A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit.
The big question this week that more than one person has asked me: Could Ford v. Ferrari go all the way to Best Picture? After a sterling opening last weekend in which it considerably outraced all its competition at the box office and received a very rare A+ audience rating from Cinemascore – which is added to a highly respectable Rotten Tomatoes fresh score of 93 (much higher than Green Book’s 78 and that won last year) – it is starting to look like this could be the little engine that could.
Here is a sample email I got: “Ford v Ferrari wins Best Picture. Could be totally wrong, but I loved the movie and feel like it’s the kind of film destined to do really well in a preferential voting system. It reminds me of Spotlight or The Shape Of Water in that it’s a true consensus choice that everyone really likes. Also, it’s a way to honor Fox.” It is that last thought that is particularly resonant for me. Ford v Ferrari was the last big original awards-worthy movie to be developed and produced by 20th Century Fox, and it could be a lovely bittersweet moment on the Oscars to see it cross the finish line first. It is also a crafts movie if ever there was one, so it is probably the front runner at this point in categories like Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Film Editing and so on, the categories another auto racing epic like Grand Prix managed to win in 1966, and that movie didn’t have the critical support FvF has.
The below the line crafts categories represent a very big voting block in the Academy, and this is right up their alley. What this film also has going for it, said another fellow critic friend of mine, is the emotional human factor, which, let’s face it, is often forgotten in vroooom zoooooom movies. This James Mangold-directed film is a cut above, and it could also possibly pull off a lead actor nomination for Christian Bale. It also has the advantage of being a true story truthfully told. A new documentary called Shelby American: The Carroll Shelby Story (now on Chassy.com) will just add to the interest in the movie, and the lead character in it that Matt Damon plays.
Whatever its prospects, FvF is in the running after that kind of opening, even if it is going to be swallowed up and dumped from first place at the box office by Frozen II this weekend. There is not much left to be seen that is considered Oscar contender-y in terms of upcoming films before the year ends. Clint Eastwood’s very compelling new drama Richard Jewell got off to a swell critical and audience start at AFI Fest on Wednesday. Sam Mendes’s long-awaited WWI epic 1917 is the hotly anticipated debut this weekend, with numerous screenings and Q&As in New York on Saturday and L.A. on Sunday from Universal and Dreamworks, which are looking to make it two in a row after winning Best Pic last season with the aforementioned Green Book. It could be the last great chance at upsetting the apple cart, and the perceived way this shortened Oscar season is heading.
There are many Best Picture prospects out there, including the Netflix trio of The Irishman, The Two Popes, and Marriage Story, along with Bong Joon Ho’s South Korean juggernaut Parasite, Warner Bros’ Joker, Just Mercy and Richard Jewell, Sony’s Little Women, Lionsgate’s Bombshell, A24’s The Farewell, Searchlight’s Jo Jo Rabbit and on and on. Momentum could increase for them as the critics awards start mounting up at the beginning of next month, along with Golden Globe, Critics Choice, and SAG nominations, or perhaps a dark horse will emerge. SAG voting, by the way, starts almost imminently, and I have never understood why, in this online voting age, they have to begin in November before everything is seen, or at least has a chance to be seen.
BIG STARRY CASTS TRY TO WOO SAG VOTERS
Of course, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a late July release that still has not been forgotten and may be sitting at the top of the pack right now. SAG nominating committee members have had plenty of time to see that one, but Sony isn’t hedging its bets, and last night threw a big screening that I am reliably told drew around 120 nom comm members (there are 2200 overall around the country, but that is an excellent turnout, especially for a film that has been out so long), along with many Motion Picture Academy members and other industry-ites who filled the 600 seat DGA Theatre. Of course, there was the lure of seeing 11 cast members at the post Q&A, including Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruce Dern and others who filled the stage, as you can tell by the photo here.
SAG is always an important stop (even if the stars are besieged for selfies by members who storm the stage afterwards), not just for individual contenders like the push for DiCaprio in Lead, and Pitt and Margot Robbie in Support, but also for Outstanding Cast, which pundits immediately conflate – often wrongly – as being crucial to getting a Best Picture Oscar nomination (the last two winners, Shape Of Water and Green Book, did not have SAG cast recognition, breaking a long- standing trend). It helps to have a big cast, and nothing beats the likes of Tarantino’s film or Scorsese’s The Irishman for that. But Marriage Story, Bombshell, Little Women, Ford v Ferrari, and Richard Jewell are also likely to get in the mix in a big way.
Publicists for Lionsgate’s all-star Knives Out got so excited over the huge SAG reaction to their Nom Comm screening last week in Westwood, they sent me 16 audience tweets of praise, including one from Oscar-winner Phil Lord. “Best Ensemble: We’re Coming For You,” the PR rep noted. With a cast on stage there like Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis , Don Johnson, Ana de Armas, and Michael Shannon, among others, it is not a bad strategy for a movie largely regarded as a commercial holiday entertainment to try to get in the race through the love of SAG. It’s not inconceivable that the union could go for it and give them this kind of coveted nomination (Oscar and SAG winner Christopher Plummer is also among the large cast), and then, combined with a Golden Globe Musical or Comedy nod the same week and VOILA – it could have the potential to create some waves in the Oscar race, and might even stick a knife in some of the more likely contenders. You never know.
