A new weekly column talking up the season with bits and pieces from the awards circuit.
So what made Bryan Cranston so nervous during the Los Angeles premiere of his new film, Trumbo, on Tuesday night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theatre? Well, it was one particular piece of dialogue he has about the blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, who won two Oscars but couldn’t accept at the time due to the political climate in Hollywood (the films Roman Holiday and The Brave One were credited to other names). When it finally was acknowledged that he was the writer of one of those winning scripts, Cranston as Trumbo says in the film, “This worthless statue has the blood of my friends all over it.” Of course the Goldwyn Theatre screen is bookended by two huge Oscars, so the whole episode takes on a different kind of resonance when seen there. “I was wondering how that line was going to play here,” Cranston told me afterward at the packed party in the lobby. He didn’t have to worry. The film was a smash with this crowd, heavy with Oscar voters, and he was among the last to leave after being mobbed all night by well-wishers.
“This movie got the most applause I have heard for any film so far this year,” one member who has attended just about everything told me. Another recent Oscar-winning film editor said he was so moved by the film that he wants to bring his 15-year-old son to see it. There was lots of instant Oscar chatter not only for Cranston but also Helen Mirren’s vivid turn as the much-feared gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Reaction in Trumbo’s hometown was markedly different than at the film’s Toronto International Film Festival world premiere last month, which drew mixed critical response. I always suspected that the movie would play like gangbusters when it finally hit the industry. Trumbo acts as an emotional and cathartic experience considering the blacklist was such a shameful time in this town. The treatment of Trumbo and those other blacklisted filmmakers was not a shining moment for the studios or the Academy itself. Fortunately, decades later the Academy was able to rectify the situation and give credit, and the Oscars, to those who actually won them.
“The Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Dawn Hudson could not have been more cooperative in letting us use the Oscar statuettes and the ceremony itself for our movie. They were really great about it in every way,” said a grateful Jay Roach, who was accepting congratulations for his sharp direction, which skillfully weaves real footage from the time with flawless re-creations. Distributor Bleecker Street’s Andrew Karpen pointed out that the film was hugely entertaining as well as important, and there were lots of laughs from the audience, particularly for John Goodman’s hilarious portrayal of B-movie mogul Frank King. Many people were talking about how relevant it still is today in other ways, particularly with politically motivated congressional committees and the like. Although most of those blacklisted have died, some are still around including 98-year-old actress Marsha Hunt, who attended Tuesday’s screening at the Academy and got to congratulate Cranston, Mirren and Roach afterward — 68 years after she traveled to Washington with her Committee for the First Amendment to criticize the actions of the HUAC’s witch hunt. She barely worked for the next eight years because of it. Shameful. I am told she was devastated by the film but learned much she didn’t already know about Trumbo. Two other former blacklisted film figures — actress Lee Grant and screenwriter Walter Bernstein — are co-hosting an event next week in New York for the movie in advance of it November 6 opening.
Speaking of the Academy, former President Sid Ganis actually could find himself in the race this year with a 26-minute live-action short he produced that was written and directed by recent Chapman University graduate Shayna Cohen. Titled A Children’s Song, it deals with the story of 20,000 Jewish refugees who emigrated to Shanghai during WWII. It recently premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and Ganis said the reaction was amazing. It’s now qualified for the Oscars and hopes to be among those shortlisted in the category. Ganis’ co-producer Jane Wu is another former film student. “Many in Hollywood talk about the dearth of women directors and it’s true,” Ganis says. “But there are committed young talents coming out of our film schools all the time, and Shayna and Jane are examples of a timely, changing landscape.” Good luck to all.
STEVE JOBS BOX OFFICE BLUES AND SANDRA BULLOCK’S INDIE FROM WARNER BROS
Also Tuesday night, before I hit the Trumbo party, I ran smack into Universal’s Donna Langley in the lobby of the ArcLight Sherman Oaks, where I was showing Brooklyn to my KCET Screening Series. Langley and the U contingent were there to sneak My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. She’s obviously thrilled with the year Universal is having but clearly was disappointed at the meager $7.1 million box office Steve Jobs totaled in its wide break last weekend. Clearly that came as a surprise. I told her I didn’t think it necessarily would affect its Oscar chances, which remain strong for stars Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet as well as Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay. It opened so strongly in LA and NY, where most voters live, and played extremely well with the Academy. I like to point out recent Best Picture winners Birdman, 12 Years A Slave, The Artist and The Hurt Locker didn’t exactly burn up the box office but weren’t hurt in the end. One Universal source told me they are looking at Michael Clayton as the model. That movie topped out at about $40 million domestically but still went on to some major nominations including Best Picture and won for Supporting Actress Tilda Swinton. The Academy likes to go its own way on these things.
