“We are going to build that wall with Oscars,” five-time winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu joked when I ran into him at the Governors Ball after Sunday night’s Academy Awards.
I pointed out that, with Guillermo del Toro’s big win, Mexican directors have won four of the past five Best Director Oscars. Del Toro, Iñárritu and Gravity’s Alfonso Cuaron, best friends and longtime collaborators and colleagues all, are affectionately known as the “three amigos.” With The Shape of Water and Coco triumphs, Iñárritu noted it was a very big night for Mexico. “I am just waiting to see what Trump tweets about this,” he said while promising to get del Toro drunk as soon as he could find him.
I didn’t catch the big winner of the night at the ball but eventually did when he made a triumphant entrance into the Fox celebration at nearby Tao’s restaurant at nearly 1AM where it was a true hug-a-thon for del Toro with just about everyone in the room as he held up his two Oscars for Best Picture and Director. It has been clear to me all season that there is simply no one nicer or more genuine in this business that del Toro, and this was a victory well-earned. He told me over the weekend that he will be going back to Mexico on Wednesday to visit his very ill father, who certainly must be proud he was able to see this moment for his son.
Among those at the Fox party overjoyed with the results were Fox Searchlight Presidents Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula as well as 21st Century Fox President Peter Rice, who at one time ran Searchlight and began its remarkable Oscar Best Picture streak with Slumdog Millionaire in 2009. “Has any other studio had this kind of a run, with four Best Pictures in that short a time? I don’t think so,” Rice told me while heaping praise on Utley and Gilula. With 12 Years a Slave, Birdman and now Shape, it certainly is an impressive record. Amidst all the merriment last night (or actually early this morning), I asked Rice how he thinks Searchlight will be impacted by the Disney-Fox merger. “They are going to be just fine,” he predicted, and certainly yet another Best Picture doesn’t hurt.
At that Governors Ball I congratulated new Academy President John Bailey on the group’s 90th anniversary show, especially for getting so much great history via film clips and presenters into it all, even though it ran a whopping 3 hours, 49 minutes, one of the longest ever. “I actually wanted to do more, and in fact we had a great documentary film package that had to be cut because we were running so long. They were cutting things throughout the show, but I am very happy with what we had. We have to honor our past,” he told me just as Oscars co-producer Mike De Luca walked up with one of his young children who was eager to get to bed. Bailey told him the response at the Ball had been great, especially for the military and troops salute with great war films that was one of the many stirring clips packages on the show. I asked De Luca, who produced with Jennifer Todd for the second year in a row, if he would consider coming back for a third go-round and, pointing to Bailey, he said, “It’s up to him.” Considering that this time, with no envelope snafus to suck the air out of the room, the show, in my opinion, hit all the right notes striking just the right tone in a politically charged year. I would say they should be back.
Immediate past-AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who presided over the previous four shows during her reign, told me she really hopes the producing pair will do it again but wasn’t sure if they would want to. It clearly is a big job, almost a no-win in some ways, but to honor the 90th — with the idea of putting the main emphasis on the impact of movies themselves, and those who made them — was inspired. I loved the inclusion of some Hollywood greats and past winners like 86-year-old Rita Moreno (wearing the exact same dress she wore when she won her West Side Story Oscar in 1962), and 93-year-old Eva Marie Saint as presenters was terrific. They received two of the many standing ovations this show elicited throughout the night. As she entered the elegantly designed Ball with daughter Laurette, Saint told me the touching tribute to Jeffrey Hayden, her late husband of 65 years, was completely unplanned and not on the teleprompter. “When I got that ovation, I don’t know quite what hit me, but I just decided right then to say those things about him,” she said. It was one of the most touching moments of the night. And then listening to her reminisce about working with Brando, Hitchcock and Cary Grant before presenting the Costume Design award (where she also talked about the great designers she worked with like Edith Head) was pure gold itself. These are the Oscar moments we will remember, and this show was full of them.
Speaking of that Costume Design winner, Phantom Thread’s Mark Bridges was the winner of the shortest speech of the night, clocking in at 32 seconds . That meant he won the Jet Ski and Lake Havasu Days Inn vacation that were at the butt of one of host Jimmy Kimmel’s best gags, a Price Is Right game show takeoff complete with a stunning Helen Mirren as the prize model. It paid off beautifully as he rode out on it with Mirren at show’s end. At the Ball I interrupted his conversation with his director Paul Thomas Anderson to ask if he really did get to keep the prizes. “You bet. I just had to sign the papers for them backstage!” he said. Like all game show prize winners does that mean he has to pay the taxes on them too?
