A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
‘Tis the season to offer your Oscar contenders for free for the whole world to see.
In a follow-up to last week’s column where I questioned how Searchlight’s so-called “world premiere,” as listed on the invite for the February 18 event for Nomadland, could possibly be touted as that since it has essentially been premiering in one form or another since its official “world premiere” on September 11, 2020 at Venice/Toronto/Telluride at the Rose Bowl, I now have the answer. A Searchlight exec called to explain the studio felt this was genuinely the world premiere of the much-lauded Oscar contender since they were offering it up to the entire world in one evening, and at no cost, before it hit Hulu and select theatres the following day. Semantics aside, having seen the film at that first premiere in September, I “attended” the virtual world premiere last night and well, it made a world of difference in how I look at this moving and beautifully crafted drama from director Chloé Zhao.
The first time I saw it was on a day with several other screenings, and like most films sent to critics and pundits during this pandemic my name was emblazoned across the picture in case our link gets pirated somehow, an annoying distraction that can certainly take away from the experience of absorbing this deliberately paced drama that demands the kind of full attention you only really get with others in a movie theater; obviously in L.A. or NYC right now that is not possible since no theaters have been open for nearly a year.
This presentation was exquisite, preceded by a promising sizzle reel of Searchlight’s upcoming 2021 release slate as presented by co-chairs Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley, and — lo and behold — the movie, gorgeously shot by Joshua James Richards, and featuring a splendid Frances McDormand, was presented exactly as it would be theatrically — that is, free of anything other than the stunning vistas of the Southwest where it was shot over the course of six months. Like many films, Paul Greengrass’ News of the World or Robin Wright’s Land to name two, it just reinforces for me why I miss movie theatres. They can’t come back soon enough.
Netflix has about 2 trillion subscribers about now, right? But there are many out there who aren’t willing to pay, so in honor of the 51st anniversary of the actual trial of the Chicago 7, and not to be outdone by Nomadland’s world premiere, the streamer is making its major awards contender, Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant The Trial of the Chicago 7, also absolutely free to the whole world through the Netflix You Tube Channel today and all day tomorrow up to midnight Sunday to see what is undoubtedly one of this, or any other, year’s best films.
Here is Sorkin’s statement in conjunction with this free screening opportunity: “Since my initial introduction fourteen years ago, my relationship to the story of The Trial of the Chicago 7 has changed significantly. When we began shooting last winter, we knew the story we were telling was not only an important chapter of American history, but was plenty relevant to current events. We certainly didn’t need it to get more relevant, but it did. To commemorate the anniversary of the verdict in this historic trial, we’ve made the film available on YouTube for 48 hours starting Friday, February 19th at 12:00am PT, remembering the real patriots who inspired a generation – actually, generations – to take to the streets and uphold the foundations of our US Constitution, along with the courageous voices that continue to do so today. It’s our honor to share their story with the world,” said Sorkin. The actors are also getting into the action of this free screening with a cast video.
A GLOBAL AFFAIR
And continuing in the generous mood, the Golden Globes, believe it or not, are only a week away. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, stars won’t be lapping up their champagne dinners in the Beverly Hilton this time around, but rather making their own or sending for take-out at their homes on Sunday, February 28 when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s “Party of the Year” takes place on both coasts.
Recognizing they are saving mucho bucks by not having to foot the bill to feed their nominees, the HFPA, among the most charitable of all Hollywood award-giving institutions, is doing something much needed right now, and feeding America instead. Literally. The group today announced that Feeding America will be a philanthropic partner of the 78th annual Golden Globes, in their first ever bicoastal NBC telecast that will be coming live from both New York’s Rainbow Room with co-host Tina Fey, and the usual Beverly Hilton ballroom with co-host Amy Poehler.
Feeding America is the largest hunger-relief and food rescue org in the U.S., serving more than 40 million people through its network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs. Moet & Chandon, a 30-year partner of the Globes, also will participate with their own version of a “toast for a cause” in support of Feeding America, and NBC will be making viewers aware of the charitable donations during the program.
