A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit.
OK, the fun of November when everyone still has high hopes of Oscar glory has now turned to the chill of December as reality starts to cloud the picture. The week kicked off Sunday with the announcement of winners of the British Independent Film Awards, followed in quick daily succession by honors from the Gotham Awards, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle and AFI Awards’ top 10 lists for movies and TV.
So who can take heart? Focusing strictly on indie movies, the Gothams clearly fell in love with Noah Baumbach’s acclaimed Netflix film Marriage Story, scooping up four awards including Best Film plus a special honor for Laura Dern. The glow of those dominating wins was quickly dimmed however when the movie earned only a consolation prize of inclusion on the 10 Best list by the mysterious National Board of Review but not a single award, and then only a Supporting Actress mention for Dern from the NYFCC that was shared with her other role in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, thereby giving the Baumbach-Gerwig household a split decision.
All was merry however for Netflix, which continued on a Best Film roll at both NBR and NYFCC with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman landing on top at both — not a huge surprise since these are New York-based groups handing out their top honor to a New York-based movie. Scorsese however struck out everywhere as Best Director, in fact losing to another New York-centric film when the Safdie Brothers took the NYFCC helming prize for Uncut Gems set in NYC’s diamond district.
What these early wins signify perhaps is a coast-to-coast showdown leading to the Oscars between New York’s Irishman and Hollywood’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which landed Quentin Tarantino the NBR’s Director award and NYFCC’s Screenplay award. Then throw in Marriage Story, which tries to please both regions by setting its story on each coast. All three made the prestigious AFI top 10 list, so it is too early in the game to anoint any clear front-runner, and remember we have Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, and SAG nominations coming next week which are set to either further shake up, or clarify, the race.
IS ASIAN WAVE COMING TO THE OSCARS?
Adam Driver, Adam Sandler and Antonio Banderas won the first three Best Actor honors from these groups, probably proving nothing except it helps to have your name start with an “A” — a dumb theory of mine that carries over to the Best Actress race with Awkwafina’s Gotham win for The Farewell, but gets squashed on the other end of the alphabet with (Renee) Zellweger’s wins at BIFA and NBR. The NYFCC followed its own path choosing Us star Lupita Nyong’o for her chilling dual horror turn in that early 2019 release, but they like to be contrarians. If you recall last year they selected Regina Hall in the little-seen Support the Girls, so no one should put their stylists and designers on speed dial quite yet, at least based on critics faves. Things are just getting interesting, and as they have proven in recent years, Oscar voters just may have their own surprises up their sleeves.
Meanwhile, not to be outdone by better-known counterparts, the Atlanta Film Critics Circle beat just about everyone to the punch and announced Monday that none of the above-mentioned films was its No. 1 choice, instead bestowing all major prizes (outside of acting) on Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, and I still have a feeling that South Korean movie could be the little engine that could this year. NYFCC and NBR gave it the obligatory Foreign Language Award, but tellingly AFI — limited to awarding only American-produced films for their Top 10 — selected it for a special mention, which is a sure sign they see it as a major Oscar player in all categories. So do I, even if no foreign-language film has ever won the top prize.
In what looks to be a split year like this one is, anything can happen, and Bong has made all the right moves as he conquers Hollywood. Incidentally, if Parasite can pull off Best Picture it will be the first, and only other time since Marty in 1955, to win both the Palme d’Or in Cannes and Oscar’s Best Picture. I have a feeling Roman Polanski’s The Pianist came very close in 2002, but Chicago squeaked out the Oscar win after seeing Pianist take Director, Screenplay and Actor honors. Had to be razor thin.
SONY’S BLU-RAY LAUNCH FOR TARANTINO CONTENDER
The Atlanta Critics, just like NBR and AFI, had Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on its 10 Best of the Year list, indicating what we’ve always known: that this smash hit summer release was going to stick around to become a major awards contender. Brad Pitt took Atlanta’s and NBR’s Best Supporting Actor honors, which could be indicative of many more to come for him.
Pitt wasn’t at Monday night’s Sony Home Entertainment bash at Musso & Frank on Hollywood Boulevard for the 4K and Blu-ray release this coming Tuesday of the Tarantino film, but the director and his co-star Leonardo DiCaprio was there, along with a bevy of others including Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman. SHE’s debut of the film on home platforms includes 20 minutes of additional footage not seen in the release cut, as well as tons of behind-the-scenes features. Coming right in the heart of campaign season the Blu-ray launch is a smart move, getting a brand new TV commercial buy for the film and renewed attention among all the current contenders just opening and fighting each other for attention. In a shortened season where Academy voters are pressed for time to see everything, making the 4 1/2-month-old OUATIH available on digital platforms could be a real plus and prove again you don’t have to be released in the fall crunch to compete in a big way.
