A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Even though Oscar voting is in full swing, with ballots due back no later than Tuesday, no one seems to be throwing in the towel. Campaigning this week and over the upcoming weekend continues, even as many nominees have to figure out a way to be at the WGA Awards on Saturday and BAFTA gala Sunday in London. And then it’s back to L.A. for Oscar week as everything is crushed together to make this shortened season somehow work without giving already exhausted contenders a heart attack. In terms of the WGAs, fortunately there is a simultaneous NY ceremony to go with the LA event, and those who have to be at the BAFTAs — Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig, Bong Joon Ho, Sam Mendes, Todd Phillips, etc. — can be there and then immediately hop a plane across the pond. The WGA apparently plans to present the movie awards early in the show to accommodate travel schedules.
Although he was unable to turn up at Critics’ Choice, SAG, DGA and this week’s VES Awards where he was getting a life achievement award (all for personal reasons at home in NYC), Martin Scorsese has been doing Q&As and some interviews in the Big Apple (including Deadline) but won’t be traveling to jolly ol’ England for the BAFTAs, where his mob epic The Irishman is competing for 10 awards, again for family reasons. I am told reliably that he is going to try to get to the Oscars on February 9, but even that isn’t definite. He pre-taped acceptances for VES and DGA, but you can’t do that for Oscar.
Meanwhile, Antonio Banderas — basking in the glow of his first-ever Oscar nomination for Pain and Glory — is back in action after being sidelined due to a commitment to open his new theater in Spain and star in A Chorus Line. But as Oscar voters have their ballots, now he seems to be everywhere, including appearances on GMA, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Live with Kelly and Ryan and at numerous Q&As, including one following a screening of Pedro Almodovar’s International Film nominee tonight in the massive Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, and it is on its way to selling out. Other Best Picture nominees including Ford v Ferrari and Little Women are doing special screenings right up to the eve of the end of balloting. And although Parasite director Bong won’t be there, the campaigners for his multi-Oscar nominee have found a novel way to stay in the spotlight by staging the LA premiere of the black-and-white version of the film tonight at the Egyptian. Whew, it never ends — but yet it does in just nine days. Fasten your seat belts.
TARANTINO’S KODAK MOMENT
Tarantino was among the honorees at the 2020 Kodak Film Awards, in his case getting a Lifetime Achievement prize, along with life partners Baumbach and Gerwig receiving the Auteur Awards, and many others that were handed out Wednesday night at the ASC Clubhouse in Hollywood. QT is known as a fierce proponent of film, not just shooting with it but also showing it at his self-owned New Beverly Cinema, where he threw out the digital projector when he bought the theater and only projects movies on film. Christopher Nolan, another very vocal advocate of film presented the award to Tarantino, who praised the other awards winners there by pointing out how he has helped them just by example. Because he got Sony to strike several 35MM (and 70MM) prints of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Gerwig was able to cite that to Sony to get the same filmic treatment for Little Women. He also said the New Beverly has played film prints of numerous Baumbach movies including recently Marriage Story in a specially struck film print from Netflix. Baumbach showed up for two nights of Q&As with it.
He also applauded Tim League (getting Theatre of the Year for Alamo Drafthouse, just as New Beverly got last year) for inspiring him to start his own theater, which depends on a few collectors around the world, Tarantino’s own collection and the kindness of studio archive departments that still have maybe one film print to loan out on their titles. “If it is showing at the New Beverly, you know it is on film,” he said. Tarantino even went further in an explanation that absolutely mirrors the current ad line for Hollywood’s Oscar campaign that simply says, “Because You Love Movies.”
If you needed any proof that QT is the embodiment of that, and always has been, the rest of his speech confirmed it. “Because the thing about it is I need to like f*cked -up prints,” he said. “If you want everything to look like it was struck straight from the negative and everything is perfect, this isn’t it, all right? If I am showing my 35MM print of Junior Bonner that was struck in 1971, it is a little faded and has just lost a little bit of color, but I love that f*cking print. … If it could talk what could it tell me? How many theaters did it play in? How many audiences did it entertain? How many people have laughed at that movie? How many people have cried at that movie? From that one print, how many different theaters — from the El Paso Drive-in to the Tennessee in Knoxville — how many times did it play? I have shown the f*cking thing at least six times with six different audiences who have laughed and cried with that print. That means something. That’s something. That’s something.” Because we love movies indeed, QT.
