A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Well, it is all just about over but the counting, and in fact, I would guess PriceWaterhouse accountants have even finished that at this point. What that means is two numbers crunchers out of everyone in the whole world are now looking at every pundit’s predictions, including mine, I suppose, and laughing hysterically about how we got it all wrong. Or not. One Academy member called me this week to say essentially, this looks to be one of the most predictable years ever. “I think just about everyone is probably going to win their office pool,” he laughed.
He might have a point, because the four acting categories appear to be in the bag, at least if we are to go by every precursor show preceding the Oscars that have chosen, in lockstep, Joaquin Phoenix, Renee Zellweger, Brad Pitt, and Laura Dern. And with all its guild wins, plus the Golden Globes and BAFTA, 1917 seems as close to a lock for Best Picture and a possible sweep as we have seen in some time. So the difference in glory or disgrace with your Oscar pool ballot just might come down to who wins Best Live Action Short. A lot of the talk at various parties, including last night’s Universal and Focus Features celebration at Spago, as well as today’s Publicists Guild Awards at the Beverly Hilton, revolved around possible upsets. Are all of the indicators incorrect this year? Can there be a shocker looming Sunday? That would be fun, but don’t bet the condo on it. This is a year where there seems to be some fairly unanimous agreement in terms of those soothsayers who try to foretell what names will be in those envelopes.
WHAT YOUR BOOKIE SAYS ABOUT THE OSCARS
If you want to drive yourself crazy, though, try checking the various oddsmakers who are out there giving us the book on winners, apparently using whatever data they have picked up by listening to prognosticators. You can actually bet money in New Jersey, Indiana, and the UK, even though, technically, those two PriceWaterhouse accountants could probably clean up knowing who the winners are already. And while you are at it, a lot of the bookies are taking bets on things other than just the winners. For instance, you can wager on stuff like the gender of the first presenter on stage (Female 2/5, Male 2/1, Transgender 20/1); How many times Kobe or Mamba will be said (5/6); Presenters who put on glasses before reading the cue card (Under 2 1/2 -1/4 – Over 2 1/2 – 5/2); Who will Best Actor thank first (Academy 1/1- husband, wife, partner 5/2-director 3/1-mother 7/1- God 10/1); Will “Trump” be said during the broadcast? (NO 2/3 – YES 11/10); Winners who continue their speech over exit music ( Over 4 1/2 total winners and Under 4 1/2 total winners both at 5/6); Winners who trip or fall on way to microphone ( No – 1/9 – YES 5/1). Well, you get the idea.
1917 appears to lead most bookmaker odds I have looked at, and the acting races also seem to be following the trends. But at least one offers some promising odds for “dark horses,” giving Parasite best chance to upset for Best Picture despite no foreign language film ever having won; Scarlett Johansson upsetting Zellweger for Best Actress, offering stats that say actresses playing real-life people haven’t been as successful as actors doing the same thing; and that first-time winners have a better chance. Zellweger plays Judy Garland and won an Oscar already, while Johansson doesn’t play a real-life person and never won before. In fact, the dual nominee is a first-timer in the Oscar hot seat. Also in the hardest category to call, and because of its surprise Golden Globe win, Missing Link is the dark horse if voters are tired of sequels, and Netflix splits its own vote in the Animated Feature race. One bookie is making it simple. Put $100 down and returns vary from -600 for 1917 as Best Picture to +9000 if Ford v Ferrari somehow grabs a win in the category.
FORGET SUNDAY. WHAT IS WINNING NEXT YEAR?
Everywhere you go, weary Oscar warriors are already moving on to next year. At the aforementioned Universal party, one exec was already guaranteeing a Best Actor nomination for Tom Hanks in News Of The World, the studio’s Christmas release, which is a western about a Texan delivering the news to various local towns. Hanks, a two-time Best Actor winner who got his first nomination in 19 years for A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, is said to have knocked it out of the park. Paul Greengrass is the director, and the studio clearly has high hopes for this one.
