Notes On The Season: Who’s Hosting Oscar Now?; Campaigning At The Museum; Everyone Goes For The Gold

A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit.

Another big week on the circuit, but as we approached the end of it, the expected talk of the just-released Golden Globe nominations, as well as anticipation for Critics’ Choice and SAG lists next week, was hijacked by Oscar, who just had to swoop in and suck the air out of the room – and headlines – with the Kevin Hart debacle. Was that the quickest reign ever for any Oscar host? Methinks, yes. Deadline broke the news of the Hart hosting job Tuesday afternoon, only to have it unbroken 48 hours later. It was eerily reminiscent of the AMPAS disaster revolving around the 84th Academy Awards when producer Brett Ratner was jettisoned on November 8, 2011, just three months after making very similar past homophobic comments, and a raunchy Howard Stern interview that surfaced, kiboshing his very short gig, taking his chosen host Eddie Murphy right down with him. Well, actually, Murphy withdrew quickly thereafter on his own, rather than go it alone on the Oscars without Ratner behind the scenes. Brian Grazer replaced Ratner and chose Academy telecast veteran Billy Crystal to take over as host without missing a beat. And all of that happened a full month before the point where the Academy is now.

Of course, they still have producer Donna Gigliotti and co-producer Glenn Weiss on board, so at least they don’t have to deal with replacing a producer as well as a star. Gigliotti is probably wondering about now why she took the gig in the first place. This is a piece of cake for Weiss, however, who presided as director over the Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway Best Picture debacle a couple of years ago. He’s clearly used to chaos. So now the speculation is once again on regarding just who will host the 91st Oscars. Is Billy Crystal even available? How about Chris Rock, who last hosted in 2016 and might just be the best choice if he dared to do it for a third time, and under circumstances of replacing Hart and his stated “dream job.” Replacing one African-American comic with another might be better than retreating to someone like Crystal, especially in the era of #OscarsSoWhite, which the Academy is trying so hard to overcome. You have to ask yourself which potential host would want to take the thankless gig if there is a looming threat that the Twitterverse moral police will be out there combing over any tweet or utterance on Howard Stern you ever did? Jimmy Kimmel could obviously walk right in and take over for a third year in a row, but AMPAS President John Bailey told me at their Museum kickoff event at the Toronto Film Festival in September that he did not particularly want a comic, especially one who would inject politics into the show. He gave an exception, however, for Ellen DeGeneres. But I doubt she would do it, despite the fact that her previous two times out were among the highest for a host in the modern era and she has great – and safe – social media. It had to kill the Academy, desperately looking to stem the tide of ratings drops, that they just lost a host with 66 million Instagram followers, reportedly as much as the past three Oscar hosts combined. Bailey told me he was open to the idea of multiple hosts, and as I wrote then, there is a lot of precedence for that, using anywhere from four to ten stars to carry the show. Going that route also reduces the risk for the Academy. If one of their hosts winds up getting raked over the coals on Twitter, they still have others to carry on. Quite frankly, with Bailey telling me of his aversion to having another solo comic front the broadcast, I was surprised to see Hart chosen, especially since I saw his concert movie and I know his act.


KCAL9 screengrab

While we are on the subject of AMPAS, one very prominent Oscar consultant told me they were very upset to learn that some campaigns brought their awards hopefuls to the big lighting ceremony Tuesday night for the Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures, which was supposed to be a celebratory event for the long-gestating museum, now just a year away from officially opening, and not (they thought) another opportunity to parade potential nominees around to glad-hand the hornet’s nest of Oscar voters roaming the grounds of the Petersen Auto Museum, where the Academy set up shop to throw a press lunch earlier in the day, as well as a glitzy party complete with appearances from the likes of Universal’s Ron Meyer, Tom Hanks, and Annette Bening. “I get that we can use the Governors Awards for that kind of opportunity, but nobody told me a museum event was also OK,” they said.


