A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
After the ABC announcement this week of a second year in a row with no traditional Oscar host, I happened to be on the phone talking with a former Oscar show producer. He said it was getting to the point where no performer is going to want to commit to MC’ing the Academy Awards, basically for fear of their career. “It has gotten to be like a political campaign now where every host will have to be vetted before they can serve,” he said, referring to the beating Kevin Hart took and the general nature of the way these things are parsed and chewed up on the internet.
No question about that. The Hart debacle of last year proved film Twitter will have their knives out for you if you aren’t squeaky clean. Hosting the Oscars could mean the end of a career if certain skeletons are pulled from the closet, and who in show business, other than Donny Osmond, doesn’t have those? So it was no surprise this week to see the Academy go the hostless route again, with the head of ABC even suggesting the ratings were better when the host doesn’t get in the way and take up time.
But for those of us who just loved the days when the Oscars were fronted by a star who really knew how to make it work, I might suggest for next year bringing back Bob Hope or Johnny Carson from the dead. The technology is there, and a lot of the jokes at Hollywood’s expense might still work decades later. Even if they don’t, I am sure there is a way to write new ones for these deceased icons to deliver in this technological age of video trickery.
Certainly if there is talk, as there is, about digging up James Dean and giving him a supporting role in a new movie about Vietnam, then why not try this? If the CGI wizards can resurrect him for a movie, why can’t Carson come back to the Academy Awards, as he was, in my opinion, the greatest Oscar host of all time? And what bad things can Twitter say about him now anyway? It would certainly get ratings and isn’t that what ABC and the Academy crave right now?
PREDICTING THE OSCAR NOMINEES
But before we get to that highly awaited hostless night just one month away, this is the last Notes on the Season column before the big event at 5 a.m. PT Monday, when Oscar nominations will be announced. All over the net, pundits are making predictions of just who they will be (including right here on Deadline). But the bigger question in some categories is just who they will not be, especially in the ridiculously crowded male acting races, both lead and supporting. How sad to think the likes of Eddie Murphy, Christian Bale, Adam Sandler, Paul Walter Hauser, Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, 1917’s George MacKay, and so many others who gave career-best (or close to it) performances won’t be among the nominees this year, when in another, less competitive year, they might have even won. But if my guess is right and the five best actor nominees are Joaquin Phoenix, Leonardo DiCaprio, Adam Driver, Antonio Banderas, and the surging Rocketman himself, Taron Egerton, all those others will have to kiss the season goodbye.
The same goes for the even more competitive Supporting Actor race, where I expect front runner Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Tom Hanks, and Parasite’s Song Kang Ho (or Kang Ho Song, as listed by SAG) will be the chosen five. But a few votes either way could shake up that prediction. So this means, most likely, some like Anthony Hopkins, Jamie Foxx, Willem Da Foe, Shia LaBeouf, Sam Rockwell, Dean-Charles Chapman, John Lithgow, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda, and many others too numerous to mention won’t be hearing their names called, and that’s a shame. It is years like this one that make me wish the Academy would employ the same voting method they do for Best Picture, and extend it to the acting and directing races, where the possibility of 10 nominees, instead of a rigid five, would make it a livelier and more representative contest.
Speaking of representation, the other big question is: will the Academy have a year that revives the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that has already plagued BAFTA and thrown the British Academy into crisis mode? I am projecting probably not, since it is likely, certainly hopeful, that Oscar will have Cynthia Erivo, Antonio Banderas, and Song Kang Ho among their acting nominees at the very least. But you never know. However, the push for new and international members by AMPAS should, in theory, help to avoid the kind of embarrassment that haunted Oscar not so long ago. Every year is a new ballgame, so you know that when CEO Dawn Hudson and President David Rubin are handed the list of nominees by PricewaterhouseCoopers on Sunday night, and when the AMPAS team gets sequestered in their offices to prepare the nomination announcement, that they will be looking at it and hoping for diversity. They will probably also be rooting for a woman to once again crack the ranks of the five directing nominees to avoid the Twitter beating the Hollywood Foreign Press Association took with its all-male lineup.
So another question to answer is: can Little Women’s Greta Gerwig become the first woman to be Oscar-nominated twice for Best Director? Never been done. Another big question will be just how high can Netflix fly on Monday. Coming off a poor 2 for 34 wins-to-nominations ratio at the Golden Globes, the streamer will be looking to dominate, and with movies like The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes, Dolemite Is My Name, and documentary and international film possibilities, Netflix could lead the pack for the first time in its history. Although, Sony is the studio that could give it a run for its money, because it also has multiple nomination possibilities with Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Little Women, and A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood looking to up the ante for the Culver City studio, which is hoping to land its first Best Picture winner in 32 years.
COMPOSERS GET THEIR MOMENT IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Oscar has a couple of categories for it, and even used to have three. But can you say it is about time music got its due on the busy guild kudos dinner circuit, too, like all the other crafts? Joining the almost nightly parade of awards dinners for Cinematographers, Film Editors, Sound Editors, Sound Mixers, Art Directors, Costume Designers, Casting Directors, Make-up and Hair Stylists, Visual Effects artists, animators, and so on, not to mention actors, writers, directors and producers, and finally composers have joined the fray with the first Society of Composers & Lyricists Awards (SCL).