BREAKING BAD WITH SAM MENDES
What I think is always great about awards season are the surprising connections you can discover between two people whose ships — or projects, as it were — passed in the night. I happened onto one of those stories at the cocktail reception before the DGA Awards on Saturday night. I was talking with Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, there as a nominee for his BB follow-up movie El Camino, and suddenly Sam Mendes walks by and stopped in his tracks when he saw Gilligan, who as it turns out told his publicist the one person he would love to see there was none other than Mendes, who won the DGA prize for 1917. So what gives? It turns out they have a director-crossed history. Mendes was such a huge fan of Breaking Bad that he actually cold-called Gilligan and offered his services to direct an episode. Gilligan was beyond thrilled, said, ‘Whatever you want’, and tried to set Mendes to direct the opener for Season 4. It was going to happen, and then fate intervened, much to the disappointment of everyone. “I was committed to doing Skyfall, but MGM was spending a year going through bankruptcy problems so the film was stalled. I had the opening to do Breaking Bad, but just before it was a ‘go,’ MGM called and said they worked everything out and the Bond film was on immediately,” he lamented. So there went Mendes’ big chance to direct Walter White, and he had to do Breaking Bond instead. At least that worked out, but it’s still a bittersweet memory of what could have been for the Breaking Bad canon.
Another fun thing about going to so many awards shows all in a row is that occasionally someone actually gives a genuinely funny or genuinely heartfelt or genuinely enlightening acceptance speech on the circuit. Often they all just run together, but every now and then a well-thought-out speech simply connects for whatever reason. In an unusual move, Warner Bros., instead of the usual critics quotes, has been filtering their ads for Joker with memorable words from the acceptance speech by star Joaquin Phoenix, when he won the Critics’ Choice Award a few weeks ago: “Scott Silver and Todd Phillips, you tricked us. You took a comic-book character and used it to talk about childhood trauma, gun violence, isolation and mental health, and instead of inciting violence, you invited the audience in to see what it feels like when you’re one of the forgotten.” That sums up the power and achievement of Joker better than anything could possibly do. I often think the endless barrage of ads thrown at voters right about this time when everything is on the line can come off as just so much white noise, but words that make you think like that acceptance speech by Phoenix are a world apart and actually add to the experience of seeing the film — something that can be valuable for those trying to figure out what to give their vote.
Humor works too, and Brad Pitt has mastered it this season with one great line after another such as his “I just might have to add this to my Tinder profile” upon winning the Best Supporting Actor SAG Award, or his message to co-star DiCaprio when he said, “I would’ve shared the raft” after winning the Golden Globe. I realized the importance of a really great and honest speech the other night when I attended the Costume Designer Guild Awards, where Lifetime Achievement winner Michael Kaplan gave a textbook speech of how to be grateful and funny and honest in bringing down the house. Often people in this business will allude to some bad encounters without naming names. Not Kaplan, who has worked on everything from Star Trek to Star Wars, from Flashdance to Fight Club. J.J. Abrams, for whom he most recently worked on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, came out to present his award, and Kaplan minced no words.
“Thank you for your uplifting positive nature from the very beginning,” he said. “When I was reluctant to take on our first project, it was your confidence in my work that convinced me. We’ve all worked with directors and actors who’ve not shared that positive strategy. They shall remain nameless,” he added before loudly whispering into the mike, “Michael Bay, Taylor Hackford, Russell Crowe.” The crowd went wild. And then later, after revealing a highly impressive list of past colleagues, he reminisced about moments his job as a costume designer has afforded him that perfectly summed up why people love this business and don’t want to retire.
“What other profession could offer these few perks? Sharing a passionate kiss at a Vancouver bar with tonight’s talented Spotlight recipient (Charlize Theron, who had mentioned making out with her costume designer earlier in the evening); Sharing a backyard barbecue with Elizabeth Taylor – and Larry Fortensky; sneaking into the royal box at London’s Aldwych Theatre with my adored Carrie Fisher; being regaled with Hitchcock stories by Eva Marie Saint; designing space suits, no real ones, for Elon Musk’s future astronauts; fitting Storm Troopers armor at Kensington Palace for a pair of brothers named William and Harry; sitting side by side on the dressing room floor with the Divine Miss M as we stitched last-minute relish on a hot dog costume; telling Tom Cruise his idea to wear a tuxedo perched atop the Burj Khalifa would make him look like Steve Wynn; telling Tom Cruise his idea to wear a black tank top with those elbow-length stunt gloves would make him look like Holly Golightly. Oh wait, that is why those Christmas coconut cakes stopped coming. … Career achievement award? I think I’m just hitting my stride.”
