A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
The fact that the town basically has shut down for the four-day Thanksgiving holiday doesn’t mean the Oscar race is slowing. In fact, campaigners discovered a few years ago that Thanksgiving Day itself is a good time to tout their movies and hold screenings that draw surprisingly big crowds not concerned about a turkey in the oven, or at the movies, apparently.
Netflix dove in yesterday by taking over the DGA in West Hollywood for screenings of Roma, Dumplin’, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, even throwing in a couple of “holiday treat” receptions. Disney used Thanksgiving to launch several weekend screenings in their Main Theater, complete with buckets of popcorn, of Mary Poppins Returns, which doesn’t have its official premiere until November 29, or open until December 19. All of them instantly filled up almost as soon as the invites went out. There wasn’t a single seat to be had at the studio’s Thanksgiving 1:30 PM screening, where the crowd ate up this 54-years-in-the-making sequel. There is still a social media and review embargo for press members like me, but this film is so practically perfect in every way that I would not be surprised to see it follow its 1964 predecessor and rack up a ton of Oscar nominations — including Best Picture (Mary Poppins got 13 and won five) and Emily Blunt for Best Actress, the award Julie Andrews won for the original. Can Poppins strike twice? No Disney label movie has ever won Best Picture. But I can tell you the time could not be more right for the Rob Marshall-directed gem (his magnificent musical Chicago did win Best Picture when Disney owned Miramax). If ever there was a great movie to see on a holiday, it’s this one.
The Mary Poppins Returns screener won’t be out for a while (see it in a theater), but, per usual, the DVD screener deliveries have become markedly more intense in the past week, as some groups begin voting in just a few days. Warner Bros’ A Star Is Born sent a nice embossed box with that DVD and an engraved journal book, plus a note from Bradley Cooper wishing a “happy holiday season” to Broadcast Critics members (I am one of them). Today, Pawel Pawlikowski sent a vinyl record of Polish songs from his film Cold War in a big box that also contains a cocktail kit, silver shaker and goblets. The screener arrived earlier in the week. Leaving no stone unturned in trying to make a major imprint on Oscar for the first time, Netflix has been sending out a boatload of discs, more than anyone else so far, including today’s package of — among others — Nappily Ever After, Roxanne, The Land of Steady Habits and Hold the Dark, asking Best Picture (!) consideration for each. Dream big, N.
NETFLIX THROWS A PARTY
Speaking of Netflix, Ted Sarandos and wife Nicole opened up their home for a pre-Governors Ball bash last Saturday night with an elaborate open-air structure that nicely kept the party all in the round, much better for schmoozing. It was the brainchild of Nicole, who said she had it built by a company run by someone who had just lost his house in the Malibu fire, but insisted it was good therapy for him to still do this job.
At that party, which merged contenders from both the TV and movie side of all things Netflix, I talked to Roma’s director Alfonso Cuarón, who was discussing his amigo Guillermo Del Toro’s close call with the fires, which, for a time seriously threatened del Toro’s vast movie memorabilia and monster collection.
However, Cuarón said it was del Toro’s meticulously written and drawn notebooks that concerned him the most; he said they are extraordinary and irreplaceable. He wants him to put them in a vault somewhere where they can be out of harm’s way. At that party, Norman Lear, whose reboot of One Day at a Time is a hit for Netflix, was being escorted around by none other than Sacha Baron Cohen. Maggie Gyllenhaal was there, so great in The Kindergarten Teacher, perhaps the best role I have ever seen her play. Jonah Hill, still winning praise for his A24 directorial debut Mid90s, was there because of his Netflix TV series with Emma Stone, Maniac.