Tuesday night, the SCL, which counts 1600 members, held their first awards dinner at the Skirball Center, and it was a rousing success. To think it took only 75 years to get to this moment. The group has been around that long under various names, having been founded in 1945 as the Screen Composers Association, and later, by 1955, when lyricists joined and it was renamed Composers and Lyricists Guild of America. However, in the 1970s, after a decade-long fight for publishing rights with the studios, the guild was forced to settle, and soon was effectively dead. It re-emerged in 1983 at SCL with some of the biggest names in music. And now, for their first awards gathering, they proved that not only were they worthy, they also produced the most diverse list of winners of any of these shows I have ever been to.
The great majority of winners were either women, or women and men of color. For a profession that has been dominated by white men for decades, at least in the film and TV composing business, that is a remarkable and heartening achievement.
Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, fresh off becoming the first woman to win in her category for Best Music Score for Joker in the history of the Golden Globes, kept up the winning pace, not only taking Outstanding Original Score for a Studio Film for Joker, but also Outstanding Original Score for a Television or Streaming Production for HBO’s Chernobyl, which won her the Emmy in September.
She is also up for a Grammy later this month, and a hot prospect for an Oscar nomination on Monday. Not a bad year. When I spoke to her both before and after her SCL wins, she was just happy to be in the room. Now, she’s making history. Other diverse winners included African American composer Kathryn Bostic for Original Score for an Independent Film for the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, as well as Cynthia Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell for Outstanding Original Song for Visual Media for “Stand Up” from Harriet, another likely Oscar nominee. That would make these brand-new SCL awards just as Oscar predictive as any of the other guild shows, which count many Academy members among their voters.
Another surefire Oscar nominee, Thomas Newman, who will certainly get his 15th nomination for 1917 (without a win so far), received a standing ovation as recipient with director Sam Mendes (who was absent) of the Spirit of Collaboration award. 1917 was not finished in time to qualify for SCL’s Outstanding Score, but this was a nice way to honor the veteran composer. Since American Beauty, when they both received Oscar nominations (Mendes won), Newman has worked on all but one Mendes film.
The ceremony opened with Michael Abels conducting a 32-piece choir performing ‘Anthem’ from his nominated score to Jordan Peele’s horror hit Us. Abels turned up wearing the iconic red jumpsuit worn by the “tethered” in the film. Other highlights from the evening included performances by jazz musician Gene Cipriano and violinist Philippe Quint. Legendary songwriter Arthur Hamilton, one of the first Presidents of the SCL, was honored with a tribute performance of his 1955 classic, “Cry Me a River,” sung by Dannielle De Andrea. He, along with composers Bill Conti and Charles Bernstein, were among the evening’s presenters. When he came over to talk before the show, Oscar- winning composer Michael Giacchino (Up), a SCL nominee for his Jojo Rabbit score, said, “I guess we’re going to see what this show is all about?” After it ended, I can say it was all about music, and definitely about time. Can’t wait for next year.
AWARDS SEASON CAMRADERIE IN FULL VIEW
After the Harvey Weinstein years, and some of the vitriol spewed in last year’s awards season – and just about every season, it seems like – it is nice to end this column today talking about the camaraderie the season can bring and the good feelings between colleagues. They may find themselves competitors on the circuit, but first and foremost, fans of each other. It is the side of the business of awards you don’t often see in the press, where the media seems to like to pit filmmakers against each other like it is the Super Bowl, which I suppose it is, in some ways.
I thought about it this week at the Golden Globes, when Sam Mendes, seemingly as shocked as anybody about his surprise win for directing 1917, used part of his speech to salute a fellow nominee. “There isn’t a director here who doesn’t stand in the shadow of Martin Scorsese,” he said. A couple of nights later at the New York Film Critics awards dinner, where Spike Lee was among those echoing those sentiments, another “competitor” of Scorsese’s, Parasite’s Bong Joon Ho, looked toward the table he was sitting at and abandoned his usual Korean to revert to English to recite a favorite line from Raging Bull (“Did you f**k my wife?”). Scorsese himself asked if young Midsommar director Ari Aster could moderate his DGA Q&A the next night, always wanting to give a boost to a new generation. I particularly like the fact that the DGA tries to have all their awards season Q&As moderated by other directors, who may be fans themselves. Even though they are nominated against each other for the DGA award and likely to see themselves head to head at the Oscars as well, Quentin Tarantino told me at last month’s Contenders event in New York that The Irishman was his favorite film of the year, and proceeded to detail a lot of the reasons why.
At the Golden Globes, where his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood won over that film’s screenwriter, Steven Zaillian, he purposely made public note of his surprise that it wasn’t Zaillian who was up there. And at the Los Angeles revival theatre that he owns, the New Beverly, which Tarantino likes to program himself, all through the month of January there is a weekly focus on Scorsese films, and he’s also opened it up to other films in the mix this year, including Marriage Story and Little Women.
At the Palm Springs Film Festival, the latter film’s director, Greta Gerwig, presented Tarantino with his Director of the Year award and praised him so much it left the normally never-speechless Tarantino at a loss for words. Last season, as their films were caught up in some negativity thrown at them by others, I would often see Green Book’s Peter Farrelly and Roma’s Alfonso Cuaron sitting down and talking to each other in a corner of various rooms. They were, it turned out, admirers of each other, and because they happened to be nominated in the same year, became fast friends, too.
There are so many moments like these I get to witness each year when this six-month adventure rolls around, and I just thought on the eve of Oscar nominations, which is bound to bring joy and heartbreak as it always does, it would be nice to share this side of the season as well.