Pete Hammond’s Notes On The Season: Paul Dano Sings, Netflix Joins Oscar Race & Aaron Sorkin On Writing A Pixar Movie

A new weekly column talking up the season with bits and pieces from the awards circuit.

Is it me, but doesn’t this season already seem to be in overdrive even though it is only mid-October?

Academy members are getting inundated with invites to lunches, dinners, musical events, Q&As — you name it. On Monday alone, Roadside Attractions’ June release Love & Mercy had two special screenings attached to two special events. First there was a lunch at Craig’s for the film’s stars Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks along with director Bill Pohlad. It drew several Oscar voters including past nominees Sally Kirkland (who told me she knew Beach Boys Carl and Dennis Wilson) and Brenda Vaccaro among many others. They had just seen the film that morning before getting to chat it up with the Brian Wilson biopic’s awards hopefuls (even though it came out at the beginning of summer, it was just getting into the consciousness of many members I talked to).

But that was just the beginning. Some of this same group along with a completely packed Vibrato nightclub full of other Academy types were treated that same evening to a sensational 35-minute mini-concert from Wilson and his band that had those voters rockin’. Wilson ran through most of his Beach Boys hits and lots more. And at one point even Dano himself (who plays the younger version of Wilson in the film, while John Cusack plays the older one) got up and beautifully sang “You Still Believe In Me” like he was an original member of that band (see the video above). He’s going to perform with Wilson again in Washington D.C. for a mental health benefit. Clearly Dano’s turn as Wilson had authenticity on many levels in Love & Mercy: Not many actors would — or could — get up and do that.

On their way out, everyone got copies of the film’s DVD, soundtrack, and Wilson’s landmark Pet Sounds CD. Incidentally though the Academy’s strict campaign rules don’t prohibit this kind of event for their members during the pre-nominations period, studios must show the film itself in the same venue. The fact that Vibrato has no screening room and is in a mall at the top of Beverly Glen didn’t stop Roadside which simply brought in monitors and ran the movie in the upstairs area of the club before the main show got rolling.

Brian WilsonThe highlight for me was when a Wilson associate took me backstage to meet the man himself after the set was over. He was just sitting by himself. I pulled out my tape recorder to begin what would be the shortest interview I have ever done, clocking in at 31 seconds. Here is the entire transcript:

ME: That was the most fantastic concert. You’re proud of this movie aren’t you? BRIAN WILSON: Oh yeah, it’s doing very well. ME: Isn’t great to have a movie like this made? BRIAN WILSON: Oh yeah. Hey, nice talking to you. ME: Huh? BRIAN WILSON: Nice talking to you. I’m writing a song in my head right now.

So that was my total encounter. The fact that one of the great musical geniuses of all time cut off my interview to write a song in his head would have been worth the price of admission had there been one. I told this story to Banks, who plays Melinda Wilson, Brian’s wife. “Do you now feel the love we all have for Brian?,” she asked. Banks had high praise for Melinda, one of only three real-life people sheLove & Mercy has ever played (Laura Bush was the only other living person). “Meeting her was literally it. I didn’t know what I was doing until I met her. It was everything. She helped me so much.”

I also asked Pohlad about the Oscar strategy where Dano is being pitched for Supporting Actor and Cusack for Lead even though they pretty much equally share the role. “That’s up to people who know more about this kind of thing than I do. I guess they just don’t want a situation where they are competing directly with each other,” he told me.

55ba448d9e9755183d97d1f7_beasts-of-no-nation-idris-elbaBanks turned up again Tuesday night as one of the “hosts” for the Netflix Los Angeles premiere of the streaming service’s first big theatrical film, Beasts Of No Nation, which screened at the DGA followed by a party at Chateau Marmont, which I am told had 200 RSVPs from Academy members alone. I believe it. Looking around the packed party I saw swarms of them, many of the same faces at the Love & Mercy events. Reaction to the film, which opens (thru Bleecker Street) Friday day-and-date with its Netflix debut in 27 markets ( Landmark Theatres will exhibit it in most cities– generally big chains won’t touch this kind of distribution pattern yet) was very good, even if some told me they had to turn away at times from the film’s violence. “I was very impressed by it. I could never had made a movie like it,” one Oscar-winning filmmaker told me.

