Notes On The Season: The Oscar Chances For 2020’s Biggest Film ‘Tenet’, Plus A Conversation With A Legend Named Sophia Loren


A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.


If you were to measure the highly unusual Oscar season we are embarking upon by the equivalent milestones of a “normal” awards season, right now we would find ourselves in the midst of the fall film festivals. That is because COVID-19 has essentially kicked the ball down the road, forcing the Oscars and other significant bellwether events like the Golden Globes, BAFTA, Critics Choice Awards, and the guilds including SAG, to move to their historically latest dates ever, with the Oscars doing cleanup on Sunday April 25, 2021.

So instead of heading into a robust holiday season where the last of the big contenders would be opening and gathering lots of awards buzz, we are still looking for breakout films amid the gathering dark of winter, with LA and NY theatres still closed after 8 months, and an uncertain future for the competition to grab the industry’s biggest prize.


Time-wise we are at about the same distance right now from the Oscar show as we would normally be at the opening bell of the fall fests, which had to go virtual or not at all this year. Some groups stubbornly are sticking to their normal calendar and acting like it is business as usual. It’s not.

The largely meh nominations from yesterday’s Gotham Awards announcement, populated mostly by tiny, minimalist-style films — as fine as a few of them are — is an example of the dire straits we find ourselves in this season. That is if you use that event as a bellwether. Its nominations are voted on by highbrow critic types who have very specific critical tastes, rather than what the Oscars or Globes might have in store.

Any group ignoring the likes of the otherwise-eligible Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Pfeiffer and Viola Davis in what looks to be a great year for lead actresses can probably be dismissed as not having their pulse on where the Academy actors branch may be headed. So no need to herald it as the opening shot of the season. It’s still early.

Next month the NY Film Critics and their LA counterpart plan also to stick to the status quo. They are not getting in line with the major movie awards-givers and hanging tight to the traditional yearend lists critics turn out. Influence therefore could actually be greater because their winners could possibly have more impact in sending signals to industry voters which movies are worth watching. OR they just might be forgotten by the time Oscar nominations are announced three months later on March 15, 2021.

Campaigners will have to turn up the heat thereafter. The eligibility deadlines for most of the major movie awards have been extended to the end of February and movies like the Russo Brothers’ Cherry and Mark Wahlberg’s Joe Bell are among those opening as late as possible to play in this year’s Oscar sandbox.


Warner Bros.

What we do know is this is not a year with potential for a lot of big blockbuster crowd pleasers to drive Oscar ratings. But if the ultimate nomination list looks anything like an indiefest, ABC executives and Academy brass might collectively gather on Zoom to make a joint suicide pact.

All this leads me to my big reveal: I finally saw Tenet yesterday.

Tenet, came out in August and has grossed about $350 million or so globally, but a disappointing $55 million stateside, in large part due to those aforementioned theatres in the key LA and NYC markets being closed since March. Since Deadline found a British critic to review the film when it first opened in London, I didn’t have to go to Las Vegas. That was the closest destination to LA Warner Bros. could offer me at the time, given that its director Christopher Nolan rightly insisted it should be seen on the biggest screen possible.

I had been holding out for a return of LA theatres, maybe the Village in Westwood, or Nolan’s favorite IMAX in Universal City to watch the film the way it should be seen. But I have to admit I was a little sheepish about heading into any theatre right now, despite not a single report of any Coronavirus outbreak since the chains had reopened them in most of the country, and globally.

Christopher Nolan Goes To the Movies
Regal Cinemas

Finally with prospects bleak for an LA theatrical return any time soon, I gave in and trekked yesterday afternoon to the Regal Irvine Spectrum in Orange County and saw it on that gorgeous IMAX screen. After all these months of having to review movies based on links with my name emblazoned on them, it felt like home again. It actually felt like I hadn’t missed a beat, even if being in a place where a theatre was actually open felt for me like being on another planet.

