A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
This weekend is crunch time. Final balloting for the 93rd annual Academy Awards began Thursday, and it is likely that a majority of those ballots will have been filled out and submitted by the time we get to Monday. Technically, voters have until 5 p.m. PT Tuesday to turn them in, and as usual there will be a lot of stragglers who wait until the last minute, a reason why some contenders still with a fighting chance will be campaigning with advertising on TV and websites like this one right up until the last moment. And there are a lot of tight races where those voters will have some tough choices. Before that happens, we still have a few precursor awards shows to go including tonight’s Annies, Saturday’s ACE Eddies and Sunday’s ASC cinematographer ceremonies, all of them virtual. But when we get to the actual Oscar show on Sunday, April 25, you can bet it won’t be virtual.
Producers Steven Soderberh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins — who will hold a press conference Saturday morning to offer further details — are doing everything to keep it from being a Zoom affair in every way, as they have made abundantly clear. It will be an Oscars like no other, and not all of that is strictly due to the pandemic that has placed restrictions on in-person participation. According to Soderbergh and company, it is going to be just like a movie (remember them?) in widescreen and 24 frames per second.
And for the first time, as Deadline reported exclusively on March 31, all the nominated songs will be pre-recorded and presented on the 90-minute pre-show (allowing them to be sung in their entirety) that begins at 3:30 p.m. PT as a lead-in to the Oscarcast. And as we also reported then at least some of them, if not all, will be done from the dome rooftop setting of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. You think the Academy is going to miss an opportunity to show off its shiny, new and much-delayed museum to the world at large that opens on September 30? Not on your life. This also will cut down on the running time of the Oscar show itself. The Dolby Theatre also will be used; contractually, the Academy has to do something there. I hear one use will be for the presentation of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to the Motion Picture & Television Fund as it nears its 100th year. It could be a moving moment if plans stick to bring to the stage many of the hero staff of doctors who have worked tirelessly during this pandemic.
By the way, in terms of the song performances, Italian singer Laura Pausini — who shares a nomination with 12-time nominee Diane Warren for the Italian-language “Io Si” (Seen) from The Life Ahead — apparently finally has found a way to get from her locked-down country to Los Angeles and will be arriving in Hollywood in enough time to record her performance with Warren, the latter performing her song accompanying on piano for the first time in any of those previous 11 times at bat. Incidentally, their Golden Globe-winning song is the 10th foreign-language song to be nominated, and three of those went on to win: “Never on Sunday” in 196, “Al Otro Lado del Rio” from The Motorcycle Diaries in 2014 and Slumdog Millionaire’s “Jai Ho” in 2008. Will an Italian song make the 12th time the charm for Oscar bridesmaid Warren?
ANTHONY HOPKINS GAINING MOMENTUM?
Of course, also as first reported on Deadline, the heart of the broadcast will be coming from downtown L.A.’s Union Station, where production designer David Rockwell is said to be creating a spectacular set. This is where all the nominees will be gathered, and when each of their individual categories comes around, a la the Grammys, they will be shuttled into the main section and shuttled out to adjacent areas right after to guarantee proper social distancing. Some overseas nominees who can’t get to L.A. due to problems and quarantines caused by the still-raging pandemic will be either in London, Paris or via satellite from various locations, but again no Zoom. At last weekend’s BAFTA ceremony, which was a hybrid affair that was partly in person at Royal Albert Hall for presenters (but with nominees being Zoomed in from their homes or wherever), Best Actor nominee Anthony Hopkins did not appear at all when his name was called as the winner for The Father — a no-Zoomshow, as it were. Later, however, producers tracked him down in his hometown of Wales, where he graciously spoke to the virtual press conference for eight minutes, and he seemed genuinely surprised and exhilarated by the win. That was a first in awards annals: a winner who didn’t show for the actual awards but turned up for the backstage interview!
In answer to a question of where he will be spending Oscar Night, whether in L.A., London or elsewhere, the 83-year-old Sir Anthony gave us the scoop. “We will be in Wales. When are the Oscars? Are they at the end of the month or something?” he asked, proving that not every nominee obsesses on these matters. “We are taking a long vacation. We are in lockdown. It has been a tough year for everyone. We had our vaccinations. So we are in Wales having a quiet time, and I’m very grateful to everyone. So this is where I’ll be. So the Oscars — well, I don’t know.”
