Pete Hammond’s Notes On The Season: Oscar Screener Viewing Crunch; ‘1917’ Hits The Front Lines Of The Race; JLo And Female-Driven Films Draw The Voters

Jennifer Lopez at Hustlers screening

A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit.

“Thankful” reads the heading of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ latest email to members, the most recent in a series of messages being sent this month to urge members to see all the “great films, performances, and achievements of the past year”.  To do that, the missive urges members to “take advantage of the long weekend” and watch movies. With Thanksgiving coming so late, followed by the Christmas break beginning just about three weeks later, there is no time to waste folks. And with slightly more than just one month before nomination voting begins (just five days between Jan 2 to 7) in a season that sees February 9th as the earliest Oscar show date ever, you can forgive the Academy if they are getting a bit panicky about making sure their 8,733 voting members can check out the contenders in time. Even with the addition of streaming via the Academy Screening Room through the new AMPAS member portal and Apple TV 4 app, the organization’s full control of DVD mailings, and, hey, tons of screenings the old fashioned way in a theatre (imagine that!) an unscientific survey of mine quizzing members on what they have seen lately brings up the sad fact that many unengaged voters haven’t seen much of anything yet and don’t seem aware that time to do that is at a premium.


“Yeah, I am really looking forward to seeing some of them. I haven’t gotten my Once Upon A Time In Hollywood screener yet and want to see that for sure,” said one member who still hasn’t caught up with the latest Tarantino film and that opened in July (!). I don’t think he is alone. In past years, it was not just Thanksgiving, but of course the two-week Christmas break where a lot of members start to catch up, but this year by January 6 when it is time to get back to work, the Golden Globes will be over and Oscar balloting with have just about 24 hours left before it ends. Whew! The Academy has to crack the whip. “We encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities because, as you know, the 92nd Oscars has a shortened voting window. So , please start watching and be prepared to vote. Sincerely, The Academy.” Deadline hopes to help sort it all out for East Coast members when we present our second annual The Contenders New York all day event at the Big Apple DGA Theatre on December 7. This follows our London and Los Angeles Contenders events designed to give voters an idea of movies they might want to catch before casting that ballot.


Pete Hammond

By the way, it isn’t just AMPAS members that should be panicking about being ready to vote. The endless parade of critics groups and guilds kicks off in earnest while there are still some turkey leftovers in the fridge. An indication of the fury of the impending rush of awards verdicts is the tsunami of books, swag, screeners and tidings of the Oscar season that come every year. There has been so much in the past week this stuff has completely taken over my dining room table.

The Gotham Awards are actually handed out in NYC on Monday, just a day after the British Independent Film Awards gets the hardware rolling. Then come the announcements on Tuesday morning of the winners of the National Board Of Review (who were the first to give Best Picture last year to Green Book so attention must be paid even if no one is exactly sure who these people are); The New York Film Critics Circle will dribble out their choices on Tuesday morning; and then by the end of the week on the 6th the deadline for ballots hits for both the Critics’ Choice Awards and Golden Globes.

The former announces its nominees on the 8th while the HFPA unveils theirs on the 9th. The Screen Actors Guild, the first of the major guilds to weigh in ends their weeks-long voting period on the 8th (same day LA Film Critics name their picks) and announce their all-important nominees on the 11th. By that time, if not before, Oscar voters will have a good idea which films are must sees. Of course, all of these early deadlines mean most of these groups won’t get to see Universal’s Cats in time since that movie is rushing to finish the complicated effects of turning an all-star cast into kitties, but the studio is planning to be the last screening of the year for at least the Hollywood Foreign Press Association which has a comedy/musical category it would seem tailor made for, despite mixed internet reaction to that initial trailer (the new one has been more warmly embraced). Disney’s Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker however, certain to be the biggest boxoffice hit of the season, won’t be seen in time by any of these groups as the studio won’t be unveiling it until the middle of December from what I understand. One advantage for Oscar voters is they will have no problem seeing Cats or Star Wars in time for their voting window, but neither – sight unseen –  are topping anybody’s list of likely Oscar nominees if the past is any indication of where perceived AMPAS tastes reside.


1917 George MacKay (Credit: Andrea Foster/NBCUniversal)
François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

Most contenders have been viewed on the long and winding Fall Festival circuit that starts with Venice/Telluride/Toronto at the end of August, but some such as Little Women, Dark Waters, and Bombshell have taken a new route to hoped-for Oscar glory by skipping the fests entirely and instead trying to make their mark with special industry/press debuts followed by a Q&A in a Los Angeles theatre in hopes of not being crowded out by the intense competition for attention at festivals where several big awards hopefuls all debut in a short crowded period of time. This past weekend Universal’s much anticipated World War I-set drama, 1917 from director Sam Mendes, took that strategy and advanced it to an epic scale. By all accounts, and certainly internet buzz, the unusual gambit worked. Of course the studio really had no choice as Mendes did not have a finished film to deliver until just a couple of days earlier and waiting until the end of November in this Oscar campaign day and age is risky to say the least. So the idea became to do a “1917 launch weekend” in which there was not only one big screening with a Q&A, this movie did a total of seven of them, and not just in L.A. but actually starting with three in New York on Saturday, and then flying cast and filmmakers overnight to L.A. for four more on Sunday in several different venues. Mendes, his co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, producer Pippa Harris, cinematographer Roger Deakins, composer Thomas Newman, and stars George McKay and Dean-Charles Chapman participated in the whirlwind Q&A sessions (I moderated the 3 pm Sunday Century City version). AMPAS, Guild and media were invited and the turnout was massive with Universal sending out an email that they were all full and were adding more later in the week, indicating strong interest in this film which had remained mostly a mystery entry in this year’s race.

