film with Seth Rogen in which she worked with full prosthetics and it was grueling, but she is very high on the movie. “We need a title for it. We don’t have one. Do you have any ideas?” she asked. She and Kidman are currently shooting Jay Roach’s untitled Roger Ailes project in which Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson and Theron is Megyn Kelly. They may be back at the Critics’ Choice Awards for that one next year, and already I am volunteering to sit at their table again.
As noted, the Critics’ Choice group went big for Roma giving it Best Picture and three other awards. For me, the highlight though was seeing the sheer joy (especially Ken Jeong) at the exuberant Crazy Rich Asians table next to ours, when they took Best Comedy. It was infectious. I also loved that there were the two ties during the evening — first between Amy Adams and Patricia Arquette as Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, then for Glenn Close and Lady Gaga for Best Actress in a film. Both elicited nice vibes. On top of last week’s Golden Globe, this further gives Close momentum for The Wife, really cranking up the heat for performance that might have been overlooked since it came out in the summer, and getting the opportunity to give another great acceptance speech.
Kidman and Theron applauded the idea that there were ties between the actresses. It was nice, for a moment at least, to see real camaraderie and the spirit that there are no real losers if you have gotten to this point, just winners.