Actually, I am told a satellite setup is being arranged for Hopkins so he can attend virtually at least. His co-star Olivia Colman will be attending the London hub the Academy has been in discussions all week finalizing. Some other members of The Father team will be beamed in (hopefully) from Paris in a Canal Plus setup, I hear. There are about five nominees overall from various films who will be satellite-d in from France. And so it goes.
Hopkins’ BAFTA win has given new hope to Sony Pictures Classics after the late Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom had taken posthumous Golden Globes, Critics Choice and SAG wins in the category. This suddenly has gotten competitive. Hopkins’ devastating turn as a man slipping into dementia is perhaps the finest performance of his career, but Boseman remains a heavy favorite over at Gold Derby, so we’ll see. Hopkins was nominated last year as well for his role as Pope Benedict in The Two Popes, but in the Supporting category. He has an Oscar already for The Silence of the Lambs, but it has been 30 years since he won for that memorable Hannibal Lecter performance.
TO TV OR NOT TV
This week the Academy announced its “ensemble cast” of presenters, a list of 15 stars — 14 of whom either have won or been Oscar nominated — who will be handing off duties to each other in opening envelopes on the show. As I have said, this idea goes back to 1969, when first-time show producer Gower Champion transformed the Oscar broadcast, took it out of Santa Monica’s gloomy Civic Auditorium, moved it to the Music Center’s elegant Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and brought in 10 indisputable movie stars dubbed as “Friends of Oscar” to do all the presenting on the show: Frank Sinatra, Ingrid Bergman, Sidney Poitier, Jane Fonda, Natalie Wood, Walter Matthau, Diahann Carroll, Tony Curtis, Rosalind Russell and Burt Lancaster. Of that group, only Carroll (Julia) ever even had a television series at that point. Times have certainly changed, and though the stars doing similar duty this year are very fine actors and recognizable names, it is a group that might be just as much at home at the Emmys. Angela Bassett, Don Cheadle, Bryan Cranston, Rita Moreno, Zendaya, Marlee Matlin, Reese Witherspoon, and Regina King are just as familiar now for their TV projects as they are for movies.
Apart from 2020’s winners doing the traditional thing and returning to present this year (Brad Pitt, Laura Dern, Renee Zellweger, Joaquin Phoenix, Bong Joon Ho), only Harrison Ford seems intent on keeping his career big-screen-focused from this list of the new age “Friends of Oscar.” It shows how the business has changed when it comes to defining stars on an Oscar show that is supposed to be about movies and where the press release exclaims, “There’s so much wattage here, sunglasses may be required.”
In 2018, all four acting winners had active TV series projects as well: Olivia Colman (The Crown), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot), Regina King (Watchmen, etc.), Mahershala Ali (True Detective). It probably is indicative now that this ain’t your father’s Oscars anymore. Where once TV was verboten, if you wanted to be known as a film star, now there is no line of demarcation. Doesn’t it seem appropriate in a year when almost all the movies are being seen by Oscar voters on their TV sets anyway, eh?
The Oscars are coming up, but this week was all about the Oscats. PETA’s Animals in Film and Television division is in the awards season spirit with its fourth annual awards (not to be confused with Oscars, as its press release specifically points out, so the group doesn’t get sued), which honor the movies and stars who promoted kindness to animals through props and wardrobe, story lines and the use of special effects during the previous year.
Pete Davidson’s “Hunt Mushrooms, Not Animals” T-shirt in The King of Staten Island won Best Costume, the “Meat Is Murder” sticker on Riz Ahmed’s refrigerator in Sound of Metal won for Sticking It to Meat, and Oscar show cast member King was named One to Watch for giving senior dogs a shout-out on the world stage and for not forcing a single animal onto the set for her feature film directorial debut, One Night in Miami. Meanwhile, the Monkey Scene, Monkey Didn’t prize went to Mank for using digitally rendered monkeys, elephants and giraffes instead of real wild animals; Best Bear Who Wasn’t There went to The Call of the Wild for its innovative use of CGI, and Dolittle was praised for its Tech, Not Terror for swapping 1967’s live-animal cast with impressive computerized graphics. Mike White took Best Adapted Screenplay for The One and Only Ivan (deservedly also Oscar-nominated for its CGI animal special effects), whose strong anti-captivity message was delivered without exploiting real wild animals. A server’s diatribe about the killing of sensitive cows for hamburgers in I’m Thinking of Ending Things nabbed the Meta Meat-Free Moment award, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: The Reverend earned the Best SeaWorld Snark prize for its Blackfish shout-out.
