Notes On The Season: ‘La La’ Has Europe Ga Ga; Denzel’s Dueling Awards Problem; Jonah Hill’s Under’Dogs’ Campaign


A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit

The town, even with the speed race pace of awards season, is unquestionably slowing down for the Christmas/New Years break, and you can feel it. But there is just a small window of down time before it starts again in earnest, beginning with the Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala which is forced to take place on Monday January 2nd, the official New Year’s holiday.

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That is because immediately afterwards Golden Globes mania takes root with a week, second only to the one preceding the Oscars, that commences with numerous parties, screenings and events keyed to awards fever. This will also include an unprecedented amount of Q&A’s and awards events keyed to the imminent beginning of the start of voting January 5th for this year’s Academy Awards. That voting date is a little more than a week later than usual, with nominees announced on January 24th, also later than recent past years. However , it gives campaigners more time to, well, campaign and it also allows the potential of a more influential Globes, and Critics Choice Awards, which both will have anointed winners well before the January 13th Oscar deadline for nomination ballots to be in. The Globes take place on Sunday January 8th while Critics Choice awards winners, mainly La La Land with 8, have been advertised since December 11th. We’ll see what happens.



The La La Land contingent including star Emma Stone, writer/director Damien Chazelle, and composer Justin Hurwitz, made its way to voter rich London and Paris this week where none other than the likes of Leslie Caron, Michel Legrand and Claude Lelouch saluted the film for honoring their past. Caron, who of course starred in An American In Paris which is one of the films that inspired Chazelle, was in attendance at the London screening. Academy Award winning composer Legrand (The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg) and Oscar winning director Claude Lelouch (A Man And A Woman) hosted the Sunday night Paris screening at Le Royal Monceau which also drew the likes of Academy voters like Roman Polanski, Kristin Scott Thomas and Luc Besson as well as filmmaker Agnes Varda  and Matthew Demy, widow and son respectively of Jacques Demy, whose jazz-spiked 60’s era musical films (with Legrand’s music) The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg and The Young Girls Of Rochefort were a key influence for Chazelle and Hurwitz in crafting La La Land, as well as an earlier and smaller 2009 effort Guy And Madeline On A Park Bench.


Chazelle had previously confirmed this special screening when I spoke to him recently and could barely contain his excitement that Legrand, in particular, would be hosting a screening of his film since he often says Cherbourg is his favorite movie. “And the great thing is that I get to be there,” he told me. And indeed he was, making his remarks to the impressive local audience in perfect French. Chazelle’s father was in fact born in France so he has that blood in him. Stone attempted a go at the language as well by saying a couple of sentences while pointing out that she hadn’t really had to try and speak it in public since her high school french class. I am told Legrand’s remarks were touching in that he said with this homage to his and Demy’s work, his legacy now continues. By the way, one of those Golden Globe weekend events (where La La is up for a leading 7 awards) will be a tie-in at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, where on Saturday the 7th there will be a double feature screening of La La Land and Young Girls Of Rochefort with a Chazelle Q&A in between. Then on Sunday just as the Globes are starting at 5pm there will be a double bill of An American In Paris and Umbrellas Of Cherbourg.


With his much-acclaimed adaptation of Fences opening wide on Christmas Day, there is a lot of awards buzz too for Denzel Washington, not only in the Best Actor race where he is already SAG and Globe nominated, but also as Best Director for his work on the film, his third behind the camera after previous movies Antwone Fisher (2002) and The Great Debaters (2007). The Directors Guild Of America will be announcing their DGA nominations on January 12th and Washington could very well be one of the chosen five, so it was interesting to see that the American Society Of Cinematographers this week announced Washington will receive one of ASC’s highest honors, their Board Of Governors Award, which is the only one they hand out to filmmakers who aren’t cinematographers. Past winners include the likes of Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford, Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese to name a few.

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It’s a big deal and Washington will receive the award on Saturday February 4th at the Hollywood And Highland Grand Ballroom. In the overly crowded awards calendar this year, that happens to be the very same night as the DGA Awards at the Beverly Hilton, where conceivably Washington could be nominated. If he’s not, then at least he has somewhere else to go that night. But if he is then how does the Fences director land in two places at once? That would be a nice problem to have, but I am sure they will figure something out. Maybe time to send in a helicopter, Paramount?


Meanwhile the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sent out an email yesterday to members noting that voting for Oscar nominations starts on January 5th with ballots due back on the 13th, and they are urging their membership to take the advantage of the holiday break starting, well, now to see as many movies as they can. Of course that means a lot of them will be plowing through stacks of screeners that have been sent their way. A new batch including Rogue One, Silence and Hidden Figures landed in voter mailboxes this week. But the Academy officially does not participate in or even encourage their members to see contenders on their TV sets (except the Foreign Language, Documentary and Shorts box they send after nominations), but rather on the big screen including at the Academy’s state-of-the-art Samuel Goldwyn Theatre.


