Notes On The Season: ‘Three Billboard’s Martin McDonagh On Directing “Snub”; Senior Moments; Oscar Vets Return To Battle

A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

Martin McDonagh finds himself in rarefied territory this season after the Academy’s directors branch rather shockingly “snubbed” him and failed to nominate him in their category for his much-acclaimed Golden Globe winner and Oscar Best Picture contender, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Despite the omission, the film has seven nominations, including writing and producing noms for McDonagh.

It remains a hot prospect to win the top prize, though the odds are daunting, statistically at least. Only three films in the 89-year history of the Oscars have managed to go on to win the Best Picture Academy Award without having at least a Best Director nomination. Early on Grand Hotel did it in 1931-32 — even though its helmer, Edmund Goulding, was not among the three directors nominated then. In 1989, Driving Miss Daisy triumphed without a corresponding directing nom for Bruce Beresford, and most recently Ben Affleck was not among the chosen five directors for 2012’s Argo, which went on to win Best Picture in 2012 anyway, and some think because of that snub.

Although Fox Searchlight’s other big contender The Shape of Water has emerged as a front-runner with its PGA, DGA and Critics’ Choice wins, Three Billboards remains a strong contender, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it prevailed — or a Best Pic nominee other than Shape — to make this the fifth out of six years in which there is a split choice between Best Pic and Director, two categories that before this decade usually went together. ON Thursday, McDonagh came by our studio to tape an episode of my Deadline video series, Behind the Lens, and I asked him about not turning up on the Best Director list despite a DGA and BAFTA nomination. He was refreshingly candid about his feelings. “It was a funny morning because we got more than I think we expected to … my friends got way more attention,” he said. “But I was having a jog, a little grumpily, along the East River in New York and was thinking, ‘Ah, director. I didn’t get that, but my friends all did and we’ll all go together, which is lovely.” The fact is McDonagh already is an Oscar winner for directing a 2004 short called Six Shooter, his first film directorial effort and an Oscar winner right out of the gate. “So I have been through that process before. But getting the Best Picture nomination was really lovely. It feels like it is one for the team, and for me as director, and everyone involved. So the director snub wasn’t as painful,” he smiled. McDonagh is a class act ,and you can see the full interview Wednesday on Behind the Lens.



You might not think it, but the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards have turned into one of the really fun events of the whole season, and each year  the turnoutis increasingly impressive. This week the organization that caters to the 50-plus crowd showed its clout as all its major winners turned up at the Beverly Wilshire ceremony hosted by Alan Cumming, which is slated to air on TV for the first time (February 23 on PBS’ Great Performances). You should check it out. Best Actor winner Gary Oldman, Best Actress winner Annette Bening and Supporting winners Laurie Metcalf and Richard Jenkins all were there to accept. Jenkins cheekily thanked Oscar front-runner Sam Rockwell for not being “old enough to win this.” And showing AARP voters nostalgia for their younger days, the surprising Best Film winner was Star Wars: The Last Jedi, part of a movie franchise that will be old enough to join the AARP in just a few years. Mark Hamill, who at 66 definitely is old enough for the room, accepted that one.


I was sitting at The Florida Project table with director Sean Baker and star Willem Dafoe, but also Christopher Rivera and Valeria Cotto who between them don’t add up to 15 years old. But Cotto was impressed by the event and, while accepting the Intergenerational Film Award, asked AARP, “Where can I sign up for this?” Rivera was wide-eyed through the whole thing and had a fan attack when he spotted Oldman across the room, making a beeline directly for him and leaving mom in the dust. No, it wasn’t because this kid was a Winston Churchill fan or had even seen Darkest Hour, it was when he realized this was the guy who played Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series that he made his move.


By the way Cumming pointed out that at this particular event Oldman’s name was being pronounced as “Old Man”. The age jokes continued on from there but there were lots of heartfelt speeches right from the top where Sherry Lansing’s keynote sweetly noted all the great “grown up” films that she grew up loving like Lili, Sabrina, To Kill a Mockingbird, Imitation Of Life, and The Pawnbroker. This was a crowd where you could mention movies like that and not have to explain that they all came out before 1990. Lifetime Achievement winner Helen Mirren actually didn’t look old enough to be getting this, but talked of a palm reader she once went to, and then got serious saying about the future that, “it is unknown, nothing lasts forever. Life keeps surprising us and that’s why it’s worth living”. The fact that she had a starring role in a horror /action film that had just opened was a testament to the staying power of the pre-texting generation. Best director winner Guillermo Del Toro said he was actually “70 when he was 7” and the anguish didn’t fade until recently. “After 50 we don’t give a f*ck. We have a duty to tell stories… take risks…no matter what shape they take,” he said and that obviously includes a mature love affair between a mute woman and an amphibian creature.


Speaking of AARP, a trailer for an absolute certain nominee for these honors next year has gone up this weekend in front of the kinky sex drama, Fifty Shades Freed. The new film, The Book Club from first-time director Bill Holderman, who also wrote it with Erin Simms, opens May 18 through Paramount. It’s about a group of senior women who read Fifty Shades of Grey in their book club and, ahem, attempt you are never too old for anything. If ever there was a premise that lives up to the standards of what AARP promotes, it might be this one. Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen star in a movie getting released right in the heart of summer blockbuster season, striking another victory for the well over-50 set.

What was interesting awards-wise in the trailer was in how they identified its stars. “Academy Award Winner Diane Keaton. Academy Award Winner Jane Fonda. Academy Award Winner Mary Steenburgen. Golden Globe Winner Candice Bergen”, and it was the latter that caught my attention because Bergen is a five-time Emmy winner and former Academy Award nominee, but the marketers apparently think the fact that she won a Globe is more impressive. That’s interesting, and certainly an indication of the growing clout of the Globes as a top-rated TV event. Unlike other kudos shows, it did not take a significant ratings dip when it aired in January. By the way, Book Club looked a hell of a lot more entertaining than the book that “inspired” it. Paramount, which reportedly paid about $10 million to acquire the hot property, took it out for a research screening in Sherman Oaks on Wednesday. Can’t wait for this one. Good comedy using mature talents has become an endangered species at the major studios of late.


And continuing on our theme this week that age ain’t such a bad thing in this youth-obsessed industry, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today that their production team for the 90th annual Oscars brings a group combining “more than 90 years of experience.” They include director Glenn Weiss, back for his third straight year after DGA and Emmy wins for his deft handling of the Best Picture envelope snafu at the 89th Oscars. In accepting the DGA Award last weekend, he went into detail on just how determined he was to get the money shot of the actual winning envelope before going off the air. Also coming back is supervising producer Rob Paine, who has been with the Oscarcast in one way or another for two decades; production designer Derek McLane, back for the sixth year; head writer Jon Macks for the 21st time along with writers Dave Boone (11th time) and Carol Leifer (seventh); music director Harold Wheeler and talent producer Taryn Hurd are back for their fifth, and co-producer Raj Kapoor, a relative newcomer for just his second Oscarcast, matching host Jimmy Kimmel and producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd, who also are repeating their chores from last year.

But taking the proverbial cake is lighting designer Robert Dickinson returning for his — wait for it — 29th Oscar show. And why not? He has 20 Emmys, three of which he got for lighting previous Oscarcasts. Not coming back is Pricewaterhouse’s Brian Cullinan, the man responsible for The Great Oscar Screwup of 2017. That’s one show veteran the Academy doesn’t want to see anywhere near the Dolby Theatre on March 4.

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