Because I was across town for a Critics’ Choice event I didn’t get to the party at the landmark 100-year-old restaurant (where some scenes in the film were shot) until 10:30 PM, but it was still going strong with Tarantino enthusiastically talking movies to everyone gathered around at the bar including 10-year-old co-star Julia Butters, who was debating the merits of Disney’s Frozen and its sequel with her director who emphatically favors the more action-oriented Tangled in terms of Disney ‘toons. QT’s Oscar-nominated Pulp Fiction star John Travolta was also among those in the crowd talking old (and maybe new?) times with Tarantino, as well as QT regular Zoe Bell who was excited to meet Travolta.
Travolta was in town to help campaign his performance in the long-shot indie movie The Fanatic, which included a stop at Deadline’s screening series the next night where he stayed an extra 45 minutes taking selfies and signing autographs. By the way, as he did in L.A.. Tarantino will be participating Saturday at Deadline’s The Contenders New York event, where I will be interviewing him. We are expecting about 65 onstage participants for our second Contenders outing in the Big Apple. Should be fun.
NIA LONG ON FIGHTING FOR EQUALITY AS 100 YEARS OF BLACK CINEMA IS CELEBRATED
Sony’s Musso & Frank bash drew many members of the Critics’ Choice Association who, like me, made the trek across town from the Westside after our own unique salute to 100 years of black cinema (the same number of years Musso & Frank has been open).
The first-ever CCA Celebration of Black Cinema took place Monday night at the Landmark Annex in West Los Angeles. As it has been all week, Netflix was on a roll there as well, with its Dolemite Is My Name star Eddie Murphy receiving the Career Achievement Award and Chiwetel Ejiofor also being honored for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, the streamer’s official UK entry into the Best International Film Oscar race in which Ejiofor not only stars in but also directed and wrote.
Veteran actress Nia Long and Harriet director Kasi Lemmons were also honorees for their career in a terrific evening that not only posthumously saluted those who came before — including director Oscar Micheaux, credited by many as the first African American to make a feature-length film with The Homesteader in 1919 — but also those who are continuing to make their mark today.
In that regard, it was Long who gave perhaps the evening’s most memorable and timely acceptance speech when she received her award from presenter Chaz Ebert and Justice Singleton, daughter of late director John Singleton, who gave Long her big break as Brandi in the seminal 1991 film classic Boyz N The Hood. In light of Gabrielle Union’s recent charges about her treatment on America’s Got Talent, Long’s tell-it-like-it-was account of her own experiences working in Hollywood was eye-opening, and in some ways echoed reported complaints by Union in regard to hairstyles and appearance that sadly seem to still go on today.
Here are some of Long’s remarks:
“The journey of a black actress is beautifully complicated. My journey has been full of joy and heartbreak. I’ve had to stand up for myself when it wasn’t popular. I’ve had the audacity to challenge authority and voice strong opinions when I was expected to be pretty and quiet. Just do your job and say what’s on the page. I’ve been paid far less than the men standing next to me… and the women who don’t look like me, when the success in numbers and dollars are pretty close more than most of the time. I’ve cried behind closed doors moments before action because of my experiences in the hair/makeup trailer. Experiences which have, at times, robbed me of my confidence and peace of mind. For years, I’ve moved from set to set with a Ziploc filled with makeup that matches my caramel complexion and hot tools to straighten my hair, in fear of walking into a trailer that wasn’t designed to cater to my beauty needs. Why do I have to wear a wig or a weave because the hair stylist hired to do the job has no idea how to style my natural, beautiful Afro? Or the makeup artist doesn’t know how to mix foundation colors to create the perfect shade of brown for me?
“Producers and directors, give your black actresses what they need to succeed. Our day starts with hair, makeup and wardrobe. If your cast is black then hire a qualified black support team instead of labeling us difficult or opinionated. We deserve a pleasant experience as we prepare to create. I’ve learned the power is saying NO. My no’s are not self serving. My no’s protect the integrity of our artistry and the legendary contributions we’ve made to our industry. My no’s set the standard for the next generation of artists and remind the decision makers that we’ve earned a seat at the table…a table we helped build. The new generation of fearless black actors, director and producers, who are creating projects to expand our opportunities and presence in film and television, inspire me. I am proud to be a part of a community that celebrates our wins and who remain loyal during challenging times. My wins are our wins. My challenges have inspired me to work harder, push harder. I’m OK with standing alone in silence when necessary. I’ve learned to trust the moments in the valley before climbing the next mountain.”