Let’s hope the Oscar acceptance speeches hit this level. If they do, the show will be worth it.
IS LUCKY 11 THE OSCAR ‘BREAKTHROUGH’ NUMBER FOR DIANE?
Diane Warren may be known as one of Oscar’s biggest also-rans, but this year she actually hit the record books. In gaining her 11th (!) Best Song nomination, for “I’m Standing with You” from the April release Breakthrough, she officially passed sound mixer Anna Behlmer for the dubious feat of having the longest streak of nominations without a win for any woman in Academy Awards history. She has a Golden Globe, she has an Emmy, she has a Grammy, and she has one of the most successful and enviable songwriting careers of anyone, but she doesn’t have an Oscar. She has, however, been nominated in five different decades. Still, hope springs eternal every year, even if some of the films she writes these nominated songs for are little-known and real long shots in the category that probably ought to be named after her someday.
“This is like the little engine that could. It was a small, faith-based movie, and we are up against these billion-and-a-half-dollar Disney movies, etcetera, etcetera,” she said of the odds against getting recognized. Ironically, Breakthrough was a 20th Century Fox film and became the first of their movies Disney released after buying 20th. Now she’s up against songs from the likes of behemoth Toy Story 4 and Frozen 2. She’s also up against the legendary Elton John, who wrote a tune with Bernie Taupin for Rocketman that already won the Golden Globe and could be hard to beat. Warren’s song also lost to the other Oscar nominee, Harriet’s “Stand Up,” at the SCL awards. That song was written in part by its star Cynthia Erivo, who would graduate to EGOT status if it takes the Oscar. Names of the songwriters never appear on the ballot, so hopefully for Warren the similarly titled “Stand Up” and “I’m Standing with You” don’t cancel each other out.
Despite so many nominations, beginning in 1988 with “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from Mannequin, Warren still gets nervous. “It’s a beautiful song and I’m proud of it, but you just never know. So I stayed up all night with some of my friends. It was a sleepless sleepover. I just wasn’t about to go to sleep. But it was so exciting just to be nominated. They are all exciting, but you just never know,” she said of the ritual of awaiting nomination morning earlier this month. Everyone told her she was going to win for the song she did with Lady Gaga in 2015, “Til It Happens to You” from a documentary called The Hunting Ground, and Gaga’s performance of the song at the Oscars backed by survivors of sexual assault was thrilling. Yet it lost in a shocker to a James Bond song, again the better-known movie against a small indie film.
“Yeah, I kind of believed the talk that I would win, and I wanted it,” Warren said. “After that I had an idea that they should do something on the Oscars where you get to vote again after the performance. It was just one of the most powerful things. Then there was a commercial break and it is like, ‘The winner is.’ And I just hope the camera wasn’t on me,” she said of the moment of losing yet again. She lost again last year for another documentary, RBG, for which she wrote the end credit song, “I’ll Fight.” Gaga actually beat her this time for “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, but Warren got something even better. “I didn’t win an Oscar for that, but I got a letter, a beautiful card from Ruth Bader Ginsburg saying how much she loved the song,” she said proudly.
This time, This Is Us and Breakthrough star Chrissy Metz will be singing Warren’s tune on the Oscars, just as she does in the movie. Metz says she can’t wait and she’s not nervous at all about it, at least not yet. “People ask me, ‘Aren’t you afraid to sing on that stage?’ but I say, ‘No, I’m good.’ I don’t worry about that because when things happen like this, they’re supposed to happen. We’re all human beings, even if everyone is telling me, ‘But Brad Pitt is going to be staring at you,'” she laughed. “It’s not about me, right? It’s not about my ego. It’s about what is in the message of the song. I’m the conduit. I need to be there on the stage to do the bigger work. It’s not about me.”
For Diane Warren it is about her and yet another night at the Oscars. She’s realistic but still thinks anything can happen. The movie itself is about believing and about miracles. “It’s cool. I’m not used to winning,” she said. “Let’s put it this way. If, by some miracle — and I do believe in miracles — if somehow something changes and I actually win this time, I’ll faint.”
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