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Things I Learned on the Awards Party Circuit, from AFI, BAFTA and Spirits to Paramount, CBS and the Globes

Things I Learned on the Awards Party Circuit, from AFI, BAFTA and Spirits to Paramount, CBS and the Globes

If you’ve ever wondered why Hollywood invests so much time and money on the votes of 82 admittedly idiosyncratic members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the reason is that the Golden Globe awards show helps to sell their movies and TV series. 

One topic of discussion on last week’s Globes party circuit is the marketing impact on likely Oscar nominees to be announced next Thursday. Why spend $3 million in “Inside Llewyn Davis” print ads if you’re not going to get your money back in box-office or nominations? The answer: to establish the marketing prowess of CBS Films. Now they can say to a Sundance filmmaker with awards in their sights, “Look what we did for the Coen brothers.” 

This year, for example, the five doc and foreign film finalists will be sent to the entire Academy, which tends to favor high-profile films that have done well at the box office. The question is, will they watch all ten films? Maybe a few…but they are far more likely to vote for what they have already seen. A Globes win for Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty,” assuming it’s an Oscar nominee, helps persuade voters to watch the movie. 

The Awards party week started Tuesday night at the House of Blues, where the Broadcast Film Critics Association (of which I am a member) mounted a Celebration of Black Cinema, complete with an impressive clip reel of about a dozen strong pictures, from “12 Years a Slave” to “The Butler.” The house was packed with Academy members who were treated to gourmet Mac & Cheese and a rocking concert from the singer stars of Oscar doc frontrunner 20 Feet from Stardom: Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Darlene Love and Tata Vega. They’ve helped to keep this doc front and center for Academy voters.

As Vega sang “It’s a Man’s World,” with feeling, I was moved yet again by the way these women back each other; they’ve experienced the same travails and blues and get what the others have been through. Lisa Fischer sexily crooned “Fever” to each of her sisters. Merry Clayton killed Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changing” and her signature Rolling Stones contribution, “Gimme Shelter.” They should form a girl band and take this act on the road.

Querying various Academy members there and at Friday’s intimate American Film Institute lunch at the Four Seasons, it was clear that their ballots are all over the place. There are three clear frontrunners (also on the AFI list of the year’s ten best films) and after the Oscar nominations announcement Thursday the momentum will shift as voters start to think about who they want to win. Oscar bloggers Pete Hammond (Deadline), Melena Ryzik (The Carpetbagger at The New York Times), Tim Gray (Variety) and The Wrap’s Steve Pond sat with me at the AFI event, which brings together the increasingly overlapping worlds of film and television. (The AFI Awards 2013 Video Almanac is here.)

I got a kick out of seeing Emma Thompson (“Saving Mr. Banks”) talking to Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), Netflix’s Ted Sarandos (TV winners “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black”) hanging with Warner Bros. chief Kevin Tsuijihara, and “Captain Phillips” producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti talking with their “50 Shades of Gray” and “Saving Mr. Banks” writer Kelly Marcel. Alexander Payne‘s “Nebraska,” of all the clips, won the biggest applause in the room. I made one of my usual pitches to producer Megan Ellison (“Her,” “American Hustle”) that she sit down with me–she doesn’t do interviews. 

T-Bone Burnett not only supervised the music on “Inside Llewyn Davis” but NBC’s “Nashville,” which is written by his wife Callie Khouri (“Thelma & Louise”). Khouri and the network are constantly trying to balance melodramatic soap opera and the series’ authentic music elements, which a recent survey says the audience likes best. 

As much heat as Globe-winners “American Hustle,” “12 Years a Slave” and Gravity are generating, “Captain Phillips” is also in the hunt. Each of the other films has passionate defenders and detractors. “Hustle” is a raucous, messy, improvised comedy directed by a fierce talent (David O. Russell) who is more respected than loved, which is one reason why beloved Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron will likely pick up the director win for “Gravity”; “12 Years a Slave,” directed by British outsider Steve McQueen, is considered overrated by some, and too tough to sit through by others, while many fervently want it to win Best Picture. 

Why is “Captain Phillips” a strong Best Picture candidate? It has done well across all the guilds, and is a popular, seriously well-mounted film that presents America in a positive way, from a respected DGA nominee (Paul Greengrass). It’s also a movie that the dominant Steakeaters in the Academy (older white men) can wholeheartedly embrace. That clip shown at the AFI of Tom Hanks in the infirmary brings tears to anyone’s eyes. Interestingly, Sony is clearly favoring “American Hustle” for the win. Sony chairman Amy Pascal may want to reconsider that approach. 