Indeed, I saw Roma’s Yalitza Aparacio being shepherded around the place, meeting the Academy crowd that also included several ex-AMPAS presidents among members, including the likes of Diane Keaton, and so many others I spotted in the brief time I spent there. Aparacio, who before being plucked from obscurity to star as the nanny of Alfonso Cuaron’s memories in Roma, had to wonder what she was doing being led through an automobile museum full of Hollywood’s best and brightest. I forgot to thank her for the Dark Chocolate Mexicano Oaxacan Sampler she sent me last week that was on my doorstep when I returned from Deadline’s New York Contenders event, with a card that said “!FELICES FIESTAS! Yalitza” (and another with a reminder of all the categories her movie is eligible in, including Best Actress). It was my favorite Netflix goodie of the week. The “Roma fever,” as the streamer is now calling it, continues this weekend with an all-day event at Raleigh Studios, with the “Roma Experience,” which is said to be an immersive journey into all things Roma, and all aspects of the making of the film. It sounds similar to what Netflix did during Emmy season, when they took over a sound stage at Raleigh and created various sets for each of their shows. Deadline’s screening series is a host of the event. And even though Roma has been in theaters for a couple of weeks, and every film festival worth its salt, it will be having its official “premiere” at the Egyptian in Hollywood on Monday night, followed by a big blow out party at Chateau Marmont. This is not to be confused with the planned “premiere” at the Academy last Monday, followed by a big blow out party at Spago. They changed that one to a “special screening” when Cuaron was suddenly called out of town and couldn’t attend. He will be there Monday, for sure. The film was nominated for three Golden Globes yesterday, and Gold Derby (our sister betting site) is putting strong odds that it will sweep the LA Film Critics awards vote on Sunday, even though those crazy west coast critics don’t like to copy their east coast counterparts in New York, which named Roma Best Picture and Director last week. The endless parade of critics group coronations continue, whether you care or not. It’s all part of the game and the trade ads.


Pete Hammond/Deadline

Although Netflix is spending big to get their first Best Picture Oscar nomination, really big, Universal is promising to not be outdone and also spending big to put their Neil Armstrong epic, First Man, squarely in the race. It started strong at Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, but its box office was disappointing compared to expectations, and Oscar buzz has been fading after the film failed to get any traction from National Board Of Review, critics groups, the Golden Globes (just a Claire Foy supporting and score mention), and the AFI top ten, where it was the highest profile contender passed over this year. That one really stung, because how can you get more American than this story of the first man landing on the moon? Damien Chazelle did an exceptional job, but some complain it lacks emotion (it doesn’t) and that has probably hurt it. The studio is throwing all they have at it, though, and like Netflix, seems to be in the business of sending elaborate coffee table books to prove it. First I got a handsome book of Josh Singer’s annotated screenplay, and earlier today (on the last day of Critics Choice voting) came a bound volume of five books inside focusing on different aspects of the making of the film. It weighs as much as the big Roma book from last week. Take that, Netflix! Of course, the studio is also over the moon about those five Green Book Golden Globe nominations, and are continuing to not only host events for First Man (there’s another coming up on the 19th), but also Green Book, where Donna Langley hosted one on Tuesday at the Sunset Tower with director Peter Farrelly, writers Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie, and Mahershala Ali in attendance. It followed a Chinese Theater screening for AMPAS members who seemed to love it, judging by the chatter at the party. Quincy Jones is hosting another GB event on the 13th, and I hear Universal has been getting a lot of other unsolicited offers from notables to support the movie, which has been steadily climbing at the box office after a slow start. It’s all about word of mouth, and always has been for this one.



The holidays mixed with Oscar campaign season is a lethal combination, and this is prime time right now. The Annapurna gang and makers of If Beale Street Could Talk took over the Ross House (which also has a screening room) in Mt. Olympus to have a “toast” to Barry Jenkins on the occasion of their three Golden Globe nominations yesterday, including Best Picture – Drama. The invite came late in the day for the 9pm last-minute event, but it was packed. Jenkins came by to say hi and relive our Deadline Contenders events (he and cast were at both LA and NY), but said he was on antibiotics, so couldn’t partake in the Michters Whiskey Bar at our NY outing. Two-time Oscar-winning producer Dede Gardner of Plan B, which made the film, told me she was thrilled with the Globe news and the film’s placement on the AFI Top Ten. She and producer Jeremy Kleiner had a big day, as their Vice Dick Cheney bio-satire led the Globes with six nominations. After 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight, can there be a third Best Pic in her future? She’s already the only woman in Oscar history to have won twice.

