Notes On The Season: Jeff Bezos Throws A ‘Big Sick’ Party, Praises ‘The Post’; Oscar And Tony Winners Pasek And Paul Are Truly The ‘Greatest Showmen’


A column about conversations and events on the awards circuit.

On Monday after the Golden Globe nominations were announced, the six-time-nominated The Post was way up and The Big Sickwhich was shut out, was way down. On Wednesday after the SAG nominations were known, the shut-out Post was way down and The Big Sick was way up with noms for Holly Hunter and the all-important Outstanding Cast category. Such is just a small example of the topsy-turvy nature of this unpredictable awards season that is causing Oscar campaign consultants to consider another line of work.

Yes, there is always a lot of anxiety as these precursor events jump into the conversation, but this year they clearly are all over the map. The uncertainty about the state of the industry with the ongoing sexual harassment scandals, as well as the seismic Disney takeover of 20th Century Fox’s film divisions, has thrown a cold, wet blanket on to the normal frivolity of the awards race. To add misery to the SAG shutout for The Post, Fox Chairman Stacey Snider even had to skip traveling to D.C. world premiere last night due to fallout from the Disney-Fox news. It doesn’t help when pundits (like me, I admit it) point out statistics like Braveheart in 1995 being the last time a movie won the Best Picture Oscar without first being nominated for SAG’s Cast prize.



The Golden Globe snub for The Big Sick cast a pall over its Monday night Chateau Marmont party hosted by none other than Norman Lear. But the show went on,  even though you could tell there was concern. As it turns out, though, the film and its team only had to wait another day for the Oscar dream to take flight again, thanks to SAG. Just two nights earlier the mood was ecstatic at Amazon party for The Big Sick hosted by Jeff Bezos at his Beverly Hills mansion. It definitely was an A-list affair, going late into the night and drawing the likes of Barbra Streisand, Bryan Cranston, Ron Howard, Casey Affleck, Quincy Jones, Jeff Goldblum, and many more — including, of course Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, the subjects of The Big Sick. Nanjiani was especially thrilled to meet director Sam Raimi.

Rex Shutterstock

Howard, who just wrapped the next Star Wars movie, the Han Solo spinoff, was at the Amazon affair rather than the world premiere of Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the Shrine, where I had been before racing over to the Bezos house. The movie I wanted to talk to Bezos about was not one of his but rather The Post, since he actually owns The Washington Post. In case you are wondering, he loved it, and Bezos told me some parts of it give him goosebumps just thinking about it. Clearly the movie set in 1971 during the paper’s investigation of the Pentagon Papers, which President Nixon tried to thwart at one time, has great resonance now in the Trump era of pushing the Fake News moniker. Just Tuesday night, losing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore banned the Post — which first published stories about the women accusing Moore of sexually assaulting them as teenagers — from covering his election-night party, and Trump is demanding the paper fire a star reporter for a mere tweet he didn’t like.


The attack on the press continues just as it did then. Bezos told me he knew nothing about publishing and never intended to buy the paper but had known Don Graham (Post Publisher Katherine Graham’s son) for 15 years and out of that friendship realized there were more important things to consider, thus his eventual purchase of the paper. Meryl Streep (who plays Katharine Graham), Tom Hanks (who portrays Ben Bradlee) and director Steven Spielberg all were in D.C. for last night’s premiere, which was also attended by Bezos and the Post’s great Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, whose own story with Bob Woodward of course became the basis of their book and subsequent film, All the President’s Men.



There might be another explanation for  SAG’s snub of The Post, as well as other late-breaking December premieres like Phantom Thread, which has to do with the screeners sent to members of the SAG nominating committee. SAG puts the number at 2,500 randomly chosen members annually, but one consultant who knows these things says is actually more around the 2,350 mark. This campaigner also notes that screeners, especially from a major (or about-to-be-former major), must be watermarked with the voter’s name if the film has yet to be released. With precise knowledge of the situation this year, the consultant said 453 SAG Nom Comm members opted out of accepting watermarked screeners. So that fact, plus limited screenings for SAG, lessened the chances that all the members voting might have seen it in time. This consultant also mentioned that a good number of the SAG Nom Comm are unemployed and tend to “favor underdogs.”

