Notes On The Season: January Awards Mania Begins; Elisabeth Moss & Diane Kruger Find New Success In Foreign Film Contenders

The Handmaid's Tale

A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

Although the town is its usual uber-quiet self during this week between Christmas and New Year’s, the earlier than ever dates for the January deluge of awards shows is providing no vacation time for those event planners. The last parade float will be turning the corner in Pasadena just as it’s time to get the real party started. This includes a no-rest-for-the-weary January 2nd date for the annual Palm Springs International Film Festival awards gala. which is between a rock and a hard place because there was nowhere else to go as the Golden Globes sucks up all the oxygen the rest of the week with its very early January 7th air date.  That means, of course, that all those pre-Globe parties and activities, which include events by BAFTA and Film Independent, have to share the post-New Year’s holiday space, even if CAA, for one, is forgoing its usual Globes-related affair. Critics’ Choice Awards, LA and NY Film Critics banquets, National Board Of Review Gala, AFI Awards Luncheon, PGA, SAG and others all have January dates as well before Oscar nominations are announced on the 23rd.


It is going to be a very busy month as usual, especially with the Globes and their satellite parties, which include Fox taking over the rooftop deck of the Hilton, Warner Bros/In Style, HBO, Amazon (despite its Big Sick shutout by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association), NBC/Universal, and Netflix. The latter has, for the last few years, co-hosted a big tented party with GG regular The Weinstein Company, but announced it would not be sharing that partnership again this year, for obvious reasons (not the least of which is Harvey ain’t coming).

This week, an invite arrived from Netflix announcing its first solo Globe outing with an after-party at the brand new Waldorf Astoria, right next door to the Hilton. The streamer has 9 nominations on the TV side of things (second only to HBO), including being the only entity to land multiple Best TV Drama nods for The Crown and Stranger Things, as well as one for Comedy with Master Of None. They have less to cheer on the film side, with only two nods, both for Mary J. Blige (supporting actress and song) for Mudbound, and a Foreign Language Film nod for Angelina Jolie and her Cambodian First They Killed My Father, the only one of the five GG Foreign Language nominees not to make Oscar’s shortlist. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Globe favorite Jolie pulled off a win anyway.

Netflix is really trying to make a dent this season and is pouring money into its Oscar campaign for Mudbound, which represents its best shot yet at significant Oscar attention (outside of the documentary categories). They are spending big on TV spots (including an extended commercial during Academy voter-watched shows like CBS Sunday Morning) as well as billboards and ads that hide the Netflix name in favor of a more traditionally favored approach. They have even four-walled the Beverly Hills Music Hall across the street from the Academy for a one-show-a-day theatrical run, highlighted by very prominent placement on the theater marquee. Anything it takes. Mudbound is the litmus test for Netflix’s hopes on the Oscar front.


Magnolia Pictures

Getting back to that Golden Globe Foreign Language race, I had two great recent conversations with the international stars of two of the GG Foreign nominees: Elisabeth Moss, who co-stars in Sweden’s The Square, and Diane Kruger, who stars in Germany’s In the Fade. Both those films were also winners at Cannes and have been shortlisted among the nine finalists for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film as well. Moss is finally hitting her sweet spot, awards-wise. After seven Emmy nominations, including six as Peggy Olson on Mad Men, she finally hit the mother lode in September, winning not only as Lead Actress in a Drama Series, but also as a producer of the Outstanding Drama Series winner The Handmaid’s Tale. She is up, and favored, for both awards as well at the Globes and Critics Choice Awards, as well as being nominated for two SAG awards. Finally, the bridesmaid becomes the bride.

Before all this happened, though, I saw her in Cannes in May, where the next edition of Top Of The Lake not only had a screening slot, but also, more surprisingly, she appeared as the co-star of the Swedish film that would become the winner of the Palme d’Or, the aforementioned The Square. That, by its very nature, opens up all sorts of new opportunities for the newly-celebrated Moss on the global stage. She plays a not-so-responsible journalist in the movie who isn’t exactly ethical in her methods. “I never would have thought that my career is taking such interesting directions, and I never would have thought that I would have an international career and to be in sort of the foreign film world. It’s kind of fantastic. It is where a lot of actresses I admire have gone, and so I’m excited about it,” she told me on the phone during a break in filming a Handmaids episode, adding that director Ruben Ostlund took a leap to put her in the film. “I’m happy that Ruben took a chance on me. He didn’t necessarily want to cast an American in the film, or even an English-speaking person, and so I’m grateful he took the chance. ”

Moss loved the collaborative nature of the film and the fact that there was a lot of improvisation involved as well. As for working on a foreign set, she found it interesting. “Everyone was so respectful in the sense of trying to speak in English or translate things into English that they’d said so I would understand. But a lot of the time, you’re moving quickly and things are said in a language that’s not yours and you don’t understand. I started to learn the kind of (Swedish) words for ‘rolling’, ‘mark it’, ‘action’, just like the basic words that I needed to know. But occasionally, I would turn to [co-star] Claes [Bang] with panicked eyes,” she said. “But it is very different internationally. It’s very lovely. It was quiet, we shot about eight hours a day. They had a very long shoot, which to an American, is obviously a luxury. You know we shoot an hour of The Handmaid’s Tale in like 16 days, so it was just incredible to have so much time. And it’s very contained and relaxed with a small crew, very civilized. I was very impressed.”