And there are other ways to nab the attention of members, including the 25th Annual Aspen Academy Screenings that take place through New Year’s Day at the Wheeler and Paepcke Theatres in the popular Colorado ski resort town that draws more than a few Oscar voters every year. These screenings, which started with La La Land Wednesday night, have just about every Oscar consultant worth their ski pass making sure their contender is one of the movies shown. This year there are 25, and all of them are the major awards hopefuls. Their website says today’s Jackie screening just has six tickets remaining, and Monday’s Hidden Figures 5pm show is already sold out. Though these are open to the public, studios hope the usually large contingent of industry folks (i.e. Oscar voters) will check out their movie when not on the slopes. I guess they figure that if Oscar voters don’t come to you, you go to them!


The Warner Bros late August release War Dogs, which starred Jonah Hill and Miles Teller in a true story taken from a Rolling Stone article about a couple of amateur arms dealers who luck into a major contract worth $300 million with the Pentagon, has not been generating a lot of awards buzz or attention against the rest of the usual suspects in the race, even though the Todd Phillips film did receive some strong critical notices and grossed $43 million from its domestic release. But Hill, a previous two-time Oscar nominee in 2011 for Moneyball and 2013 for The Wolf Of Wall Street knows this game and did not let the fact that his name has not been popping up on critics groups lists for Best Actor deter him. So Warner backed an effort to bring attention again to War Dogs and especially Hill’s dynamic and really fine performance as an arrogant Miami Beach opportunist who finds himself way in over his head, eventually landing in prison.

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Even his friend and Wolf Of Wall Street co-star Leonardo DiCaprio joined in to honor him at a Chateau Marmont reception that was ostensibly for the video release of War Dogs, but also was designed to help get Hill’s work seen as awards season rolled along. Screeners were sent to voting groups highlighting praise for Hill, and guess what, it worked. Much to the surprise of some pundits who didn’t see it coming, Hill has been nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Performance By An Actor in A Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. He deserves it, and Oscar attention should be paid as well. Hill turns in one of the most darkly funny and  entertaining performances of the year. Sometimes you just have to call attention to it. Ironically his GG nomination was the only one Warner got from the Hollywood Foreign Press, which inexplicably overlooked higher profile movies from the Burbank lot like Sully and Ben Affleck’s Live By Night.

When I spoke with him recently in a funky little restaurant near his West LA home near where he grew up, we talked about our mutual love for movies of all stripes, and he was excited to discuss playing yet another real life character, as he did in both films that landed him those Oscar nominations, and as he will do again shortly with Richard Jewell, the falsely accused Atlanta Olympics bomber. In the case of War Dogs, he plays Efraim Diveroli but actually never talked to the real guy. “I never met him, never spoke to him,” he said. “Sometimes it’s better to meet people who knew somebody as opposed to meeting the actual person,” which is what he also did with the character he played in Wolf Of Wall Street. He doesn’t know if Diveroli, not exactly a lovable character in the movie, ever even saw – or liked – it and has kept an arms distance so to speak. “I think he got out of prison while we were making it and they released him to Miami, where we were shooting,” he says. “I definitely was on high alert and I was bright orange at the time. I was the easy target.”

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Still despite the drawbacks of playing real life characters, sometimes dubious ones like Diveroli that Hill has been called on to portray, it’s a career direction he likes. “I’m very excited. I guess it sounds really boring, but it’s true that I am really inspired by things that happened in real life,” he says. “I think real life is crazy enough to make a movie about. When something really unique happens, or people do extraordinary things and extraordinary things happen to people, I don’t know why but those are the kinds of  stories and characters I’m generally interested in… I was fascinated that these two kids were dealing in debt and it’s legal until they made choices that made it illegal, that they could use the American government and weapons to become rich.” He adds that if it were cocaine they were selling instead of guns reaction might be completely different and he likes seeing where people’s morality falls on that scale.

Hill says from now on, despite his natural actor’s insecurity, he is only going to do things that feel new and exciting and challenging. One of those things is the Jewell story, which just signed Ezra Edelman to direct the Billy Ray screenplay that Hill and DiCaprio are producing. Edelman is getting strong Oscar buzz himself for the seven-plus hour ESPN documentary on OJ Simpson. “He’s a really impressive  person and he had a really unbelievable take on the movie, so I feel excited with that person guiding the experience,” he said.

Hill also happens to have a Story By writing credit, and a producing credit on the new comedy, Why Him? which opens today and which he had not even seen himself when we spoke. “I can take zero credit for movie. I helped. It was based on an idea I had 10 years ago that never came to fruition. Really (writer/director) John Hamburg  had a vision for the movie. I haven’t even seen it yet, so I have no idea, but I love John Hamburg and I was happy they ran with it. I can’t take any credit though,” he says and modestly suggests he will probably go to the AMC Theatre and pay to see it with friends, like he did on the opening night of last summer’s animated hit, Sausage Party, where he also helped come up with the idea with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and has a Story By and Executive Producer credit. “I didn’t see  that until it was at AMC opening weekend. I loved it. Seth and Evan brilliantly ran with it for years and did the hard work to make it an interesting good movie in my opinion. I wish I could take more credit for those movies, but I didn’t do any of the hard work.” Well, on War Dogs he did, and he will be sitting front and center January 8th at the Golden Globes because of it.

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