A24; Universal Pictures

Another consultant whose major studio release didn’t make the cut noted that the majority of films nominated in the Cast category were actor-driven, which seems to be true. Both Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Jordan Peele’s Get Out were written and directed by actors taking a turn behind the camera for the first time, as well as The Big Sick, which was written by Nanjiani, who also plays himself. This seems like catnip for actors — watching other actors in charge. The consultant also notes that the whole tenor of the SAG competition has changed  since the union merged with AFTRA, which means a lot of weather reporters are also getting to vote now.


Open Road

Another movie feeling the snub this week was Open Road’s Marshall, which was considered a cinch for a Golden Globe Best Song nomination for the stirring anthem “Stand Up for Something,” written by Diane Warren and Common. But it was aced out by several tunes from toons such as Coco, The Star and Ferdinand — so, especially in the case of the latter film, they probably feel the results were a lot of bull. To make up for that, Marshall hosted a perfectly timed reception and screening at Real D on Wednesday evening, hosted by none other than Oprah Winfrey and drawing songwriters Warren and Common along with the latter’s co-singer Andra Day and the film’s stars Josh Gad (so good in this underappreciated film) and Kate Hudson, plus director Reginald Hudlin and producer Paula Wagner. Marshall is a film Oscar voters ought to go out of their way to see before casting their ballots next month. By the way, just as that event was taking place, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced Oprah as the recipient of their Cecil B. DeMille Life Achievement Award this year at the Golden Globes. At least they didn’t snub Oprah. Who would?


Speaking of songs, Justin Paul and Benj Pasek are on a roll, having won the Golden Globe and Oscar last year for “City of Stars” from La La Land, and then the Tony three months later for Dear Evan Hansen. They also recently received two Grammy nominations for those projects, and by Oscar time could be just one Emmy short of being instant members of the exclusive EGOT club (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). That could be fixed by Emmy time next year as this Sunday their musical A Christmas Story Live! is airing on Fox. When I sat down with them recently at the Four Seasons bar right after they arrived from rehearsals for it, the pair told me they have written “three or four” new songs for this TV adaptation of their 2012 Broadway musical, which was based on the 1983 hit movie. The show only ran seven weeks since it was a seasonal entry on the Great White Way, but it will get an audience this weekend this young pair of songwriters never dreamed possible. One of those new songs is a big Hanukkah number for Ana Gasteyer to sing. This could have Emmy written all over it.

Twentieth Century Fox

And to add more laurels to this charmed pair, they also have written all 11 songs for the new Hugh Jackman original movie musical, The Greatest Showman which opens Wednesday from 20th Century Fox. In a perfect note of synergy, it will have a live commercial with the cast during the Christmas Story broadcast Sunday. That’s got to be a first for any songwriter. Pasek and Paul already also have received Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations for one of those Greatest Showman tunes, “This Is Me,” a rousing and inspirational anthem in a terrific movie musical full of them. It is primarily sung by Broadway star Keala Settle (Waitress), and after our chat they invited me to watch a spirited rehearsal as they worked out a number to be performed at a press event the next day. These guys just don’t stop.

As they told me, they didn’t set out to write the score for the movie at all, and in fact say that to this day they still haven’t been hired. How is that possible? It was their first big gig, and the filmmakers decided to basically do a bake-off among songwriters to compose each tune in the movie, one by one, a kind of smorgasbord approach to the score. Pasek and Paul knocked the first one out of the park and just kept submitting more as the “contest” continued. Eventually, piece by piece, they had written every single one of the songs being used in the movie. “We were never hired as the songwriters for The Greatest Showman,” Paul said. “We just happened to have written all the songs. It’s 100 percent true.” Pasek added that their involvement on this P.T. Barnum musical predates both Dear Evan Hansen and La La Land; they did their first Showman pitch.about four years ago.


To show you how things come full circle, Pasek and Paul had come to L.A. to begin work on what would become Dear Evan Hansen because their book writer Steve Levinson was in Hollywood working on a TV series. They got a meeting by happenstance with a Fox executive who had seen A Christmas Story on Broadway, and that somehow led to meeting Greatest Showman director Michael Gracey, who clicked with them right away after hearing their first pass at a potential song for the movie. “They were out to mostly writers from the pop songwriting world, but he said, ‘Let’s see what you have’ and so we sort of made it our mission,” said Pasek. “That sort of started the collaboration, but then it was really over the next couple of years, one song at a time. Added Paul: “We were just grateful to get an opportunity to do this. It was a wonderful change of pace from living in the world of Dear Evan Hansen and writing songs about inner turmoil and teenage suicide, to get to write music and lyrics and to work on a piece that really is about the celebration of joy and hope and optimism.”

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