Friday brought the American Film Institute’s AFI Awards
lunch at the Four Seasons, with each studio chief commandeering a table for their winners of the Top Ten film and TV shows of 2014 (this year a tie yielded 11 films). After frenzied hobnobbing –Oprah Winfrey led Meryl Streep by the hand through the throng to their respective “Selma” and “Into the Woods” tables–everyone settled into an intimate lunch and often emotional film clips.
The AFI vintage clip reel yielded a huge roar for Clint Eastwood as The Man with No Name, a reminder that his deep popularity goes back a long, long way. Eastwood admitted to me that he had been too absorbed in the news from Paris to heed his BAFTA nominations for “American Sniper,” which is hugely popular with both audiences and awards voters. During 92-year-old producer/director/writer Norman Lear’s benediction, he said, “The world needs saving. Don’t let Paris prove a threat to the creative spirit.”
I teared up at the “Boyhood” clip as Patricia Arquette says “I thought there would be more.” (I followed my 2002 fellow Sundance juror Arquette’s advice for surviving high-heeled shoes: slip them off under the table during the meal.)
“Foxcatcher” director Bennett Miller hung with “Boyhood”‘s Richard Linklater and his producer John Sloss, who may or may not get Academy credit as producer of the film. Jessica Chastain enjoyed her “Interstellar” costars Mackenzie Foy and Anne Hathaway and screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, while “Foxcatcher” producer Jon Kilik was excited by Matthew McConaughey’s work in his upcoming Civil War drama directed by Gary Ross, The Free State of Jones.
“Whiplash” star Miles Teller talked with Fox Searchlight production chief Claudia Lewis and “Birdman” producer John Lesher (whose “Black Mass”
starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger, looks promising). Brad Pitt presided over the “Selma” table with Winfrey, Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo, while Pitt’s wife Angelina Jolie and musician-actor Miyavi, fresh from a trip to Nashville, held down Universal’s “Unbroken” table with studio chiefs Ron Meyer and Donna Langley.
Producer Steven Spielberg was on hand to support his TV series “The Americans”; David Benioff and D.B. Weiss joked that this season, their “Game of Thrones” challenge was to deliver the goods to HBO without resorting to nudity or killing anyone. (The full list of winners is here.
My Oscar predictions are here; Golden Globes predictions are here.
Here are the top topics of conversation this Golden Globe weekend.
1. The surge in popularity of “American Sniper.”
Eastwood’s Iraq war drama turns out to effect people emotionally, especially right now. Chris Kyle, well-played by Bradley Cooper, represents the strong capable decent Americans who are trying to defend us from the terrors that continue to assault western nations. This is hitting the zeitgeist at the right time. Expect some nominations on Thursday morning–along with some inevitable blowback.
2. Will “Selma” be hurt by attacks on its accuracy? As I pointed out, attacking a rival’s historical accuracy is the oldest trick in the Oscar playbook. Director Ava DuVernay told me at Saturday’s Indie Spirit Awards brunch that she was wounded for about two days by the slings and arrows from LBJ historians and others, and then went back to celebrating the film and sharing the joy of showing it to people, she said.
The counterattack has hit the media in recent days–mostly after the Academy filed their ballots– and there does seem to be strong support among mostly Liberal Oscar voters, who were sent the screener. The film’s late completion date made it difficult for Paramount to get ahead of its awards campaign; screeners for the guilds and critics groups (BFCA got them this past week) were one casualty. “American Sniper” has Eastwood and Cooper to make it a must-see. While Winfrey did her best to boost awareness, David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay are not yet household names. (Here’s The Nation, Grantland, and The Business.)
3. Will Harvey Weinstein pull out some wins for “Imitation Game”? It’s possible that he can squeeze some prizes out of the malleable Hollywood Foreign Press for the Golden Globes, but as well-liked and admired as the World War II codebreaker story is, the movie doesn’t pack the emotional heat of “The King’s Speech” to which it is often compared. And star Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t seem to be as popular on the awards party circuit as charmer Eddie Redmayne, who worked the BAFTA Tea party Saturday along with fellow Brits Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike and Keira Knightley.
4. Can “Nightcrawler” land a Best Picture slot?
Rene Russo, star of another up-and-comer in the Oscar race, “Nightcrawler,” written and directed by her husband Dan Gilroy, was accepting congratulations for her surprise BAFTA nomination. She admitted to me that she just doesn’t like to work on anything that feels like a too-familiar retread of something she has done before. That’s why she doesn’t work very often. Hopefully more juicy roles will come her way.
Open Road handled this thriller well, although the title and the early perception that it was a commercial horror flick had to be overcome. Eventually enough people saw–and liked–the timely LA noir and media expose that it is a dark horse contender for several nominations, including SAG and Globes nominee Jake Gyllenhaal, who surprisingly edged out Brit Timothy Spall at the BAFTAS, and Gilroy’s original screenplay.
5. Will “Unbroken” make Best Picture?
At this point, Angelina Jolie’s war film may have to rest on its commercial bonafides. It just doesn’t seem to have much support among Academy voters. Cinematographer Roger Deakins may be its best hope for a nomination. At the BAFTA tea, editor William Goldenberg and composer Alexandre Desplat, who have worked together on four recent films, admitted that the movie was one of the most challenging and difficult they’ve done–tonally. Desplat is most likely to land his Oscar nomination for “The Imitation Game.”
6. Will “Boyhood’ remain the Best Picture Oscar frontrunner? “Boyhood” is still steady as they go as the folks at IFC threw a big indie-flavored awards party at the Chateau Marmont last week and did a new round of public appearances and interviews to signal that yes, they are spending heavily and in it for the win. Being the one to beat is often an uncomfortable perch, but so far so good.