“Grab the Vegan Popcorn, call the dog over, and settle in to enjoy the animal-friendly moments in these flicks,” PETA Senior VP Lisa Lange said. “PETA’s Oscats celebrate the thoughtful ways Hollywood can show compassion for animals on both sides of the camera.”
COMING TO ‘TERMS’ WITH BEST PICTURE REMAKES
Saw this week a columnist proclaim 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth as the worst Best Picture winner of all time. Don’t know about that, but you can check it out for yourself as that Cecil B. DeMille circus epic was just released in a new digital edition by Paramount Home Video. However, there is another Best Picture winner from Paramount that is angling for a remake — always a dicey proposition when dealing with certified classics and especially movies that have won Hollywood’s most prized prize. But Lee Daniels, whose latest film The United States vs. Billie Holiday landed star Andra Day a Best Actress nomination, wants to do a new spin on 1983’s Terms Of Endearment, which scooped up five Oscars including Best Picture, Actress for Shirley MacLaine, Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson, Director and Screenplay.
Should he do it? Here is his reasoning when I asked him if he really was going to try a new take on it. “Yeah, I was doing that. I still don’t know what the status is. We got the rights, and Paramount was really excited,” he said of the studio that also originally had his Billie Holiday picture before turning it over to Hulu to play in this season’s awards sandbox. “So we are just trying to figure out what the budget is and what that is going to be. It is told from a Black perspective, and it is told from my perspective from the ’80s. I really loved that movie, and I think I loved it because I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t stop crying. I think it wasn’t just because of Shirley MacLaine’s and Debra Winger’s great performances. I think it was because during that time I lost so many of my friends from AIDS. And I think for me no one has really told a true story about what it was like being Black with AIDS during that time, and so as opposed to cancer, the Debra Winger character has AIDS, and she could have gotten it from her husband that is on the DL, or from her lover who slams heroin. And what happened during that time, it wasn’t like cancer, people didn’t want you in their house. A lot of my friends couldn’t go home to their moms. People were dying, and the hospitals wouldn’t accept them. People were dying and they were literally dying in the streets. So this is a story that is important to me and I am excited about telling it from that perspective.”
THE BEST REMAKES OF OUR LIVES
This could be a smart idea and a way in to a fine remake. I hear from inside Paramount that the pitch was really strong. Still, it is risky redoing a Best Picture, but it has been done a few times. The 2016 remake of 1959’s big winner Ben-Hur (a remake itself of the 1925 silent) was dismissed. 1935’s Mutiny on the Bounty, the last film to only win Best Picture and nothing else, was tried again and earned a Best Picture nomination and six more for its 1962 remake with Marlon Brando. Another version in 1984 with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins scored no Oscar love, however. 1940’s Rebecca, the only Hitchcock film to win Best Pic, was a recent remake for Netflix with, uh, Armie Hammer filling in for Laurence Olivier.
Sean Penn took a new spin in All the King’s Men in 2006, but it couldn’t match the power of the original 1949 Oscar champ. 1956’s all-star Around the World in 80 Days was tried again with Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan in 2004. 1931 winner Cimarron had a so-so update in 1960 with Glenn Ford, but it went nowhere. 1934’s It Happened One Night was actually turned into a 1956 movie musical with Jack Lemmon called You Can’t Run Away From It, but audiences apparently did. Best Picture winners All Quiet on the Western Front, Going My Way and From Here to Eternity rehashed the revered originals in different ways on television, something last year’s Korean wunderkind winner Parasite is trying to do over at HBO in an English-language version Bong Joon Ho and Adam McKay are involved in. Come December, after Covid delayed its release by a year, we will see what Steven Spielberg has wrought with his remake of 1961’s West Side Story, the venerated director’s first musical ever and one with lofty ambition to take on the memory of Robert Wise and Jerome Robbin’s brilliant original that won 10 Oscars, still the highest number of wins ever for a musical.
Any Best Picture winner you would like to see remade?