This particular theatre is the one that Nolan has been publicly pushing people to go to since California lifted restrictions on Orange County, and it was a pleasure — despite the hour and a half it took on the freeway to get back home. I didn’t have to worry about social distancing either since there were only five others there, all male college-age types, and all wearing masks. Plus, it was the first time I had a hot dog since spring.


Warner Bros Pictures

The movie didn’t disappoint. It is assured moviemaking of a high order, something industry voters may well admire in a year sadly bereft of films on this scale. Nolan has made a cross of James Bond, Mission: Impossible, and Inception. Most of the reviews, even the raves, said you might get a headache trying to figure out what is going on, especially with all the time inversion stuff. Not a problem.

The action scenes are so incredible, the actors so good and the dialogue ripe with welcome complexity that I didn’t have to know what was going on all the time. I just sat back and smiled seeing for myself that the motion picture going experience had not yet died.

If you recall this movie was Warner Bros’ and Nolan’s big bet to save theatres, but COVID-19 isn’t exactly on the same wavelength. However right now it is just about the only real pure example of action-filled, big budget, Hollywood filmmaking shot around the world that Oscar voters will have on their plate, and sadly most of them will have to watch on their TV sets. Warners has announced the Blu-ray comes out in December, but maybe if the Gods are with us there might be a theatrical opportunity closer to home before March.

Most voters based in NYC or LA — where the lion’s share of Academy members live — probably won’t have any other way to see it. That has to be heartbreaking for Nolan. It probably is also for George Clooney who shot his Midnight Sky in 65MM with the hope it could play IMAX or big screen venues in addition to Netflix. I will talk about the latter when I can, but right now I have to say Tenet deserves to be an Oscar contender, just for the sheer craft and upholding the Hollywood dream of movies made on this scale.

‘Tenet’ Warner Bros.

Those factors give Tenet  more gravitas, I think, at this particular time. I would put it in or near the front runner position in numerous categories for Hoyte van Hoytema’s stunning cinematography, plus possibly production design, editing, sound, score and its astounding visual effects for starters. This type of saving -the-world edge-of-your-seat fun thriller often doesn’t make the list in above the line categories but maybe this year, standing out as it does, it should.

This film is right up there with Nolan’s best, if you ask me. Hopefully Warner Bros plans a big campaign, although I hear they are still trying to figure it out and certainly its director will have a say in all of that.

It is a problem: How do you campaign a film that must be seen in theatres when it is so hard to actually make that possible?

For example, The Regal complex I saw Tenet  in just yesterday is now closed once again, “temporarily” joining the chain’s other screens due to lack of product. Ironically Warners’ Wonder Woman 1984 is hanging by a thread to its Christmas Day release and was the last great hope for movie theatres in 2020. Sad times for those of us who “lost it at the movies.”


The Life Ahead
The Life Ahead Netflix

Theatres or not, the return of Sophia Loren — one of the very reasons I did “lose it” at the movies — in a major movie role is something to shout about. And The Life Ahead will have you thankful for Netflix, which begins streaming globally today.

This is a return to Loren’s high water marks in movies like Marriage Italian Style, Yesterday Today and Tomorrow, A Special Day, and her Oscar winning 1961 triumph Two Women. It is the story of Madame Rosa, a woman near the end of her life taking care of children of mothers she once walked the streets with, and now matching wits with one in particular, a Senegalese boy named Momo whom she befriends after he is caught stealing from her.

Part of the film’s success is due to Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti, who directed and co-wrote the project based on the Romain Gary novel from the mid-’70s. It was an honor to get to talk to the star recently in an interview we did — me in L.A., she in Geneva — when she received a Life Achievement Award from the Mill Valley Film Festival.

The legendary 86 year old Italian icon was in fine form as she told me why she had basically given up acting over the past decade. “Yes, I stopped for a while. I stopped for a while but it was not really for a while because I stopped for maybe eight, nine years of my life because I wanted to be with my children. I wanted to see them growing. I wanted to see them each day. I spoke with my husband — the late Carlo Ponti — and he agreed with me, and so that’s why for a long time I was not in movies, ” she told me.