On November 13, Universal is throwing a holiday/awards party for Jobs and another big contender for the studio, Straight Outta Compton. This week they sent personalized tote bags for the latter film to key media including the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. I got two — one of them is emblazoned “Straight Outta Deadline” while the other has my home city on it. One Golden Globe voter told me hers said “Straight Outta Austria.” Did this cost a lot to do? They tell me they already had the bags, so it’s just a simple stenciling job. Too bad they can’t do the same thing for Academy members, but AMPAS rules prevent it. Still there’s no doubt U is going all Outta for Compton.
Superstar Sandra Bullock could be facing the same kind of uphill climb as Steve Jobs with her new political dramedy Our Brand Is Crisis, which Warner Bros releases on a wide break this Halloween weekend. It had its Hollywood premiere on Monday night. When I saw it a while ago, I found it terrifically entertaining and thought-provoking, but the tracking is predicting a very low opening for box office champ Bullock. Too much adult competition? The political theme? Who knows, but after speaking with Bullock recently at the Four Seasons, I got the impression this is one she will be proud of no matter what happens at the box office. After Gravity, Warners would likely let her do anything, but she chose what essentially is a very indie movie that somehow landed in the studio system. “You know, when you leave these things (press tours) you go and there’s an element of dirt you feel, like you’ve whored yourself,” she said with a laugh. “There is not a moment of whoring that’s happened so far.” Bullock emphasized that even with the political themes, this is still fun. “I know it’s tricky. I can understand why. It’s entertainment. We make films so people can escape. You don’t want to go to a movie and go: ‘Oh God, am I getting more real life? Real life is sucky and hard. I want escapism.’ You get wild entertainment in this. You get to watch someone’s life spiral out of control and crash, and I’m willing to be like that,” she says of her character, a burned-out political consultant named “Calamity Jane” Bodine. “If it’s entertaining for you, the messier I get, the happier I am. But it is still based on truth.” Plus, with the crazy campaign season now on (political in this case, not Oscar), these filmmakers look they have hit the zeitgeist. “They are like, ‘How did you know?’ And I was like, ‘We’re not that smart.’ But that’s to (producers) George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s credit. This is in their wheelhouse.” It is also very much in Bullock’s, who, I hope, whatever the film’s boxoffice fate, does not get forgotten this Oscar season. She’s that good in it.
ROOM FOR LUNCH
On the other end of that scale, scrappy indie company A24 is also going all out for its sleeper contender Room, but maybe not with the same kind of campaign budget. Today they threw a lunch for star Brie Larson at Spaghettini in Beverly Hills. Lots of Academy members attended and also saw the movie at a morning screening nearby that A24 arranged. That is a firm rule of the Academy’s. If you are going to get a free lunch, you also have to have an option to screen the film right before. Larson made her way from table to table, working the room like a total pro, and really seemed to be enjoying this particular aspect of the season. “Look at me — I am shaking hands, ” she laughed. “I feel like I am running for President.” I can tell you the Oscar voters at my table still seemed to be shaking in another way from the experience of seeing this intensely emotional movie and Larson’s sure-to-be-nominated performance. “Oh my God. Did you see it? I was stunned,” one well-known actress told me as I walked in. “This is the best I have seen so far this year.” She even took a selfie with Larson, who is leaving the trail soon to film Kong: Skull Island. Waiters were handing out glasses of wine to the guests as they came in from the movie. Most really seemed to need one. I did a very unscientific poll of the movies that are registering strongest so far with Academy types. Most mentioned were Bridge Of Spies, The Martian, a few Trumbos and now Room. The Big Short is getting buzz after that screening a couple of weeks ago. However, they seem to be just catching up. Critical favorite Spotlight has yet to make its move with this crowd. Stay tuned.
EDDIE REDMAYNE RELIVES OSCAR NIGHT
Larson seems to be a natural at this sort of thing, just as Eddie Redmayne was last season. He did so many of these meet and greets over the six-month awards season that he proved impossible to beat (of course, the brilliant performance helped too) even as Michael Keaton came on strong toward the end. Redmayne is in contention again this year with the November 27 release of The Danish Girl, but in contrast to his tireless work on the circuit last year, he barely will be touching down in Los Angeles as he is tied up working on J.K. Rowling’s new Warner Bros film, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. He will make it here briefly for the film’s November 21 premiere (a Saturday in part to accommodate his crazy schedule). Last year he went back and forth between prepping and shooting Danish Girl and promoting The Theory Of Everything, eventually leading to Oscar, though he had to get on a plane the next day back to The Danish Girl set. He does remember that Big Night, as he told me when he spoke to me from London over the weekend. “I’ll never forget the moment when my name was called. You’re so adrenaline-fueled, and then you’re going straight into a press conference, and then you basically spend five hours with people asking how you’re feeling,” he recalled. “Rationally, you can’t take anything in. You’re just trying not to have sensory overload. It was only about 4 or 5 in the morning when we were back in the Sunset Tower overlooking Sunset Boulevard with about seven friends and my wife Hannah and I and the sun rising at that moment. That was the moment I will never, ever forget. It was the moment I finally got to breathe.”
So remember that for those Oscar hopefuls being shepherded from one event to the next: Your next chance to breathe might be sometime at the end of February. Enjoy.