Between that bit and the star-studded trip to the nearby Chinese Theatre multiplex in the Hollywood and Highland complex — to the surprise an audience watching a special screening of A Wrinkle in Time — Kimmel proved again he was born to be the Oscar host. He has just the right touch that the best hosts like Hope, Carson, and Crystal brought to the Oscars. The Wrinkle in Time bit by the way was not only funny, it was a publicity bonanza for Disney (which conveniently owns Oscar network ABC) and took lots of planning on the part of Disney to pull it off since the whole H&H complex is shut down for the Academy Awards. A Disney source said they had to recruit the audience for the screening and bring them in from the back entrance to the Chinese, which normally would be closed.
The lunch boxes with goodies under every seat at the Dolby Theatre also were a nice touch. Each box had a different Best Picture nominee on it. Mine was Phantom Thread, and it included a “handwritten” note from Kimmel that read: “It wouldn’t be right to make you sit through this without snacks. Please don’t throw them at me. P.S. a donation to the L.A. regional food bank has been made for each box.” Get Out co-star Catherine Keener told me she desperately wanted the Get Out box, but there weren’t any in her row. I managed to hunt down The Post, Call Me by Your Name, The Shape of Water and Dunkirk left behind by audience members who aren’t as avid a collector as I am. Maybe I can find the other four on eBay.
Speaking of Dunkirk, I caught up with a very happy Christopher Nolan at the Govs Ball and showed off my lunch box. His brilliant WWII epic took three Oscars, earning him many shout-outs from winners onstage. It was the second-best haul of the night after Shape’s four, even though there was disappointment that Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography wasn’t one of them. “So what’s gonna win next year?” Nolan asked me half-jokingly. He predicted Black Panther will be among the Best Picture nominees in 2019, which would make it the first comic-book movie to break that ceiling with the Academy. I reminded him that it was because of The Dark Knight’s exclusion that the Academy went to 10 (and now up to 10) nominees to get movies like that included, but to no avail so far. A top Disney exec told me flat out that they would be campaigning not only Black Panther for the big prize but also the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns (from director Rob Marshall), which he was raving about, particularly for star Emily Blunt. who he says knocks it out of the park in the role for which Julie Andrews already has an Oscar. Lin-Manuel Miranda co-stars. and he says there are a lot of great new songs in it as well. The teaser trailer broke in the first segment of last night’s show, but we have to wait until Christmas to see if the film lives up to Disney’s early prediction. The first Mary Poppins wowed Oscar in 1964, when it received 13 nominations, winning five but losing Best Picture to My Fair Lady. Other than through its one-time association with Miramax, Disney remains the only major studio not to have a Best Picture winner of its own, yet another reason to make sure they don’t mess with Fox Searchlight’s Midas touch.
If I have any complaints about the Oscars these days, it is that by the time we get to them they seem pretty predictable. How many times have we heard all those winning actors this season give speeches at the Globes, Critics’ Choice, SAG, BAFTA, Indie Spirits and so on? Thank God for Frances McDormand, who made it all seem new, and electrified the room with her call for all the female nominees to stand up and be counted.
Still the six-month-long awards season takes its toll, and that can be partially reflected in the ratings, I suppose. In terms of winners, Oscar dutifully followed the script he was handed. PGA winner Shape of Water wins Best Picture. DGA champ del Toro takes Best Director. SAG winners McDormand and Sam Rockwell win. WGA honorees Get Out and Call Me by Your Name repeat at the Dolby (with the latter’s James Ivory becoming Oscar’s oldest competitive winner ever at age 89). ASC, ACE, CAS and other guilds all followed suit for the most part. Two months ago the increasingly predictive Critics’ Choice Awards (for which I vote) already had foretold the eventual Oscar outcome in every single major category right down to Best Song.
At Saturday night’s The Night Before benefit pre-Oscar party at Fox, the man who would be named Best Actor just 24 hours later was a little weary. “I just want to get my life back,” Gary Oldman said about the campaign journey that started Labor Day weekend in Telluride. He suggested that the endless season needs to change in the future. It can be grueling, and it is a long and winding road for these nominees and winners, almost tougher than making the movies themselves. They were all richly deserving, but in a wide-open year that this started out to be, it might have been nice to have at least one surprising winner just to shake things up.
Oh well, maybe next year. Did I mention we are already starting to talk about the 91st Oscars?