THE CASE OF THE MISSING 78 OSCAR CONTENDERS
Conspiracy theories and questions aplenty were swirling this week among some dedicated members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ International Film committee, the group of volunteers who view the 93 entries into the contest for what was formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film. After the deadline for voting on films to make the 15-movie shortlist passed, some members noticed that the 78 films not making the list had suddenly vanished from the Academy’s Screening Room, the digital site where all the contenders from around the globe were made available for Oscar voters, and in particular members serving on one of the four groups who were tasked with watching a minimum of 12 films each in order to have their votes count. If 12 sounds like a lot, quite a few of those voters wanted more, much more than their minimum, and planned to see as many as possible but were perplexed, to say the least, when only the 15 shortlisted titles remained active on the site.
One member, actor/writer John Pleshette, even contacted Deadline to share his concern and an email chain of other members equally upset to see the best of world cinema suddenly taken away from them – or so they thought. “I’ve been serving on the Foreign Language Film Committee for over 25 years. This year, because of the pandemic, the Academy made all films available on their portal, which is only accessible to Academy members…There were many films outside our group which I wanted to see before the deadline. Once the (entries) were narrowed down to 15, however, the Academy took the other films down. I thought this a shame, both for the Academy members and even more so for the filmmakers themselves,” Pleshette wrote to some fellow members. Another on his chain said, “I’m with you on this although I fear we are fighting a losing battle. So disappointed to see everything gone but the shortlist.” All the responses eventually got to Oscar- and Emmy-winning director Susanne Bier, who heads the International Committee with Larry Karaszewski. She looked into it and then promised all the films aren’t permanently going away but would be back on the site, even though it might take a while.
The fact of the matter is that the Academy never intended to take the films down permanently, but only to move the 78 not shortlisted to another division of the Screening Room. Today, the task of doing that has been completed and those films that didn’t make the cut are now again available in a section of the site known as “Extras.” This is home to a number of Academy events and initiatives including the Sci-Tech Awards Virtual Awards Ceremony, Conversations with Academy members at home, public events sponsored by AMPAS, the Careers in Film seminars and panels, Academy Dialogues, The Nicholl Fellowship awards, Scene at the Academy, and more. And now, thanks in no small part to enthusiasm by members to see what the world has to offer, 78 not-quite-orphaned foreign-language movies are in their brand new home at the Academy. They will be joined in the “extras’ section by 10 more films — the ones shortlisted that don’t make up the final five nominees — shortly after Oscar nominations are announced March 15.
The Academy Screening Room is an ambitious and obviously growing venture within AMPAS, and it is only going to get bigger next year when AMPAS officially bans sending out physical DVDs, a controversial move according to some members with whom I speak. Although support teams are available 7AM-7pm every day during the season, not every Oscar voter knows how to surf the web, much less a digital site with lots of moving parts.
Those 78 films and 15 shortlisted aside, the AMPAS site currently boasts 223 movies submitted under the “Best Picture” section, not all exactly Best Picture material if you get my drift. AMPAS accepts any movie as long as producers/studios cough up the $12,500 fee (plus another 5 grand if you desire forensic watermarking) to put it on the site (the International Film, documentaries and shorts entries are not charged). By my math that means the Academy has thus far grossed a cool $2,787,500 this season just on that fee alone. Not bad, and rest assured these films will vanish once the season ends so if you are dying to see Monster Hunter or The Wretched you’d better hurry. And for producers/studios, it is a lot cheaper than manufacturing about 10,000 DVDs to the Academy’s specific qualifications.
Everyone knows the business of Oscar can be lucrative, but that includes ol’ Oscar himself, which after all has to pay for this fancy digital operation. One member suggested to me that the Academy should use some of that money to send every member an Apple TV or Roku device so that they aren’t watching these big-screen movie experiences on their laptops. A better idea will be to get theaters open again, including the Academy’s own screens at its Beverly Hills headquarters and the upcoming Academy Museum, and let members see movies the way they were meant to be seen. Hear that, Nomadland?