And as for finally winning that Emmy after so many tries, Moss says she was shocked, particularly since it was just the first season. “It’s not my first rodeo, though. It was very, very special. It was almost sweeter having been nominated so many times, and to win for something that I worked every single day on and almost every single scene, it was very much of an honor, really cool.” Moss is in the midst of shooting the second season now and promises they are taking things into a deeper, more complicated and mature area than before. “It’s still going to be pretty dark, basically,” she said. From Cannes to the Emmys to this current movie and TV awards season, Elisabeth Moss is crossing all the barriers.


Magnolia Pictures

Like Moss, Diane Kruger’s year also started off in winning ways with a Cannes sensation, In The Fade, the Faith Akin film which deservedly won her the Best Actress prize at the Festival for a scorching role of a wife and mother named Katja who takes matters into her own hands after her husband and young son are killed in a terrorist bombing. It’s powerful stuff, and this international star of films like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (in which she ironically plays a German movie star), Troy, and National Treasure is simply remarkable and unforgettable in it, and surprisingly working for the first time in a German film, even though that is where she is from and was born in 1976. A former Ballet dancer until an injury forced her off the stage and later into modeling and acting, Kruger has reversed the usual order and become a star before finally making a movie in her home country’s language. It was a bit bumpy at first, though, as she told me when we met for coffee at the London Hotel in West Hollywood recently. “I think Faith got a lot of criticism for (the casting) in the beginning. He’s very famous in Germany and he usually casts non-actors or locals, and I think that’s always been the stigma for me coming from Germany, because I left so young and I made my career elsewhere. I was sort of not the traitor, but I was not the German that they hoped I would be,” she said of winning the role she had actually been waiting and hoping for to come out of Germany, even though she didn’t know anyone in the industry there and didn’t even have a German agent to help. Oddly, she met Akin in Cannes when she was a jury member in 2012 and he had a documentary there. “So I went to him thinking one day, you know, he could possibly remember me, and he kind of did. I was so humbled that he remembered me.” Believe me, no one is going to forget Kruger after they see this movie, which opened in LA and New York this week.

Match Factory

There is naturally buzz on her performance for the Oscars, even though the Best Actress race is ridiculously overcrowded this year. Kruger was, however, the first of this year’s contenders to be recognized when she won that prize at Cannes in May, something she didn’t expect. “It was really strange. I’m not going to lie. We got there on Friday and our movie screened at 10PM that night on the last weekend. It’s not like the excitement at the beginning of the festival. A lot of people had already left, and people are kind of tired,” she said, while mentioning it felt truly strange since the Manchester concert terrorist attack had happened two days prior and security was beefed up.

“You’re talking about a performance about something that truly just happened in real life. I really was very emotional about the whole thing, and it felt strange to be rewarded for a performance when you know thousands of Katjas were just created 48 hours ago. It really weighed on me. It felt amazing, obviously. It’s one of those things where you go, ‘I’m really truly humbled,’ because I put so much into this movie and it was such a dark time and this is incredible, and it’s Cannes. You know, my career started in Cannes. It was exciting, but really strange. Nobody really partied that night,” she said.

Kruger’s experience playing this German character in the midst of an unspeakable tragic event is not something she necessarily wants to repeat right away. It was hard to leave it behind. “I don’t know if I could take on such a difficult role every year because it took me four months of not working afterwards. I really couldn’t shake it. It’s the first time in my life where work and my real life would get too muddled. I really felt like I couldn’t get out of it and it was not pleasant.” Kruger’s stepdad had unexpectedly passed away during filming. She grew up with him and says that at that point it felt like she was drowning. After the four months off, in which she says she did nothing in order to recover, she did a couple of films she already had been signed for that were the opposite of In the Fade. In JT Leroy, which co-stars Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart, she plays an overtly sexual person, and then a witch in Robert Zemeckis’ The Women of Marwen, opposite Steve Carell. “But moving forward, I do hope that maybe directors will see me in a different light, because roles like In the Fade have never been offered to me in the U.S., for sure. I’m just ready to pause and do something that I really feel passionate about.”

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