A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit
It is what they call “crunch time” in the business as the moment in this long, looooooong awards season is upon us when it all comes home to roost. Voting has been going on since Monday for this year’s Oscar nominations and will close this coming Monday at 5 PM PT. According to my informal survey many have already cast ballots, but as any Oscar campaigner worth their salt knows there are just as many that haven’t,w ith lots of members apparently still trying to catch up with movies or just too busy going to the myriad events where hopefuls are appearing in the quest for every voter they can find under any rock.
Veteran producer and longtime Academy member Jay Weston notes in his latest restaurant newsletter, Jaywalking In L.A., that he is a confirmed Roma devotee but expressed shock at how far behind in viewing many of his colleagues are. “I was surprised at the number of people who still have not seen it, as evidenced by some of my fellow dinner party guests at Ginny Mancini’s stunning dinner party, ” he wrote this week. One voter also wrote me this week for guidance since they had so far only seen three movies released in the second half of the year (Roma wasn’t one of them). Perhaps that is why the Netflix gang has been relentless in their screening strategy, even if the movie is easily available to stream and screeners are aplenty.
With only the weekend to go before it is essentially too late, Netflix just announced another reception for Saturday night at Chateau Marmont with director Alfonso Cuarón and cast in tow, and hosted by Charlize Theron and Diego Luna. Not to be outdone, one of Roma’s key competitors and fellow shortlisted foreign language entry, the Cannes Palme d’Or-winning Japanese film Shoplifters, had a dinner party at Matsuhisa restaurant on La Cienega’s restaurant row a few nights ago, and it was one of the most fun and intimate events of the season (basically one long table of Oscar voters). It was honoring it prolific director Hirokazu Kore-eda. He doesn’t speak English, but we had a great conversation joined by his interpreter anyway. If you haven’t seen this film, you need to. Incidentally, the director’s equally wonderful 2013 Like Father, Like Sun won the Cannes Jury Prize when Steven Spielberg was leading the jury. He was so impressed with it, he optioned it after Cannes for an English-language remake. I asked Kore-eda what was happening with that and he indicated it is still in development. It can obviously take years to get something like this right, but all I can say is the original is a gem.
Roma’s activities will compete with some Q&A events Saturday featuring Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born; a Deadline-hosted behind-the-scenes look at Mary Poppins Returns on Stage One at Disney featuring Rob Marshall, Emily Blunt and filmmakers; and certainly other happenings no doubt. A sampling of what is happening tonight includes a soiree at Montage in Beverly Hills followed by a screening of Mary Poppins Returns (again). None other than Sophia Loren will be hosting that one for her Nine director Marshall and his crafts team. Proving there is no rest for the weary, Marshall and Blunt were feted at a reception in NYC hosted by Ryan Reynolds and his wife Blake Lively last night.
Universal is having another reception and screening for First Man, which has been coming up short in key guild nominations but has a huge 10 nods including Best Picture at Sunday’s Critics’ Choice Awards. The studio refuses to give up hope, and its seven BAFTA nods earlier this week is a reason why. Stars Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy will join director Damien Chazelle at that one tonight at The London in West Hollywood.
Despite being battered in social media for unrelated past activities of some of its filmmakers (tweets, 20-year-old interviews, etc.), Green Book has been riding the momentum this week from its Best Picture wins at the Golden Globes and the National Board of Review, and director Peter Farrelly welcomed Academy members to a screening and reception at the Ross House in the Hollywood Hills (a favorite campaign spot of Oscar consultants) on Thursday night. The evening before the fellow Best Picture (Drama) Globe winner was doing the same thing at the Ross House on behalf of Bohemian Rhapsody, and that included its Globe-winning star Rami Malek chatting up potential voters. The next night Malek, producer Graham King and some of the filmmaking team appeared for a packed Q&A and screening at Fox’s Zanuck Theatre. They revealed a sing-a-long version of the Queen biopic opens in about 750 theatres nationwide today, following international playdates of the same idea. Hopefully they will still be singing once Oscar nominations are finally announced January 22 and we can all move on to Phase 2.