Ben Affleck, Abraham Attah, Cary Fukunaga, John Legend and Ted Sarandos pose together as Netflix presents a private screening and Q&A of "Beasts of No Nation" at Directors Guild of America on October 13, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Benjamin Shmikler/ABImages)Young star Abraham Attah was the center of attention at the after-party along with director Cary Fukunaga (co-star Idris Elba couldn’t make it). I am told Ben Affleck killed in his introduction to the movie. Netflix honcho Ted Sarandos was thrilled with the reaction.”It got a standing ovation,” he told me as Attah and Fukunaga were introduced for the post-screening Q&A. Sarandos himself is now an Academy voter, and Netflix, which has stormed the Emmys, has also been no stranger to the Oscars in recent years with a couple of documentary feature nominations under its belt. But this is the biggest bet for them so far, and it could transform the way some movies land in the hunt for Academy Awards if it gets some noms in January.

Of course, the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is dedicated to the big-screen experience, so it will be interesting to see how members embrace the brave new world of seeing major contenders getting an equal kind of splashy debut on a smaller screen. Sarandos said he is looking forward to their upcoming slate which netflix-logoincludes Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend going down the same day-and-date theatrical path in February. Beasts also comes from Participant Media, and getting congrats everywhere he went at the party was new Participant CEO David Linde who was very excited about Tuesday’s earlier announcement he was joining the company. He told me he had been assured by Jeff Skoll that they are dedicated to maintaining a strong presence in both movies and television.

I had already seen the film and came straight to the party from my KCET Cinema Series screening of Room which also had its Los Angeles premiere Tuesday night after successfully launching at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals (winning the coveted People’s Choice prize at the latter). A24, which releases the film on Friday in LA and NY, sent stars Brie Larson and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay, along with director Lenny Abrahamson, screenwriter-author Emma Donaghue and producer Ed Guiney to the Aero in Santa Monica for my Q&A before heading back to Pacific Design Center for their own party. Tremblay stole the show as you might expect. Between Beasts’ Attah and Tremblay, it appears a new generation is about to take over Hollywood this week.

Larson (along with the film) is getting lots of Oscar buzz and it is exciting for her. She has to leave awards-season duties behind for awhile in early November when she starts her role in Kong: Skull Island, but rest assured, once voters see this performance — and Tremblay’s — these stars will be in the heat of the race. The KCET audience voted for their favorite film of the series of nine major titles and Room topped the list with more votes than the eight other movies combined.

Over the weekend another major contender, Steve Jobs, got a huge send-off with record-breaking grosses for a limited debut along with turnaway crowds for both the official Academy, DGA and WGA screenings. At the WGA theater alone, 100 writers had to be turned away from the film and a post-Q&A with writer/God Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the acclaimed film as sort of an anti-biopic. As I introduced him he got a spontaneous standing ovation.

Sorkin was clearly happy considering this project was originally put in turnaround by Sony and then rescued steve-jobs-aaron-sorkin-imagesalmost immediately by Universal who continues their hall of fame year. “It’s fantastic. The response has been wonderful. The box office was not even something we were looking at. This is not a movie you sign up for thinking about box office. But I think it was only second all-time to American Sniper, so those are two very different movies and it’s nice to see the audience has range,” he laughed.

I was intrigued by the fact that Jobs himself once tried to convince Sorkin to come up to Pixar and write one of their animated films. “I love Pixar. I really do. I think he wanted me to come up with an idea for a Pixar movie and it’s funny, but honestly, I have a very limited imagination. I told him I just don’t think I could make an inanimate object talk. And he said, ‘Well once you make it talk it won’t be inanimate anymore’,” Sorkin said to much laughter while pointing out Jobs had a deep understanding of what made these Pixar characters work so well. In fact, Pixar, though covered in Walter Isaacson’s exhaustive biography of Jobs, isn’t mentioned in Sorkin’s script, so at least he is consistent. “I just don’t think I could have done it,” Sorkin, who seems to be able to do anything he wants, told the crowd.

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