‘GREEN BOOK’ GOES FOR GOLD DESPITE TWITTER NAYSAYERS
Participant Media’s David Linde was talking up two potential Best Picture contenders his company has, an embarrassment of riches including Roma, of course, and Universal’s Green Book, the latter being one I am hearing repeatedly positive things from Oscar voters. It screened last weekend at AMPAS to the kind of massive standing ovation it got when it kicked things off in Toronto, where it won the audience favorite People’s Choice award. There does now seem to be an attempt to bring it down, which is why it is always perilous to be a front-runner at this point. A slower than hoped-for start at the box office last week, and some ridiculous backlash being pushed by ill-informed Twitter trolls and a couple of trade sites, are a minor bump for this one’s Oscar chances. Word-of-mouth and an A+ CinemaScore are two key indications this terrific and much-needed, very human film will be in it for the long haul. It played extraordinarily well at my Deadline-sponsored Tuesday night KCET Cinema Series screening at Arclight Sherman Oaks, where director Peter Farrelly and his co-writers Brian Hayes Currie and Nick Vallelonga (son of the real-life Tony Lip character, played brilliantly by Viggo Mortensen) explained this totally feel-good movie all really happened just the way it is portrayed in the film. Some movies just need to take more time to find an audience. The eternal holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life was a big flop when it opened in 1947. Hard to believe now.
HUGH JACKMAN AND HIS KIRK DOUGLAS CONNECTION
Another movie worthy of finding an audience, but so far struggling (perhaps because people are tired of politics), is Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, a compelling look at the scandal-plagued 1988 Gary Hart presidential campaign, which was doomed when a tabloid report accused Hart of having an extra-marital affair with Donna Rice. Hugh Jackman has never been better, and has received deserved Oscar buzz ever since the film’s debut at Telluride over Labor Day. It’s an important movie that shows the unfortunate effects of the tabloid mentality that began creeping into our political discourse with the Hart campaign and is now so prevalent, especially in the Internet age where “takedowns” in political and Oscar campaigns (see Green Book above) are like sport. Hopefully the film’s disappointing box office won’t hurt Jackman’s chances of landing his second Best Actor Oscar nomination (his first came for Les Miserables).
This week, he was in town to talk up the film at a Sunday afternoon SAG Q&A at the London, attend the Governors Awards, and then on Monday night received the 13th Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film at the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s dinner. I wasn’t able to make the drive up the coast for the always fun event. But I interviewed Jackman that morning for an upcoming episode of my Deadline video series The Actor’s Side, and he told me his next stop was going to be at Kirk and Anne Douglas’ house in Beverly Hills, a warm-up for the evening event for which Douglas sent a taped message of praise for the Australian star.
Jackman told me his career had been heavily influenced by Douglas, not least of which that Kirk co-starred in The Man from Snowy River, which was one of the biggest international hits ever to emerge from Down Under.
“When I first started to act and went to a drama school, I was listening to his book on tape, and there’s a long section about his training at the American Academy and having this tyrannical teacher who everyone was in fear of and who hated Kirk, until this key moment when it turned for him. At the time, I had a similar tyrannical teacher, and I leaned on that (Douglas) story for so long until things finally turned for me,” Jackman told me. “I feel a connection to him. And then I got to meet him when he came to see me on stage. And when I do stage, I never go out afterwards. I never know how to draw the line between people you go out with and people you don’t, so I just say, ‘No one.’ So, somehow the message got to him, not from me, ‘Oh, Hugh doesn’t really go out,’ and I said, ‘No, no, no, no. You break the rule for Kirk Douglas’. He was, I think, 96 at the time, and I’m gonna say ‘I’m a little tired? I’m not going out?’ (Laughs) So, yeah, we went out. We are going to see him this morning, and Anne. He’s irreverent and funny and, to me, he’s the pinnacle of community of giving back at the height of his career. He really put it all on the line for the blacklisted writers too. At any rate, it is a great honor to get an award in his name.” Kirk Douglas’s 102nd birthday is coming up December 9. At this rate, he just might outlive every recipient of the Kirk Douglas Award!
Have a great holiday weekend. See some movies, eh?