Another hot topic around town is the surge of indie film talent heading to television, where the career opportunities are. At sales rep Kevin Iwashina’s annual pre-Sundance Film Festival party Thursday night, writer-producer-actress Brit Marling, her “The East” co-writer and director pal Zal Batmanglij and producer Stephanie Langlois, who works with Mark and Jay Duplass (“Jeff, Who Lives at Home”), all talked about pending TV projects. Marling (who has two movies at Sundance, Mike Cahill’s “I Origins” and Daniel Barber’s “The Keeping Room”) is writing a spec TV script, and Batmanglij has been directing TV series “Wayward Pines.” And HBO has picked up the Duplass’s half-hour comedy series pilot “Togetherness,” which is prepping its start of production in Los Angeles. The Duplass brothers are writing, executive producing and directing their first TV foray, about a group of friends who live together under one roof, played by Mark Duplass, Melanie Lynskey, Steve Zissis and Amanda Peet. 

Another indie heading for TV is writer-actress-director Amy Seimetz (“The Killing”), who was hanging at the Indie Spirits nominees brunch on Saturday with her “Upstream Color” director Shane Carruth and Evan Glodell (“Bellflower”), who all joked that they weren’t making a living on indie films. She’s writing a TV series.

Sticking with movies is David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”), who is adapting “Pete’s Dragon” for Disney live-action as well as adapting David Wain’s Vanity Fair article “The Old Man and the Gun” to star Robert Redford, and a film for Casey Affleck (“To Be Two”), all possible directing vehicles. 

J.C. Chandor (“All is Lost”) is finishing up casting his next indie-financed original script, the 1981 drama “A Most Violent Year” starring Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, who replaced Javier Bardem after eight months of development of the script after the Spanish star wanted more rewrites, said Chandor, who first met the “Inside Llewyn Davis” star in Cannes last May. Isaac (“Exodus”) and Chastain were classmates at Julliard. The film will start shooting in New York at the end of this month.

“Blue Jasmine” star Sally Hawkins admitted that as Woody Allen doesn’t mount rehearsals, she and Cate Blanchett worked with each other on their own to build their sisterly bond. “Nebraska” stars Will Forte and June Squibb were also on hand at BOA Steakhouse. Squibb, who lives in Sherman Oaks, has been busy shooting roles on TV in “Getting On,” “The Millers” and “Girls.” 

You could tell the Europeans at Saturday’s BAFTA tea: they’re the ones holding tea cups. The gravity in the room shifted as Martin Scorsese entered the room, chatting with Cate Blanchett and Paul Greengrass; Alfonso Cuaron and Sandra Bullock amiably worked the room for “Gravity,” Steve McQueen, Michael Fassbender, and John Ridley talked “12 Years a Slave,” Leonardo DiCaprio patiently posed for photos, and told me that while Scorsese carefully mapped out the quaalude scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the Lamborghini door opening was a surprise, and in a wide shot, DiCaprio had to improvise with his feet. I met Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck of “Frozen,” who were brought together by Disney animation czar John Lasseter to collaborate on this complicated princess musical–a blockbuster likely to win the Oscars it did the Globes. They described how long it took to fit the intricate jigsaw of story and songs into a cohesive whole. 

Saturday night brought a double feature: Paramount at the Chateau Marmont, presided over by studio chief Brad Grey and Viacom’s Philippe Dauman, who says that it’s easier to make and market ten to fifteen movies a year and do it well, than a larger slate. He also confirmed that boss Sumner Redstone did his recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters on his own. 

Jon Favreau was celebrating his return to indie-scale filmmaking with $15-million “Chef,” in which he plays a chef along with Robert Downey, Jr., which opens SXSW. Producer Mark Johnson (“Breaking Bad”) was in the midst of screening the shortlist of nine to his foreign film committee, including members Tommy Lee Jones, James L. Brooks, Kathryn Bigelow and Matt Groening.

TV and movies also collided at Les Moonves‘ CBS party at Soho House celebrating Globes nominations for Showtimes’s “Masters of Sex,” CBS’s “The Millers” and CBS Film’s “Inside LLewyn Davis.” Joel Coen, who was on awards duty (his brother Ethan stayed in New York), chatted with his wife Frances McDormand, Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber. “Enough Said” writer-director Nicole Holofcener and Catherine Hardwicke both juggle TV directing with movies. 

And on Sunday was the big show itself. I watched the Golden Globes with EW’s Anthony Breznican at Fox’s viewing party at the Beverly Hilton, where “12 Years a Slave” lost category after category until the big win for Drama. The “12 Years” gang celebrated en masse, from McQueen and Lupita Nyong’o to Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch (see photo of Fassy and Cumberbatch dancing below).

I went on to hit two hopping after parties at HBO (Michael Douglas, Mike Tyson, Judd Apatow and the “Girls” gang, Tom Hanks, Aaron Paul, Chris Pine) and the Netflix/Weinstein Co., which gave out free lipsticks and where the “House of Cards,” “Mandela,” “Philomena” and “August: Osage County” groups co-mingled on a balcony, as Julia Roberts talked with song-winner Bono and Kevin Spacey. Leonardo DiCaprio, Taylor Swift and Kerry Washington also held court (with serious security on hand). 

And that was more than enough.

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