Meanwhile, Netflix, which had its greatest success Oscar-wise by leading the pack with 24 nominations overall this season, including two Best Picture nominees in The Irishman and Marriage Story, also has a promising lineup, including Ron Howard’s film adaptation of the best seller Hillbilly Elegy, which stars Amy Adams and Glenn Close, among others, and was just tested recently. If both stars manage nominations, they each have the opportunity to erase the dubious distinction of being the living actress with the most nominations without a win, since Close leads with 7 noms and Adams has 6. George Clooney’s latest directorial and starring film, an adaptation of the book “Good Morning, Midnight,” looks promising in the sci-fi realm. Oscar-winner Glen Keane has a new animated entry, Over The Moon, that hopes to expand on the success the streamer had this year with two of the five nominees for Animated Feature (Klaus, I Lost My Body). Netflix also has a potential contender in Viola Davis, in producer Denzel Washington, and director George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. I hear she is amazing in it opposite Chadwick Boseman. There are lots of Broadway adaptations and talent possibly in the mix, too. Ryan Murphy is bringing the terrifically entertaining musical The Prom to the screen, starring Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, among a big ensemble cast. Kidman told me she has been having a blast shooting it on the Paramount lot. There’s also a new film version of The Boys In The Band coming from Murphy’s shop, with the whole cast of the recent Broadway revival and directed by Joe Mantello, plus projects with Spike Lee, Lin Manuel Miranda, and lots of other promising projects. We’ll see how it all pans out.
DUELING ARETHAS IN THE SPOTLIGHT
And on other fronts, there is so much more. But I, for one, am looking forward to MGM and Bron Studios Respect, with Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson the personal choice of Aretha Franklin to play the late great star. But she may have to compete with Jessica Chastain, who, I hear, is really something as Tammy Faye in the upcoming Searchlight film The Eyes Of Tammy Faye. Of course, Hudson isn’t the only one who may be making a splash as Franklin. Double 2019 Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo is doing a TV version of her life in Genius: Aretha for NatGeo. But that one will be for the Emmys. NatGeo announced today they will be revealing Erivo’s take on Aretha during Sunday’s Oscars broadcast, where Erivo will also be performing her Harriet song, “Stand Up.” And by the way, we are already getting calls for Emmy season from publicists eager to jump into that race even before Oscar’s body is cold.
And speaking of Oscar musical performances, I had recently speculated that it would be a great way to start the show by having Elton John do his nominated song from Rocketman, “”(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.” After all, it is the same sort of upbeat number recent Oscar shows have used to great effect, from last year’s rockin’ Queen opening, and before that, Justin Timberlake doing his catchy nominated song from Trolls. However, reliable sources told me Elton was indeed approached, but turned down the idea of kicking off the show. Instead, his performance will be later in the evening.
‘GREEN BOOK’ PRODUCER GETS DO-OVER ON OSCAR ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
Finally, even as we are on the precipice of the 2020 Oscar show just two days away, NOTES ON THE SEASON has agreed to help one of last year’s big winners, Green Book producer Charles B. Wessler, fix his guilty conscience and finish the acceptance speech he didn’t quite get to do the way he planned when being the third producer on the stage thanking the Academy for Green Book’s Best Picture win. Not everyone gets a do-over on their Oscar speech, but before we get to new business on Sunday, the man who actually was a key component in getting Green Book to that podium by being one of the first on board has something to explain, just how Carrie Fisher seemed to figure so prominently in the film’s win. Here, in his own words, is the background and what he meant to say , just to correct the record.
“The 2020 Oscars are just around the corner and I have been meaning to clarify this one issue, insignificant to most people, but might be my last chance. Since the night of February 24th of last year, when I was lucky enough to be among those who won the Oscar for Best Picture for Green Book, I have wondered how to tell the Academy Awards audience, members of the Academy, and my co-recipients what I meant when I said that “I would like to dedicate this to OUR great friend Carrie Fisher. Our team’s agreed-upon speech-giving order had me going last. And if you go last and give a confusing dedication, people will remember.
So, the explanation: When I was 14 years old, I befriended a shockingly beautiful and mind-crushingly funny girl named Carrie Fisher. She challenged me, as well as all of her friends, to keep up. She made the next 49 years of my life more interesting, fun and filled with love. But then she went and died. It took me the better part of a year to forgive her for leaving us. And when I say us, I mean ANYONE on the planet who has ever been affected by her genius, on and off screen. It was my intent on Oscar night to make a short statement acknowledging how much so many people around the world miss her. But in the excitement and emotional rollercoaster of walking up to that stage and that microphone, I instead managed to confuse things for the audience and some of my Green Book colleagues. I did not mean to suggest that our producing team was dedicating our Oscar to Carrie. My intent was only to say that Charles Wessler (me, just me, all alone) wanted to dedicate just my Oscar to Carrie. “Our Great Friend” meant all those friends in my life who Carrie had impacted as well. They know who they are. While Pete Farrelly also adored Carrie, he didn’t dedicate his film to her. So the clearer dedication should have been ‘To Your And My Great Friend, Carrie Fisher.’ If I ever win another Oscar, I’ll get it right.”
So there you have it, a lesson for all of Sunday’s winners, so you won’t have to live with regrets for an entire year about what you did, or didn’t say in perhaps the greatest moment of your career. Good luck to everyone at the Dolby. I’ll be there cheering on all of you for delivering a great year at the movies.