Pete Hammond’s Notes On The Season: No Holiday Break In The Uber-Competitive Race For Oscar

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

If it seems the town should be starting to slow down with the Christmas/New Year’s break just about upon us, think again. Because this is such a wide open Oscar race, everyone seems to be going down to the wire trying to win Oscar voter attention as balloting begins on December 30, right in the sweet spot of the holidays. The Danish Girl’s Eddie Redmayne and Room’s Brie Larson, who have been off shooting big budget movies, are coming into town for a series of Q&As and events perhaps being urged to make up for lost time on the trail. And Sunday seems to be crunch time for brunch time with several foodie events competing, including a Jamie Foxx-hosted affair for the cast and creatives behind Straight Outta Compton. On Monday The Weinstein Company tries to grab attention for The Hateful Eight with a Star ceremony and lunch at Musso & Franks in Hollywood for director Quentin Tarantino, and later that night another cocktailer for cast and filmmakers. Sci-Fi Best Picture contender The Martian threw another reception tonight at Sunset Tower, just before the first of three weekend screenings at the Academy for the blast-off of what has suddenly become another Sci-Fi contender, Chinese Star Wars The Force AwakensStar Wars: The Force AwakensAs noted before, the Academy is having an unprecedented two back-to-back “official” screenings for the movie Saturday and Sunday, but Disney has rented their theatre and invited a ton of members to yet another screening (with a big Q&A) tonight at the Samuel Goldwyn. Three days in a row for the space opera in Oscar’s shrine?  Unheard of, but then again this is turning out to be a rather crazy year.


As if taking the crown for the biggest Oscar campaign luncheon turnout with its soiree at Craig’s a few weeks ago for Johnny Depp and the Black Mass contingent, Warner Bros (with MGM)  took over Cut at the Beverly Wilshire Thursday for a wall-t0-wall completely packed lunch celebrating director Ryan Coogler, key creatives and cast of Creed, one of the clear bright spots in a rather down boxoffice year for the Burbank studio. Among those mingling with the group of about 200 was title character star Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and of course, Sylvester Stallone who is getting major Oscar buzz for his seventh (and final?) turn as Rocky Balboa. Oscar winning producer Irwin Winkler of the first (and all ) Rocky films welcomed the crowd and reminisced about the first time he met Stallone over 40 years ago when the actor interviewed for a job on a film he didn’t get. But he mentioned he had a script he would love to have them show to the powers that be. That script turned out to be Rocky. “But he said if the studio liked it he would have to play the lead role. That was very ballsy,” Winkler laughed. He then coerced a reluctant Stallone to the microphone. “I thought you said you wouldn’t do this,” Sly slyly said to huge applause. “Irwin gave me a break when no one else would. It’s just an extraordinary journey that really belongs to the young talent in this film.  I was very happy with the last Rocky film. I thought ‘hey, we put him away, he’s buried. Then this young man came along (Coogler) and asked, ‘Can we dig him up?’ I thought well I guess he MGM Creed execscould look like a zombie. But youth must be served and I give total credit to Ryan. I am in a dream state. I never expected this so I am just going to enjoy it while it lasts,”  he said.

As he made his way through the crowd, which included Warners execs like Sue Kroll and the departing Dan Fellman, the original Apollo Creed Carl Weathers as well as songwriter Carol Connors who penned the Oscar-nominated “Gonna Fly Now,”  he told me, “this is the greatest time of my life. When you’re young you’re stupid. Now you know you can’t do this alone. No man is an island.”  Also among those in the throng were MGM’s Chairman and CEO Gary Barber and colleagues Adam Rosenberg and Jonathan Glickman. Coogler, who did a remarkable job just getting his vision made and on the screen, seemed just as excited about the new Star Wars as his own movie. They do have something in common as one of the big trends this awards season is the success of movies birthed in the 70’s like Warners’ Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed and Star Wars: The Force Awakens which is generating just as much enthusiasm for Harrison Ford’s return as Han Solo as Stallone’s revisit with Rocky. Good times again.


Later Thursday night Netflix threw an equally crowded affair at Chateau Marmont to honor its two Oscar -shortlisted documentaries, What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom. Again, many of the same Oscar voters who were at the Creed lunch turned up for this cocktail reception for the docs filmmakers including Miss Simone’s Liz Garbus, who seemed thrilled about the reception her film has netflix-logogotten so far. Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos made a few remarks, particularly how he is a real fan of documentaries. It shows. Netflix has been in the Oscar race with a finalist in each of the past two years and both those films (The Square  and Virunga) also went on to nominations and wins at the Emmys. I asked him if these two films would also be taking the same route to the Emmys and he said he thought they probably could. It is not at all unusual for Oscar nominated and winning docs to then also qualify for the Emmys, though Sarandos noted in the case of the already multi-Emmy winning HBOBeasts of No Nation poster Scientology doc Going Clear, it is oddly taking the reverse route and hoping to get an Oscar nomination after already being anointed by the Emmys. I can’t think of a single instance of that scenario. Sarandos is also spending lots of money for their first theatrical narrative feature, Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts Of No Nation which debuted on the streaming service the same day it started its brief run in theatres. That could conceivably also make Beasts eligible in the TV movie categories at the next Emmys but Sarandos said it is highly doubtful that they would submit it. He sees this as a new part of their business and wants to make it clear Netflix’s movies are just that  — movies — and he wants to keep films like Beasts and no doubt the upcoming Brad Pitt starrer War Machine strictly on the Oscar express.


At his Spago Oscar lunch recently I told Concussion star and Golden Globe nominee Will Smith that after my (rave) review of the movie about traumatic brain injuries in football appeared on Deadline, I suddenly got the attention of the NFL with an email from one Jill Pike who said she saw my piece and “wanted to connect.”  She then listed all the things the NFL is doing to promote safety in the game and ended by saying “let’s keep in touch.”  It is Concussionclearly pro-active damage control since I said in my headline the NFL would likely not love Concussion.  Smith, who was reluctant to do the film initially because he is a big football fan and father, pointed out that even before a player makes the NFL  they likely have already had 30,000 hits to the head in their Pee Wee, High School and College careers combined.  Jeffrey Katzenberg hosted the lunch for Smith which, you guessed it, drew many of the same crowd at the events I have described above. Smith told them heSpecial-Screening-Concussion-Will-Smith-November-2015-BellaNaija0016 got a phone call from Ridley Scott, a producer on the movie. “He said ‘I have a gift for you’ so he sends it over and I read the screenplay and I remember thinking, ‘This ain’t no damn gift.’ I don’t want to be that guy. I am a football dad,” he said before meeting with the real life “guy”, Dr. Bennet Omalu and getting educated not only on the subject, but on the man himself, an immigrant who made this important medical discovery. “He reminded me of American values and the gift that we have. He reminded me of the power of this medium that we have to tell the truth, and right now I just want to say to Dr. Omalu thank you for giving us the gift of his pain, the gift of his suffering and the gift of knowing.”





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