Before swinging by there just as the party was winding down, I hosted a special bonus screening of Roma (you’ve heard of that one, right?) for my Deadline-sponsored KCET Cinema Series, with a great Q&A with co-star Marina de Tavira, who plays Sofia, and Production Designer Eugenio Caballero, who had much to say about how he helped recreate the Mexico City of 1971 as filtered through the memories of Alfonso Cuaron. Before that, I headed out to the Motion Picture And Television Fund campus in Woodland Hills to moderate a Q&A for the residents with director Pamela Green and her magnificent documentary Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy Blache, about the first female director who started making films in 1896(!). It has qualified for the Oscars and is hoping to make the shortlist. The screening took place in the beautifully remodeled Louis B. Mayer Theater, where residents get to attend a lot of Oscar hopefuls this time of year. I spotted director Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond), who is among those Academy members happily living out there now. Green, who has taken her film to Cannes, Telluride, Deauville, London, and New York Film Festivals so far, told me this group was one of the best. She loved showing it to these industry stalwarts, who certainly could appreciate this tale of the early days of the industry in which they worked.



Another showbiz-oriented documentary getting lots of play this season is from Netflix (you have heard of them, right?). Quincy, about the life of Quincy Jones, who recently got his hand and footprints at the Chinese Theater and has been hosting screenings at his Bel Air home for the past month, including one earlier this week, and one I attended a few weeks ago, which was hosted by Mary J. Blige and Dr. Dre. Jones’ mansion, laden with Grammys (about 27), an Oscar and Emmy lying around near the couches, is a shrine to his remarkable career, and he has an amazing archive down below the living area. Rashida Jones, one of Quincy’s daughters, was a co-director (with Alan Hicks] on it, and told me they filmed 800 hours of new material and pored through 2000 hours of archival footage to put this compelling portrait of the great Quincy together. He held court right in the middle of the vast living room, where I joined him and guest Cecilia Peck as they both noted he had scored two of her father Gregory Peck’s films, Mirage and McKenna’s Gold in the 60’s, when black film composers were not getting those kinds of plum jobs. Soundtrack collector that I am, I told Quincy I had a bootleg record with 12 different versions of a song called “The Eyes of Love” that he wrote for an obscure 1967 Universal movie with Robert Wagner called Banning. “That was my first Oscar nomination,” this man with a razor-sharp recall of his career told me. That same year he actually received a second nomination for Original Score as well for In Cold Blood. Quincy keeps watching the docu as he has guests over and saw it for the 10th time that night, always finding new things to recall. “Looking back is a bitch,” he laughed.

Jones certainly knows the musical world, and the Oscar Best Song contest is more fierce than ever, with A Star Is Born’s “Shallow” from Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s massive Golden Globe and Grammy-nominated hit easily the front runner for Oscar this year. That hasn’t stopped others from trying to compete for one of the five nominations that, for the first time, will be chosen from a shortlist of 15 song finalists to be revealed by the Academy on December 17. One of those songs I had never heard of until attending the after-party for Peter Jackson’s epic post-apocalyptic action film, Mortal Engines, on Wednesday night in Westwood. There I met a director by the name of Ari Gold, who made a film called The Song of Sway Lake, a tiny indie that came out in September starring Robert Sheehan, who is also in Mortal Engines, hence the reason Gold was invited. The minute he told me the name of his film I knew it, because I had just gotten it (as a voter for Critics’ Choice awards) and a 45 record of the song “Sway Lake,” which is so key to the whole story of the film. A movie about a song should be irresistible to the music branch, so he’s launching a personally financed campaign to get it on the Academy’s shortlist, especially for his twin brother Ethan who wrote it, and threw his heart and soul into the process to the point that last weekend he checked himself into a hospital ER as the result of the anxiety over this whole Oscar season experience of trying to get their little-song-that-could noticed among the Gagas and Kendrick Lamars of the world. That’s what this season can do to you, so I thought it might be worth a shout-out to seek it out and give a listen.

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