A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s in? Who’s out? After a week that is probably the most consequential yet this shortened awards season, those questions remain after Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, SAG, ACE, ADG, CDG, LAFCC and who knows who else jumped into the game to separate the men from the boys in this season’s race — and, in the case of the Golden Globes Best Director race, the men from the women. Controversy aside (what kind of awards season would it be without a little outrage?), there now is a clearer picture of which movies seem to be heading to glory, at least as far as potential Oscar nominees go.
This is what separates December from November.
In November the town is completely manic because everyone, even Cliffs of Freedom, has convinced themselves they have a shot. By mid-December the reality kicks in when you wake up at 5 a.m. and learn the Hollywood Foreign Press Association forgot all about that press conference you did especially for them, and the critics groups decide those Two Popes slippers weren’t the right size. The spin from awards strategists on these developments in almost instant, like a bunch of politicians stepping off a debate stage. No matter how dour the performance, there usually is a bright side to tout.
After Wednesday morning’s SAG reveal, one publicist had an answer as to why their late-breaking movie wasn’t on the list: “Every one of today’s nominated films/performances across all of the film categories had their first public screening no later than October 14th (Bombshell), and the large majority of the nominees had debuted via the September festivals and had been actively screening ever since. In certain cases – Parasite, Rocketman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – the films debuted back in May at the Cannes Film Festival … not to mention Netflix has all three of its titles on its platform, whereas studio films are restricted to the AMPAS streaming site, which not everyone knows about I can assure you.” It is true the early bird is catching the worm more often now in precursor awards contests — particularly at SAG, which started balloting on November 14, long before some contenders were even finished.
At 5:35 a.m. Monday, immediately after the Globes announcement, a Netflix publicist cautioned about the absence of a certain actor in the lineup. “A reminder that De Niro is a producer on The Irishman and got nominated there,” the staffer emailed, offering a positive that Robert De Niro will still be going to the Golden Globes on January 5th. And after The Irishman star’s absence in the lead actor category at SAG two days later, this email came: “The Irishman – 4 nominations + Robert De Niro receiving SAG Lifetime Achievement at the show.” As they say, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.” De Niro is nominated as part of the cast at SAG but was aced out, with several others, by surprise nominee Taron Egerton, excellent as Elton John in Rocketman but thought to be further down the list of possibilities. He had a very good week, also nailing a Globes non in the Comedy or Musical category. Said one publicist looking over the emailed list of the thesp union’s decision, “One thing this proves once and for all is that actors f*cking love impersonations.”
Adding up all the stats, the big winners of the week were The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, both of which landed nominations in every contest and just about every category that they could across the board (with the exception of Mr. De Niro). This indicates not only strong critical support but, more crucially, recognition from the guilds, whose memberships also are composed of many Academy voters. Throw in Parasite, with a significant presence in most of these nominations as well — particularly impressive for that South Korean juggernaut — and you have a three-way tie for current front-runner. With PGA, DGA, WGA and many other crafts guilds still to weigh in, there’s a long way to go, there clearly is a lot of love out there for those three films but room for something else (1917, anyone?) to stage a sneak attack.
JLO’S BIG MOMENT
Jennifer Lopez was on the cover of People‘s year-end double issue this week, with the caption, “The Year My Dreams Came True.” Ain’t that the truth! You can add her name to the list of those who also had a hell of a week, with Supporting Actress nominations for across the board from SAG, Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice, and a big win in the category from the Los Angeles Film Critics — all for the most acclaimed performance of her career in Hustlers, which last month also brought her an Indie Spirit nomination. For a star whose previous recognition for acting was the likes of a 1998 Saturn nomination for Best Actress in Anaconda, this has to be especially sweet.
She has always been underrated as an actress, whether in comedy or drama, but as a high-wattage star and celebrity, perhaps an easy target. Still, 10 Razzie nominations is ludicrous, and it is fairly astounding that the HFPA took 23 years after her first and only Globe nomination for Selena to bring her back. Hollywood loves to pick you up when you are down, but in the case of Lopez, it is picking her up when she is up. When I hopped on the phone with the busy superstar/producer, she genuinely seemed rather stunned by the success of Hustlers and the universal praise for her performance (she also produced), especially after the film — a true-life story about a group of strippers who drug their Wall Street clients and then max out their credit cards — was turned down by just about every studio.
“I was doing movies so long I kind of let go of expectations. I do it because I love it, and I believe in the character and the project, and then you hope,” she said. “You always go in with the intention of like, ‘Yes, I think this could be something very special,’ but you know, when you’ve been in the business a long time, you know some of them can’t, and some of them don’t. And you know, as much as we believe in Hustlers and knew it would be something special, felt it would be something special, I could never have expected everything that’s happening. And I’m obviously over the moon about it.”
It wasn’t easy to get going, but Lopez and her producing partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas believed in it even if the women portrayed in it are not exactly role models. emphasizing that it wasn’t an easy sell, Lopez said: “In a certain way, when people think of strippers, they think, ‘Oh, great. That’ll be sexy. That’ll be hot.’ But then they go, ‘But wait a minute, they’re actually taking advantage of the men and kind of winning? And are they rapists? Are they bad guys?’ No, this is the story. There’s all different kinds of people out there; this actually happened, and we have to stay true to what is going on. This is the story we’re telling. And it was important that we stick to that, and a lot of male executives were not on board with that. They just couldn’t see how that would be interesting or fun, but for me I looked at us as being in the women’s Goodfellas — moving in this underground, kind of sexy but very dangerous world, you know, who are breaking the rules, breaking the law. And kind of badasses but at the same time, you know, going to be done in by their own greed and bad behavior.”