WILL AVENGERS REAL ‘ENDGAME’ BE AT THE OSCARS?
And all this SAG talk brings me to the subject of the newly crowned highest-grossing movie of all time, and that, of course, is Disney/Marvel’s The Avengers: Endgame. Certainly the Academy might want to honor this achievement, and not just for the money it made (2.797 billion). But at 94% Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, it rates higher in critical acclaim than most of the movies we have mentioned in this column. Could it get more than the obligatory Visual Effects nomination that its predecessor, Avengers: Infinity War, received last season? Certainly, the Academy Awards show producers would love to see a Best Picture nomination for this one in order to boost ratings, just as the Best Pic nod and three wins for Black Panther certainly helped boost the Nielsen numbers by 12% last year.
Showing they aren’t the only one who can trot out big Q&A panels, Disney did a screening at Raleigh Studios last weekend with a Q&A I moderated with Joe and Anthony Russo, Kevin Feige, and a host of others who worked on the film, 11 people in all, the same number Once Upon A Time In Hollywood brought to SAG. But this one was minus the actors.
At this event, however, they were handing out a slick brochure aimed at SAG that is eyebrow-raising, in that there are more than 40 single credit cards alone for actors in the Avengers: Endgame cast, which numbers a lot more than that. But Sarah Finn, the casting director who was on the panel, points to it as a Guinness Book of World Records kind of moment.
Who knew a Marvel comic book movie could be the biggest boost of employment for actors of any movie this year? I pointed out (SPOILER ALERT) that for that one amazing shot at Tony Stark’s funeral, there were more stars gathered than even for that famous MGM photo in the 40’s of all their contract players, labeled “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven.” This has ‘More Stars Than There Are In Marvel Heaven’. Could Avengers: Endgame, full of strong emotional moments for its cast, find its way into the SAG Awards, thereby also getting a boost for its Oscar campaign? Just for its end credit roll, it amounts to 30 pages of names in the press kit. There are a LOT of people this film employed, and many have a vote and perhaps have a different opinion than Martin Scorsese. Just sayin’.
CLIFFS OF WHAT???
From the year’s biggest moneymaker in the Oscar race to the year’s smallest moneymaker in the Oscar race. Any industry watcher who sees the mountains of campaign ads we have been already inundated with this season are not surprised to see the likely contenders, such as those listed above, spending big bucks to draw attention to their achievements. But every season also brings a real head-scratcher, and for my money, this year’s has to be Cliffs Of Freedom -wait, Cliffs Of WHAT? – which has launched an all-out assault on Oscar with innumerable ads in all the trades and major websites (including this one). I have already been sent two DVD screeners of it as well. It is a period epic described this way on its IMDb page: “Inspired by historical events, CLIFFS OF FREEDOM is a timeless and romantic story of bravery and faith between a Greek village girl and a Turkish Ottoman Colonel during the dawn of the Greek War for Independence.”
According to IMDb’s box office stats, it earned a whopping $16,350 on its opening weekend in March, on its way to a total North American gross of $72,476 and a worldwide haul to date of $300,842. That’s not exactly the stuff of Oscar contenders, but to see their double truck ads, they would make you think otherwise, as they are suggesting consideration in no less than 17 categories, including Best Picture, and for stars Tania Raymonde for Best Actress, and Jan Uddin and Raza Jaffrey joining the very overcrowded Best Actor race. For supporting suggestions, they mention the only two real name actors who somehow wandered into this cast: Christopher Plummer and Patti LuPone. A visit to its page on Rotten Tomatoes finds only one solitary review (it is from the L.A. Times) posted, and unfortunately, for its awards hopes it is a “rotten.” The “epic” film comes from a distributor called Aegean, which certainly is spending the bucks on this long shot campaign, far more, by my estimates, than their worldwide gross adds up to. And for the chutzpah it takes to try and compete with the likes of Eastwood, Tarantino, Mendes, Mangold, and Scorsese, among others, I say, you go for it, guys.
AND THE BEAT GOES ON FOR SCORSESE
You gotta love Oscar season. And by the way, speaking of Scorsese, you gotta love it for another reason, as it is probably the only time we will ever see his name linked with Sonny Bono’s. But indeed, that is just what happened today when Scorsese was announced as the recipient of the Sonny Bono Visionary Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which runs from January 2, with the annual star-filled gala through January 13. Scorsese always has savvy choice remarks to say about whatever award he receives, so I can’t wait to hear what he says about this one and its namesake, the former Mayor of Palm Springs and the man who started the whole idea of this festival 31 years ago. No doubt there is some sort of Scorsese/Sonny connection somewhere, folks. Earlier this week, Bombshell’s Charlize Theron was named recipient of the PSIFF International Star Award.