Sure, the event is smack in the middle of the awards corridor, so many contenders show up to work the room. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel: Michael Keaton and Edward Norton (“Birdman”), presenter Chris Rock (“Top Five”) and Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”), Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley and Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”), Laura Poitras (“Citizen Four”), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Belle”), Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”), Logan Lerman (“Fury”), Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo (“Selma”), Bennett Miller and Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”), Kevin Costner and Mike Binder (“Black or White”), Patricia Arquette, Eller Coltrane, Richard Linklater, and Ethan Hawke (“Boyhood”), Emily Blunt and Rob Marshall (“Into the Woods”), Robert Downey Jr. (in sparkling sneakers) and Robert Duvall (“The Judge”), Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The Lego Movie”), Katherine Waterston (“Inherent Vice”) and Tilda Swinton (“Snowpiercer”), who is about to start shooting the Coen brothers’ “Hail Caesar!”
All the studios had tables for their Oscar contenders, including Fox’s Jim Gianapulos, new co-chairman Stacey Snider and production head Emma Watts (cheery over the success of “Gone Girl”), Fox Searchlight’s Nancy Utley (“Wild,” “Birdman,” “Belle”) Universal’s Jeff Shell and Focus Features’ Peter Schlessel (both delighted to be partnering with Working Title on winner “Theory of Everything”), Warner Bros.’ Sue Kroll and Dan Fellman with Clint Eastwood (“American Sniper”), Sony’s Amy Pascal (“Fury”), and Disney’s Alan Horn and John Lasseter (“Big Hero 6,” “Into the Woods”).
I sat at the DreamWorks table, presided over by chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and his wife Marilyn, with the “How to Train Your Dragon” team, who know how to entertain, from producer Bonnie Arnold and director Dean DeBlois to composer John Powell.
At the beginning of the night, screenwriters Howard Rodman and Robin Swicord introduced to me to legendary Luis Bunuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere (“That Obscure Object of Desire”), who admitted that he also loved working with Peter Brook on the stage (“The Tempest”). “Often screenwriters are forgotten like shadows passing through the history of cinema,” said Carriere., citing a list of his late departed directors from Bunuel to Tati, Oshima, Malle and Chereau: “They all taught me something.”
Disney/Pixar animation czar John Lasseter was beside himself with joy to be able to wrangle an Oscar for his lifelong idol, Japanese Studio Ghibli chief Hayao Miyazaki: “Every film he has created is a masterpiece,” Lasseter said in his intro. Miyazaki added: “I’ve been able to participate in the last era where you can make a movie with a pencil, paper, and film.”
And Governors Awards producer Reggie Hudlin and presenter Chris Rock were gleeful about giving the coveted humanitarian Hersholt award to Harry Belafonte. “I would not be here if it were not for Harry Belafonte,” said Rock. “I’m not here to honor you. I’m here to thank you.” Belafonte rocked his activist speech, reducing to tears many in the house, including Annette Bening, as he exhorted Hollywood to “change the very future of humanity.” “I’m on an eternal quest for justice,” he said, noting that America had come a long way since the first film shown at the white House, 1915’s “Birth of a Nation.” When Sidney Poitier joined the singer/activist/actor onstage, Belafonte called him “my friend, my ugly friend.”
“It’s nice to have a black president that America likes,” Rock said of AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, adding, “Clint Eastwood had a GREAT Tuesday.”
Presenter Eastwood said that when he was a Fifties $75-dollar-a-week Universal day player, the first real star he met was Maureen O’Hara, starring in “Lady Godiva”: “She’s the ultimate Irish lass.” Irishman Liam Neeson also recalled how powerful was his crush on the fab redhead, now wheelchair-bound at 94 but with a glint in her eye. She was a tomboy pioneer who did her own stunts and stood up to the likes of Charles Laughton, Duke Wayne and John Ford, who she called “that old Divil.” Everyone loves “The Quiet Man,” from Martin Scorsese, who called her in the video tribute “vital, fierce, tender and gorgeous,” to Steven Spielberg, who paid homage to its famous windblown kiss in “E.T.” (See videos below.)
1. Ava Duvernay and Clint Eastwood have finished their movies. Angelina Jolie has not.
With “Selma” and “American Sniper” done and ready to show back to back in their entirety at the AFI Fest on Tuesday night, Ava Duvernay and Eastwood were able to relax and happily schmooze with the likes of AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson and “Million Dollar Baby” Oscar-winner Hilary Swank (“The Homesman”). Eastwood told me that having delivered two films this year at age 84, he really is going to take some time off in Carmel. “I hope I don’t get a good script,” he said, grinning.
2. J.J. Abrams has wrapped “Star Wars Episode VII.”
Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy was all smiles with husband Frank Marshall after wrapping the new “Star Wars” in London and coming home.
3. “Boyhood” is beloved.
As Arquette, Linklater, Hawke and Coltrane roamed the room with IFC chief Jonathan Sehring and Cinetic Media’s John Sloss, the emotional connection to “Boyhood” was palpable.
4. Expect more Oscars the Musical.
This year’s returning Oscar producers, the music-minded Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, are already working hard with Emmy and Tony host Neil Patrick Harris to tailor-make a musical Oscars to take advantage of his special skills, Zadan said. (Magic, singing, dancing, patter…) In his recent Charlie Rose interview, Harris said he was demanding with Zadan and Meron about making the best use of his talents. Sounds like Harris wants to be the next Ed Sullivan. Fair enough.
4. Harvey Weinstein loves VOD.
Obviously chaffed at how well “The Imitation Game” is doing, Harvey Weinstein is also high on how well VOD worked for “Snowpiercer.” “I wish I had put ‘Tracks’ out on VOD,” he said, defending his lack of domestic support for the film on the fact that it didn’t even succeed in its home turf Australia ($2 million vs. $500,000 stateside). That’s why he didn’t back a big Best Actress promo campaign for Mia Wasikowska. I still think she deserves one.
4. Ron Howard isn’t afraid of the water.
On his next movie, “In the Heart of the Sea” (March 2015), a big-budget retelling (about $80 million) of the great Moby Dick shipwreck story with “Rush” star Chris Hemsworth, director Ron Howard was not afraid to insist on shooting on the ocean, he told me. To him, realism is key. After working on “Splash” and “Apollo 13” and researching other movies he never made, he knows his way around the sea. “My actors were miserable,” he says proudly.
5. Some couples like to hang.
At the end of the night, as guests were filing out to their limousines, some folks just didn’t want to leave, including the engaged quartet of Emily Blunt and Jon Krasinski and Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux.