A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
‘Tis the season, and we’re still even two weeks away from Thanksgiving. Usually the holiday parties are held at least until December — but apparently not in Hollywood, where a truncated awards season not only brings mass panic to strategists worrying about scheduling enough Q&As and getting screeners out, but also spreading good cheer and eggnog on a calendar that just only passed Veterans Day. Tonight Netflix’s Ted Sarandos offers a “toast” to “celebrate the season” at his home as he usually does, but considering the invite list of HFPA members, pundits and others to mingle with a guest list that includes Martin Scorsese, Eddie Murphy, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and many more from the streamer’s awards hopefuls in both movies and TV, the “season” in this case takes on whole new meaning.
Actually Netflix is a little late to the game. In the past week, Apple, A24, NBC and others were spreading the cheer at their own parties. Disney/ABC/Fox TV has a bash next week, while streamer Amazon jumps into the fray this weekend with its good tidings at its holiday party in Hollywood. By the time we get to December, we will have nothing to do, I guess. But that probably is the idea since actually throwing these parties during the holiday season would be a little late in terms of voting schedules, and well, you know the only gifts Hollywood craves this year are nominations, right?
Everything seems to be coming a little faster, a little furiouser this year since we are just a few days away from Thursday’s Indie Spirit Awards nomination announcement, and the first of the guild nominations actually came this week (!) with the Make-Up Artists and Hair-Stylists Guild noms, even before all the 2019 movies have been unveiled. Potential so-far-unseen contenders such as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Cats, 1917 and Richard Jewell are instant also-rans with this guild, which seemingly penalized them for not being ready and which showered many of its nominations on earlier-in-the-year films such as Us, Rocketman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Captain Marvel, John Wick: Parabellum, Avengers: Endgame and so on. The only December release to get traction with MUAHS is Bombshell, but Lionsgate has been screening that for all the industry groups since last month. I’m not sure what the rush was since the Make-Up Artists and Hair-Stylists Guild awards show itself isn’t until January 11. The earlier February 9 Oscar date sent people into overdrive, I suppose.
The town is so busy that I would say that if you didn’t have an invite to something, anything last night, you should check your whole meaning for existing this time of year. Robert Pattinson, Greta Gerwig, Olivia Wilde, Jamie Foxx, Paul Rudd and other starry Golden Globe hopefuls were at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual Golden Globe Ambassadors event at Catch LA, where Dylan and Paris Brosnan, sons of Pierce, continue the Globes’ Hollywood tradition of bringing second-generation Hollywood into a spotlight on its awards show. It used to be called Miss Golden Globe, but in these politically correct times the name — and even the gender, in this year’s case — has changed.
Also among the guests at the Globes event was China’s Zhao Shuzhen, who plays the pivotal role of the grandmother — or Nai Nai, as she is called — who is kept in the dark by her family when they learn she has been given a terminal diagnosis in Lulu Wang’s acclaimed indie hit The Farewell. A television star in China but little known outside that country, Shuzhen is getting serious Oscar and Globe Best Supporting Actress buzz, and it is well deserved. She steals the film to such a degree that A24 has brought her out to Hollywood during campaign season. If you didn’t catch up with her at the Ambassador bash, A24 threw a reception for her and Wang at the London Hotel later in the evening. Wang tweeted out a photo of Shuzhen hobnobbing with Pattinson, with the caption: “Who’s ready for a @TheFarewell sequel cuz Nai Nai found Billi a husband…” (a reference to the granddaughter played by Awkwafina in the movie). So was this an announcement of The Farewell 2, Lulu? Hope so.
Also Thursday night, the AFI Fest opened in Hollywood for a week of films, foreign and otherwise, including nightly red carpet premieres of Oscar contenders. The opener was Universal’s Queen and Slim, a timely drama dealing with police brutality and a black couple on the run. It could be called Bonnie and Clyde-meets-Romeo and Juliet-meets-Do the Right Thing and any number of other movie references. AFI alum and this year’s Franklin J. Schaffner gold medal winner Melina Matsoukas makes an impressive feature debut with this one that should make an impact over its Thanksgiving release. It features outstanding performances from Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya and breakout star Jodie Turner-Smith in her first major feature role.
AFI is a must-stop for late-breaking movies in the awards race, and this year two more debuts are creating anticipation including the closing-night film, the excellent The Banker, a first feature release for Apple that stars Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson and Nia Long in an incredible true story, as well as the indefatigable Clint Eastwood’s latest, Richard Jewell, another true story that Warner Bros is hoping will be the 89-year-old four-time Academy Award winner’s latest invitation to the Oscars. Martin Scorsese stops by for a conversation tonight, and Tuesday there will be an L.A. Imax premiere showing of Amazon Studio’s big-screen epic The Aeronauts, in the format it must be seen in, before hitting Amazon’s streaming service just two weeks after its December theatrical run. There also will be a tribute and film retrospective to the great Alan J. Pakula, including a new documentary on his career premiering Sunday night.
MARTIN SCORSESE LOVES KIRK DOUGLAS
Speaking of Scorsese, if you made the long trek up the coast to Santa Barbara last night (sadly, I couldn’t make it this year due to too many conflicts), you would have been among the lucky to see him receive the 14th annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film presented by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. When this starry evening began in 2006 with Douglas attending, the veteran star was a mere 89 years old. It’s still going strong — and so is he at 102. In fact he turns 103 in less than a month on December 9. At this rate Douglas is going to outlive every one of his KD Dinner honorees. Frequent Scorsese star Leonardo DiCaprio and The Irishman co-star Al Pacino presented the award to him in an evening that also included words from SBIFF director Roger Durling and Board Chairman Lynda Weinman.
Although this evening is perfectly timed to awards campaigns, and certainly Scorsese’s latest The Irishman is in the thick of it, no one could be a better choice especially –since you just knew that Scorsese, more than anyone else, would throw the spotlight on Douglas (who sent his best wishes and a couple of barbs on tape) and know more about the impact of this legendary actor than anyone else. In his acceptance speech, Scorsese made note of many classic Douglas films and their importance, but he pointed out interestingly that he was so obsessed by the two movies about the Hollywood film industry he starred in for Vincente Minnelli, that he had wanted to remake them. Those films are 10 years apart: 1952’s multi-Oscar-winning The Bad and the Beautiful and 1962’s Rome-set Two Weeks in Another Town. I am equally obsessed with them but had no idea until I read press reports of Scorsese’s speech that he wanted to do new versions for years and even had writers including Paul Schrader and Richard Price working on them. Scorsese said he had the gorgeous one-sheet from Bad and the Beautiful hanging on his office wall for 30 years. No one knows movie classics better than Scorsese, or has done more to preserve them, so I would give him an award just for that.
J.J. ABRAMS IN EMOTIONAL TRIBUTE TO LATE ‘STAR TREK’ STAR
Last night I had the pleasure of moderating a screening of the fascinating and emotional documentary on the short but sweet life of actor/photographer/musician Anton Yelchin/ Love, Antosha was played at the Blakely Theatre on the Fox lot, with director Garret Price, producer Adam Gibbs and Yelchin’s parents Irina and Viktor, who brought him to America from their native Russia when he was just a baby. Certainly Yelchin lived the American dream, making 69 film and TV appearances before a tragic freak accident took his life at just 27. This documentary contains a remarkable amount of footage from every point in his life (it seems like he was always on a camera somewhere, or behind it) and poignant interviews with not only his parents but a sterling array of famous names who simply wanted to take part in the expertly made tribute that will, as Martin Landau says in the film, make sure no one ever forgets Anton Yelchin.
Hosting the screening designed to bring some awards attention to this very deserving movie was none other than Yelchin’s Star Trek director and producer J.J. Abrams, who introduced the film. Abrams told me he was pleased to be able to do this, even though he had to run back to the mixing stages right there on the Fox lot to finish up a little December movie he has called Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. He told me he was surprised to have run into Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn earlier that day on the same lot but then said, “Oh wait, that’s right — you guys own this place now.” I told him I can’t wait to see this one, and he said, “I can’t wait for you to see it too.” December 16 is the date of the premiere, so he has just a few weeks to get in fighting shape.
However this night to which he graciously lent his name and presence was about taking a few minutes to honor his friend and Chekov, Anton aka Antosha. “I have never hated a movie more than this one,” he said. “I wish I was joking. I f*cking hate it. And yet it’s a beautiful thing. I will say this, in 2008 we cast Anton to play Chekov in Star Trek. And this guy was literally translating a Russian novel between takes. I have three kids and they were very young at the time, and I remember feeling — looking at the way Anton would behave with his parents — thinking I wished that one day my kids love me and my wife the way Anton loved his parents. It was a remarkable thing to behold. This guy was extraordinary. He was brilliant. He was inquisitive. He loved art, he loved making things.
He had more questions than anyone I have ever met had because he wanted to understand how things worked. He loved music. He was like the personification of life, and of passion, and he was so good at what he did that just felt this guy was unstoppable,” he said before sharing that he had actually run into Anton about five or six months before the tragic news, not knowing it would be the last moment he saw him. “I just would say to all of you here who weren’t lucky enough to get to know him in person, you get to know him a bit now. I would just say if anything about this brilliant bright light that we got to know for a while, if this movie tells us anything it is to embrace what we’ve got while we’ve got it. It is a cliché thing but nothing is more true. I will never forget that last moment running into Anton at this awful little Ventura Boulevard Sushi restaurant, and he was just picking up food to go because he wanted to go home to watch a movie which is something he loved to do. He was someone who to this day I still cannot reconcile his life force with his not being here. I adored the man.” Documentary branch members, if you have not yet seen this film which just hit number one on iTunes, see it. You won’t be sorry. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house last night.
OSCAR VOTERS CELEBRATE 99-YEAR-OLD HERO AT SPECIAL SCREENING
What Abrams did in lending his name as host for the screening is something that happens frequently this time of year. Earlier in the week at the Ross House Will & Grace star Eric McCormack hosted a screening of another remarkable documentary called Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz, a movie about the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials in Nazi Germany and a fighter for justice in the courts to this day. 99-year-old (!) Ferencz was there in attendance, and I had the honor of interviewing him at a Q&A after the screening of the film that is streaming on Netflix and qualified for this year’s Oscars (along with 158 other films including Love, Antosha), with director Barry Avrich, who saw Ferencz interviewed on 60 Minutes and knew there was a movie to be made. He financed it himself, so urgent he thought getting this story out in today’s dark times would be. Ferencz, who told me he had just done 75 pushups earlier in the day and is known to swim 100 laps daily as well, got a massive standing ovation, appropriately on Veterans Day since he was in Patton’s army in WWII and fought in just about every campaign in Europe after joining up in 1945.
This is where he also got involved in war crimes, having seen unspeakable things when he visited the concentration camps. Meeting someone like him on the otherwise usually frothy awards circuit puts it all in perspective. He was mobbed by the moviegoers — a large number of them Oscar voters — at the reception afterward. Since he is the last survivor of the infamous Nuremberg trials, I couldn’t resist asking him what he thought of Hollywood’s version of the events he lived, particularly Stanley Kramer’s Oscar-winning 1961 film, Judgment at Nuremberg. He said he had been interviewed by screenwriter Abby Mann when he was writing the film and thought it was pretty accurate. “However, I doubt that Marlene Dietrich actually slept with the judges,” he laughed in referencing one of the film’s stars.