Lopez has one of the more memorable entrances onscreen I have seen in some time, and I would give her these awards just for that pole dance near the beginning of the film. But she was surprised how hard it was to actually achieve. “I thought as a dancer and, as kind of an athletic person that it would be something that I could conquer pretty quickly. But it wasn’t, and I had to work at it really hard. And I also had to train at the gym in a different way than I ever have before because I had to gain so much core strength and so much upper-body strength. And I started having to lift weights, and so it was kind of a two-pronged project for the pole itself. And you know, that scene wasn’t in the movie to begin with. It was written as a final flourish onstage. Ramona does the final flourish onstage and then she goes off, and she meets Destiny, and I said to [director] Lorene (Scafaria), I said, ‘This should be her entrance, her number, and we have to kind of really establish who she is, like she’s supposed to be the best in the club, and she has the game on lock, and she has everybody in the palm of her hand, and she knows how to make money, and we got to see that all in that first scene when you introduce her,” she said. Mission accomplished, indeed.
After the success of Hustlers and all the attention she is getting this awards season, Lopez is looking for more challenging projects as an actor. She has a project on Griselda Blanco called The Godmother that has been in development for a few years, so she says that might go next year, again with STX. And she recently finished a romantic comedy with music opposite Owen Wilson called Marry Me. But all this awards attention has led her to tread a little more slowly toward what’s next. What is immediately next is the Super Bowl, and if all goes the way it looks like it is going, she will be performing at the halftime show on February 2 as Oscar nominee Jennifer Lopez.
“It’s super exciting,” she said. “You know, I think every musical performer and artist wants to do the Super Bowl at some point in their career, and so I love that I get to do it. Right now, I’m excited, I’m already thinking about what I’m going to do. I start rehearsals soon, so I’m really excited,” she said.
TERRY GILLIAM HITS THE TRAIL FOR ‘DON QUIXOTE’
It may have taken him only about 30 years to get it made, but now director Terry Gilliam is just hoping someone actually sees The Man Who Killed Don Quixote — the passion project that has become legend and brought him unexpectedly on the awards circuit this week. He stopped over in L.A. for some screenings of the film — including a triple bill tonight at the Aero in Santa Monica that also includes two other Gilliam classics — which barely got released earlier this year with a special Fathom Events presentation and nominal theatrical exposure. But after you have worked three decades to bring something to the screen, it can be a little frustrating not to see it on any.
I moderated a Q&A with him Thursday night at the Landmark Theatre in front of an appreciative audience that turned up for the movie, a contemporary comedy in which an advertising director (Adam Driver) finds himself mixed up in the delusions of an old shoemaker (Jonathan Pryce) in a remote Spanish town who is convinced he is really Don Quixote. Both actors are superb, and both are in the Best Actor conversation this year, with Pryce just nominated for a Golden Globe for The Two Popes, and Driver up for Globe, Critics’ Choice and SAG award for Marriage Story, both movies from Netflix. Perhaps if Quixote were with Netflix, more people would have seen it by now. Gilliam, however, wants it seen in a theatrical setting. The performances are worth the price of admission alone, and Gilliam thinks it is Driver’s best, which incidentally is one of four 2019 film releases for the actor also seen in The Report, and next week’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The story behind the making of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is legendary. It actually started production in 2000 and shot for five days with Johnny Depp in the Driver role of Toby and Jean Rochefort as Quixote, but medical problems for the latter and uncompromising weather conditions shut it down for good and spawned a 2002 documentary about the disastrous shoot called Lost in La Mancha. After being caught up in insurance problems, lawsuits from a Portuguese producer and other false starts and various castings, it finally got made and actually closed the Cannes Film Festival in 2018, even if said producer tried unsuccessfully to stop it. Gilliam says the lawsuits still are continuing, however, with three more due to come up next year.
Somehow, though, the Monty Python alum and acclaimed director of films including Brazil, The Fisher King, Time Bandits, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen andmany others, never gave up, always going back to revive Quixote between other projects. At Thursday’s screening that was introduced by a publicist as for BAFTA and Academy members, Gilliam told me awards weren’t the goal of dipping his toes into the season with this film. “No, this is just a way of getting people to see the movie,” he said. “We had terrible distribution. I am not worried about awards. I just simply wanted people to see how good this thing is and how the work is on screen from the actors to the designers to costumes and everybody who did a brilliant job, but it is like we don’t exist at the moment.”
He noted that the film was rescued by Alacran Pictures and its head exec, who put in the final needed $3 million to get it finally made, but only had one request: to walk up the steps at Cannes. “She got her wish,” said Gilliam, who is under no illusions or Don Quixote moments of grandeur or tilting at windmills to do the same thing at the Oscars. But this movie is worth seeing any way you can, and so if that is the motivation for Gilliam’s brief dip into the season, then all the effort was well spent.