Tribeca Film Festival

On working with her son she says it was a natural bond. “It’s wonderful because what happens is that we together choose always the right things to be able to work together. And if we come across something that we think it’s going to be really good, interesting for people, then we start there and we try to do the picture that we have in mind. And this is a wonderful thing and being my son it’s wonderful because we think the same things and we have the same kind of feelings and it’s really a great thing for us to be able to express ourselves in cinematic ways and to be really one person, one person to think only one thing that we are doing. We feel the same things from the heart, from the mind. It’s beautiful, beautiful. Yes,” she said.

I asked Loren if after 100 films and seven decades before the camera if she still gets nervous.

“Well, even if I did I wouldn’t tell you obviously. No, I’m joking. It depends. In the beginning you are nervous because there’s a new crew, new people that you maybe never worked with. You don’t feel like it is home for you. It becomes home for you after maybe a week or so when you start to know people, that you say ‘hi, how are you’, and you really like them. It’s like a house. I feel like I want to work with people that more or less I know in the beginning because then I feel at home. When you feel at home you can let yourself go and really start working as you wish that you could give a good result,” she said.



There is already lots of Oscar buzz for Loren for The Life Ahead and it has been, incredibly, 59 years since she won the Best Actress Oscar for 1961’s Two Women, and 56 years since her last nomination for 1964’s Marriage Italian Style. In 1991 she received an honorary Oscar as well from the Academy. She still has a hard time when she thinks about awards. “I am a very shy person and to be able to feel at home whenever I receive something beautiful for myself, I need time to digest it. I need time. You can imagine when I received the Oscar I mean, I don’t know how many times maybe I fainted, maybe, I don’t know, because when you faint you don’t know any more. But I don’t know, and if I did I wouldn’t tell you now. Absolutely not,” she laughed in recalling the night at home in Italy when she learned she had won for Two Women and made Oscar history. “It had never happened that an Italian actress would win an Oscar in America. Never happened and it was a beautiful film. It was a beautiful story, one of the most beautiful stories ever, ever on the screen.”

Two Women

Many actors that I interview always say they don’t like to look at themselves on the screen. Not a problem for Loren. “I think it’s wonderful to look at yourself after a long time you have done the film, you criticize yourself in a nice way. I like to see my work because I can learn more and more from the things I’ve done, I always try to find things to be able to kind of learn something that I shouldn’t do, that I should do sometimes. I criticize myself a great deal. But I’m learning quite well and I suggest things that I should not do on the screen, but less and less. Less and less, yes,” she said.

She is very complimentary about the famous male co-stars she has had on screen. It is a long list including Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, Peter Sellers, Alan Ladd, Peter O’Toole,  Paul Newman, Clark Gable, so many of the greats including of course Marcello Mastroianni. “I met him in Rome for a film that we were going to do together and from then on we did many, many, many, many films together because it was a wonderful friendship, he was a wonderful companion to work with, and the stories that they gave us to do were really perfect for both of us together,” she remembers. “I loved working with him. First of all, he was a great friend, he was very funny, and really life was easier working with him because he always had a nice thing to say to you. Very charming person, a beautiful person, very simple person. Yes.”

Loren has been a truly international star, as successful in her own native Italian language films, as in her fabled Hollywood career, a time she compares to being a student. “Well, for me it was a wonderful, wonderful school to meet people that I never knew, but the first film I made in America was a beautiful film. It was called Desire under the Elms (with Anthony Perkins). It was a beautiful story, beautiful story,” she recalls proudly of the films she made in this country. “I made good things then, I made some comedies, one with Cary (Houseboat) and some other things that now I don’t remember. No, no, it was a very good school for me also because little by little I started to speak a little bit of the language and the English and I was growing up, also, was growing up. Everything for me it was new, everything for me it was great, and people were very nice to me. A very charming and beautiful, beautiful time I had, yes. Absolutely.”

A charming time indeed with Sophia Loren. Absolutely.









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