Pete Hammond’s Notes On The Season: When Warren Met Kirk; #OscarsSoWhite A Thing Of The Past?

A weekly column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

It was, as usual this time of year, another big week on the awards circuit. From the standpoint of critics’ group love, Warren Beatty — who is no stranger to lots of awards in his legendary career — was AWOL from East Coast and Critics’ Choice lists this week for Rules Don’t Apply, his first directorial effort in 18 yearsThe movie also didn’t exactly light up the box office, either, but this long-gestating project in which he plays Howard Hughes is worth checking out, and sometimes it takes time for adult audiences to discover smart movies that aren’t cookie cutter and easily marketed. Fortunately, good movies are forever.

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Beatty seemed in great spirits for his latest honor last night. To date, he has an Oscar, AFI Life Achievement Award, Kennedy Center Honor and 14 Academy Award nominations. Beatty is the only person to be Oscar-nominated for producing, starring, directing and writing two different films, Heaven Can Wait (1978) and Reds (1981). Now he has the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film, an honor bestowed by Douglas and the Santa Barbara Film Festival for the past 11 years at a gala dinner held each year at the Bacara Resort in Goleta. I made the two-hour trip up there for this one, and it was a warm evening indeed. Douglas himself, who turns 100 (!) next Friday, could not be there in person but instead sent a charming video in which he extolled the virtues of Beatty but complained that the director had never asked him to be in any of his films, specifically Reds, Shampoo and Bonnie And Clyde, the latter in which he said he wanted to play both leading roles.

Santa Barbara International Film Festival's Kirk Douglas Awards Honoring Warren Beatty

Each table in the large room was named after one of Beatty’s 21 films. Mine was Splendor In The Grass, his first movie role. When I mentioned this to him as we walked in, he said, “Oh, you got the young table.” Beatty, wife Annette Bening, presenters Don Cheadle and Lily Collins were right next door at the Rules Don’t Apply table, so I guess in that mere space we spanned his entire career. Before the presentation began, Beatty told me he met Douglas right off the bat when he arrived in Hollywood in 1958 (the year in which Rules is set).

“I learned from Kirk not only how to be a successful actor in this business but also how to be a producer,” Beatty said. “He was the first one who showed me how that was possible.” Douglas was an early example of actors who also produced and did many films through his own company, Bryna Productions. There will be a big celebration for Douglas’ 100th next week at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling had the crowd laughing when he said, “I am probably the only man in this room comfortable enough to say how beautiful Warren is.” He then presented an expertly assembled sizzle reel of Beatty’s career. “Warren created a seismic change in cinema, an American New Wave with the film Bonnie And Clyde. 1967 marks the beginning of the most artistic, amazing decade in film history, a movement started by Warren,” he said. As for that reel, I watched Bening watching it roll by and you could just see the love and respect she has for her husband and sometime-director of the past 24 years. I actually asked Beatty what it is like to see his life pass before his eyes like that. He replied that it was interesting to see the lives he played go by in that kind of quick succession.

Warren Beatty Annette Bening

Collins, who is wonderful starring in Rules Don’t Apply, told me she prepared her remarks that morning by turning to the daily journal she kept on the set. She read many of the entries when talking about her director, noting specifically that she was awed by the fact that he’s a great storyteller and can remember every single detail of his life and career. “On April 6th Warren said I would make a great producer and director and I have a lot of great ideas. I think he takes me seriously. On April 7th Warren says “You are never to work with anyone else ever again’,”  she laughed, recalling their on-set conversations.

Cheadle, who co-starred in Bulworth, was really funny, as well as pointed in his admiration of what Beatty has accomplished in his career. He compared him to the great Ted Williams’ baseball batting average, saying Beatty’s is truly remarkable. “He has outshined, outwitted and outlasted all of his contemporaries,”  he said, and specifically talked about what it must have taken to get his Oscar-winning Reds made. “Imagine the pitch meeting: ‘I’m thinking of making a three-hour and twenty minutes movie set around the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. It’s going to be in English, Russian and German. Our main protagonist is a left-wing journalist enamored with Communism, so much so that Diane Keaton is going to fall in love with idealism more than with him, and we’re going to release it wide, maybe two or three thousand screens in the heat of Ronald Reagan’s rise in popularity. It’s going to take about 2 1/2 million feet of film, a year or two probably to edit, and it’s going to  cost three times as much as the original Star Wars to make. So, you guys in?,” he said to big laughs in the room. But of course it went on to win Beatty a directing Oscar and was one of those two films, along with Heaven Can Wait, that got him those four personal nominations for the same movie.

Rules Don't Apply
20th Century Fox

In his acceptance Beatty said, “If you fear I am going to make a speech, my three-word speech is don’t start me.” He then reminisced about his times over the years with Douglas at various Hollywood events and congratulated him on his 100th birthday. Then he got a little contemplative. “Probably not a lot of you have had the opportunity to have been glamorized in 1960, but looking at those clips does remind me how fortunate I have been to have been part of this movie business for so many years, and to have known the people that I have had the honor to work with and to learn from. Twenty five years ago I convinced the best actress to marry me. I became a devoted husband and father and I have to say it has given me the most enthralling years of my life.”


Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer - Hidden Figures.jpeg
20th Century Fox

It is becoming clear this is a great year for movies showcasing great African American talent, and the odds of a third consecutive #OscarsSoWhite situation with the Academy Awards seem next to nil. Fences, Hidden Figures, Moonlight and Loving continue to rack up awards and acclaim. Just yesterday, the Palm Springs Film Festival announced that the Hidden Figures cast including Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons would be receiving the Ensemble of the Year award at their big gala on January 2. The film also won this week’s National Board Of Review Ensemble Award and was nominated for a Critics’ Choice award in the same category. Somehow, inexplicably, this terrific Ted Melfi -directed story of three African American women and math geniuses who made a huge difference  in the early years of NASA’s space program did not get a Best Picture nod from the Critics’ Choice, but that may simply be because screeners were late in arriving. I anticipate it will do extremely well with the upcoming SAG and Golden Globe nominations.

Paramount Pictures

And then there is Fences which landed six key Critics’ Choice nominations and has now been moved up to a platform opening December 16 to capitalize on the acclaim and awards action. It was previously to be platformed on that date, but Paramount decided to simply open it wide instead on Christmas Day. The wide release remains, but the limited LA and NY release is back on for the 16th. Moonlight is also seeing its awards fortunes soar with lots of love from the Gothams, New York Film Critics, not to mention 10 Critics’ Choice nominations.

And this week, the African American Film Critics Association declared 2016 “the best EVER for Blacks in cinema.” AAFCA president Gil Robertson says he expects the controversies of a lack of color in Oscar nods over the past two years won’t be a factor this time. “The coming award nominations are going to definitely put a pause on #OscarsSoWhite this year. But we wonder for how long. It’s undeniable that the studios have responded admirably to the tremendous outcry from the African-American community through its delivery of the films that we’ve seen this year. … Were the past 12 months an anomaly or does it signal the beginning of Hollywood being more committed  to supporting a diverse lineup of Black films? And what about films about the Asian, Hispanic, Native American and LGBT communities?” he asked. Time will tell, but based on early returns, Oscar looks like he is off the hook this time around.

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