Long, by the way, is wonderful in The Banker as are co-stars Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson, so hopefully the controversy surrounding it (which has nothing to do with the actual film or filmmakers) doesn’t prevent it from being seen the way it deserves to be by audiences in the near future.
EDDIE MURPHY ON SIDNEY POITIER’S BAD HAIR DAYS
Murphy was charming and hilarious in his brief acceptance speech and went off his prepared remarks to back up Long based on his own experience in movies over the past four decades. “Nia was talking about makeup special for her. They didn’t have any African American makeup department, hair department, no wardrobe department, no producers. They didn’t have none of that. It was rough, especially the hair department. Have you ever seen an old Sidney Poitier movie? His hair was f*cked up all the time. If you have never watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? they go like, ‘Is this how this motherf*cker came to dinner?’ Sidney is such a brilliant actor he was able to act like his hair was combed,” Murphy said to big laughs in the room.
It was a terrific evening and, as the newly named film president of the Critics’ Choice Association, I was honored to open the night with my colleague Shawn Edwards, the one who had the idea to do this in the first place. Former four-time Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs hosted the event, which was coordinated by Madelyn Hammond and CCA CEO Joey Berlin. To quote the name of one of my favorite ’70s-era Poitier comedies: Let’s Do It Again.
TURNING MOVIES INTO MUSEUMS AT OSCAR TIME
The long-delayed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures may be planning lots of exhibits of some classic movies, but this Oscar season some current contenders have already jumped the gun and turned their films into their own makeshift museum-style installations, with much of it taking place at the Landmark Annex,the same venue that hosted the aforementioned Celebration of Black Cinema earlier this week (full disclosure: my wife Madelyn Hammond came up with the idea).
Beginning with Laika’s Missing Link, which took over the empty space (formerly a three-floor Urban Home store) adjacent to the Landmark Theatre box office by shipping in virtually all the sets from their latest animated hopeful from their home base in Oregon and drawing big crowds to see how the stop motion ‘toon was done, the annex has become a revolving door of elaborate exhibits from a number of movies including Dolemite Is My Name, Marriage Story, The Two Popes, and opening last night The Irishman which set up shop for several receptions with behind-the scenes-artisans set to show off props and costumes and sets from the Martin Scorsese film.
Amazon’s The Report has used the spot, as well as 1917 from Universal with an upcoming event among others. With streaming seemingly taking the steam out of a lot of the theatrical moviegoing model, it is ironic that streamers like Netflix have taken out-of-the-box thinking to new heights in presenting their movies with this additional element that, as my colleague Michael Cieply pointed out in his column yesterday, is in a spot into where awards voters often just might casually stroll. The big chains may not be showing their movies, but with key spots like Landmark and these exhibits, streamers are making up for it during the campaign crunch season.
Missing Link was released last spring, but Laika (which has been Oscar nominated for each of their films) brought it back into action and this week was rewarded for its efforts at the Annex and elsewhere with a leading number of Annie Awards nominations. In terms of the current showcase for The Irishman, it certainly helps to separate the epic from the idea that most people are only going to experience the movie sitting on their couch at home. Instead, it is going way beyond just showing a movie, but rather bringing the whole experience to moviegoers (and voters?) in a way they don’t usually get.
It’s not new, as Netflix and Amazon have been doing this kind of thing during the last few Emmy seasons at dedicated spaces in Hollywood. But it is new to Oscar season. Beyond this, Amazon has gotten into the spirit with a fan experience for The Aeronauts it first tried out at the Rose Bowl, and now taking nationwide in connection with showings of the film. According to press materials, attractions found at “The Aeronauts’ Incredible Journey” include a sprawling Victorian fair, period performers and vendors, and a “Mammoth” hot air balloon (as featured in the film). The film festivities will also hijack local weathercasts by having meteorologists report city conditions from high above The Aeronauts’ hot air balloon. Los Angeles and Phoenix will also enjoy a screening of the film on the world’s first Fly-In Theatre: a breathtaking 20-foot LED screen wrapped 360 degrees around a second hot air balloon.
The movie hits theaters today and starts on Amazon Prime on December 20. But streaming-be-damned, the era of good old fashioned showmanship is alive and well.