By the way, while we are on the subject of the Ross House, another event will be taking place there Saturday night when Brad Pitt, executive producer of his Plan B and Annapurna’s If Beale Street Could Talk, hosts a reception between screenings of the film there for Barry Jenkins and cast and crew. And if you think all this last-minute campaign activity is just taking place in L.A., NYC or at the Ross House, think again. On Thursday night Jenkins brought his film to Baltimore for a special screening for its late author James Baldwin’s family members on behalf of the Dare To Be King Project. It happened at the historic Senator Theatre and featured a conversation between Jenkins and author Ta-Nehisi Coates discussing Baldwin and the film’s relevance to today.
Back to Universal: the studio’s specialty division Focus Features has been doing extensive TV advertising and events on behalf of their August release BlacKkKlansman, including a big party last Friday at Chateau Marmont taking place by the pool which is in back of a cottage used a lot for these types of events. I have been to this cottage several times but never knew there was a big party area with the pool in the back — the events I went to were always confined to the cottage or adjacent bar area inside — so when I showed up 90 minutes late for this one it was practically empty. I thought to myself, “Wow this movie needs help. There’s hardly anyone here!” I almost turned around and left when a publicist grabbed me and asked if I wanted to talk to Spike Lee and the cast. I told her I think they must have left because it’s kinda barren here. To my surprise I was then escorted out to the pool and the place was packed. Universal chairman Ron Meyer was among those there and told me that in 51 years of coming to the Chateau Marmont he also had never known this space was out there. We do now.
BlacKkKlansman has been gaining momentum with key PGA,DGA, SAG, and WGA nominations and is having another reception to cement the deal Saturday afternoon with Lee, producer Jason Blum and cast at Harmony Gold in Hollywood following a noon screening. Around the same time, Black Panther will be hosting a brunch at Raleigh Studios for industry voters, with producer Kevin Feige and director Ryan Coogler among those hobnobbing with the crowd.
Among others on the stump this week was Supporting Actor hopeful Timothée Chalamet, who popped into a reception on his behalf at The London — although when I got there an hour into the two-hour event (before a screening of his film Beautiful Boy) the “boy” of the title was gone. There were still quite a few Academy members there though, and when Regis Philbin (!) turned up, the likes of Candy Clark, Nia Vardalos and others seemed to light up as the retired talk show host (spending the winter in L.A.) made the rounds. Clark, a past Oscar nominee for American Graffiti, cornered him and said she thought she was on his show once, but wasn’t sure what movie it was for.
The night before that, Netflix took over Quentin Tarantino’s beautifully remodeled revival theater the New Beverly for a special 35MM film screening of Sandi Tan’s remarkable documentary, Shirkers, followed by a reception at Angelini Osteria. The movie is on the Academy’s Documentary shortlist and is a must see for those voting in the category. It is also a film lovers’ delight and a real detective story of sorts as Tan describes how she poured everything into the making a movie in Singapore only to have all the footage absconded by its “director” and kept from her for over 20 years when the mystery was finally solved. Tarantino banned digital projection at his theater, so Netflix struck a special 35MM print just for the occasion. It was special. Film forever!
As usual all of this is designed for one thing: to somehow how entice voters to sit down somewhere, anywhere and watch the movie. It is all about the movies, as it should be and as I keep saying. When you have distractions such as the curiously timed hits on Green Book (much of which has zero to do with the achievement of the movie itself) this week, or previously First Man (remember the phony protest about Armstrong not planting the flag on the moon in the movie?), or Bohemian Rhapsody and on and on, it just gets depressing. Like I said it is “crunch time” now and the eyes are on the prize, but let’s not get distracted by side issues that have nothing to do with what is, or isn’t, on the screen and give these movies in contention this year a shot to stand on their own. Vote.