1917 Sam Mendes talks to the crew. (Credit: Andrea Foster/NBCUniversal)
François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

On the basis of reaction I heard then and since, the response was largely ecstatic for the film which employs the idea of a one camera shot real time journey by two soldiers into enemy German territory who must deliver a life or death message to a unit that is about to walk into a trap where they will surely be wiped out if they proceed. As I tweeted after seeing it I found this remarkable film to be a masterwork from Mendes, who won the directing Oscar for his first film, American Beauty in 1999 and will surely be nominated again this year. On every level this is astounding work (it currently has a 92% fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes on the basis of 39 reviews to date).

1917 Behind the scenes image. (Credit: Andrea Foster/NBCUniversal)
Roger Deakins François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

With all due respect to others in the race I have to say Deakins, who finally won a way overdue Oscar on his 14th nomination two years ago for Blade Runner 2049, will surely win a bookend for that for his astounding mind blowing work on this film. You can probably also count on Newman finally taking home the Best Music Score Oscar on his 15th nomination (without a previous win). The film should be a lock for nominations in Best Picture, Director, Production Design from Dennis Gassner, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, and though the category is very crowded, Best Original Screenplay. I would also say McKay, in particular, might have a shot in the Best Actor race, but it is far too crowded, so he and Chapman probably are more likely for Breakout awards wherever they are handed out. Oscar winner Lee Smith (Dunkirk) deserves consideration for a Film Editing nod too if his colleagues realize editing was key to making the one shot idea actually work as well as it does. The film comes from Universal and DreamWorks, the same entities behind last year’s Best Picture winner, Green Book, and wouldn’t it be interesting if they can make it two in a row?  Certainly the studio sees the urgency and is leaving nothing to chance in getting awards groups, particularly the early voters, to see the film. I am in the Critics’ Choice Association (actually President of Film division) and a DVD screener arrived early in the week for the film which actually hasn’t even finalized its production notes yet. However if there was one film that must be seen in a theatre on a big screen with pristine sound it is this one. Universal opens it limited on Christmas Day followed by a wide break January 10 just before Oscar nominations are announced on the 13th.


United Artists

If men dominated the action in 1917, another big campaign event this week proved women, both in front of and behind the camera, are in it to win it all as well. Both the smart and acclaimed teen comedy Booksmart, and the female-driven true life stripper caper movie Hustlers shared the space at two events Monday night at the Allbright, which has expanded to L.A. this Fall after successful British branches for the female-centric club, a nice change from all the similar male-driven establishments that dominate the landscape. Both films share a producer, Jessica Elbaum in common, and she has proven she is a real behind-the-scenes boon for successful movies and TV shows (she also produces Netflix’s Dead To Me ) that center on female bonding of one sort or another. The crowd, heavily dotted with Golden Globe voters, was pretty much the same at both soirees, with Booksmart kicking off the evening in the downstairs space. Elbaum, co-writer Katie Silberman, and stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever greeted well-wishers praising the spring release that received renewed attention this month when it was discovered Delta Airlines was stupidly showing a heavily censored version of the movie about two very bright best friends who suddenly they found out they missed out on the fun in high school due to studying, and try to make up for it in one wild night before college beckons. It has received nominations from the Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards so far and is a good bet for recognition from other groups such as the Globes and Critics Choice Awards as the season rolls along.  It not only was directed (Olivia Wilde) and produced by women, it was also written by a quartet of female writers as well.


After that it was upstairs to the second reception of the evening with Elbaum, Hustlers director and writer Lorene Scafaria, and star Jennifer Lopez, the latter drawing a constant line of well-wishers to talk about the movie that is consistently looking like it could deliver her first Oscar nomination ever in a role that has produced the best reviews of her film career to date, or at least since Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight at the beginning of her movie stardom. I think it is looking certain she will be a major contender for the Golden Globe (she hasn’t been nominated there since Selena in 1996) and Critics Choice Supporting Actress honors, particularly if you look at the turnout of HFPA members just to this event on Monday. She already has been nominated for two Gothams, a Best Supporting Female nom at the Independent Spirits, and this week was named recipient of the Spotlight Actress honor at the Palm Springs International Film Festival to be presented on January 2nd at their Gala launching the fest which runs thru January 13.


She told me the attention she keeps getting for this film has been astounding to her, and she is clearly thrilled. Lopez, Scafaria and Elbaum each told me Hustlers was rejected by every studio and distributor it was presented to until STX came along to give a green light. Apparently the idea, however based on a true story that it is, of a bunch of women drugging their male clients and maxxing out their credit cards, was too much for this still male-dominated industry. This group is having the last laugh as Hustlers has turned into a huge hit. Although there are no plans for a sequel, Scafaria told me she could see it possibly adapted as a Broadway musical some day. You heard it here first, folks.




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