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Things I Learned on the Awards Circuit

Things I Learned on the Awards Circuit

All those Oscar nominations? They took a lot of hard work for platoons of people—and serious money. (The also-rans won’t ever get it back.) The campaigns shift into different gear with the Critics Choice Awards airing live on A & E this Sunday, the PGA Awards January 23, the SAG Awards January 30, Santa Barbara Film Festival tributes and writer/director/producer panels, the DGA symposium and Awards on February 6, the Oscar nominations luncheon on February 8th, and the WGA Awards in NY and LA on February 13, among many more guild award shows. Final Oscar balloting opens on February 12 and closes on February 23. 

Palm Springs 
The New Year began with the first weekend of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, as the media piled onto PSIFF “award”-winners such as Michael Fassbender, Cate Blanchett, Alicia Vikander, Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, and the ensemble cast of “The Big Short.” Many of them returned to L.A. for the final rounds of pre-nomination Academy parties, including one brunch at The Palm in Beverly Hills for “The Big Short” (where I interviewed writer-director Adam McKay) and another up the hill at the Chateau Marmont, where I grabbed Michael Fassbender, who then headed back to the UK to shoot “Assassin’s Creed” during the week before returning Golden Globes weekend. He insisted that rather than avoiding PR chores, he wanted to support the movie and get more people to see it. 

Later in the week I drove through driving rain to Palm Springs to interview “Carol” screenwriter Phyllis Nagy (who was happy to have nabbed a WGA nod and eventually collected an Oscar nomination) for her adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “The Price of Salt” at Palm Springs’ annual Book to Screen event. I hung with co-founder Susan Rosser and her sister, UCLA Dean of Film & TV Teri Schwartz, book-to-film ICM agent Ron Bernstein (“Steve Jobs,” “Black Mass”) and his client, New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin, whose book is the basis of February’s Nina Jacobson-produced “American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson ” (FX, February 2), starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and John Travolta; Toobin is now writing about the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.

I was happy to see again playwright/screenwriter Lucinda Coxon, who wrote “The Danish Girl” and is now adapting Ian McEwan’s “Sweet Tooth” for Working Title Films and writing a new play for the National Theatre. I met author Pamela Satran (who wrote “Younger,” now a Darren Starr TV Land series) and Brit novelist/screenwriter David Nicholls, who wrote “One Day” and “Starter for Ten” (both made into movies) and adapted his fave author Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd” for Fox Searchlight. Like fellow Brit novelist (and “Brooklyn” Oscar nominee) Nick Hornby, Nicholls is fielding enough screenwriting gigs to keep him from the really hard work of penning more novels. 

The following week in Los Angeles brought music parties for “The Hateful Eight” (which went on to win the Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Ennio Morricone), “Chi-Raq” and “The Hunting Ground,” which landed a Best Original Song nomination for Lady Gaga and Diane Warren, and a screening of “Tangerine” hosted by Caitlyn Jenner, heading for the close of Oscar nominations balloting on Friday. That was always a long shot, but star Mya Taylor did land an ICM agent.

The American Film Institute Awards
Friday also brought my fave invite, the annual American Film Institute Awards lunch at the Four Seasons. There studio chiefs and execs, producers and talent affiliated with the top ten movies and TV shows tread the red carpet, hobnob over cocktails and schmooze before sitting down to round tables for lunch and carefully selected clips designed to remind Academy voters in the room why they liked a given movie or performance—”Bridge of Spies” star Mark Rylance’s exquisitely delivered “stand up man” monologue to Tom Hanks; Ed Lachman’s sensual photography, capturing the charged interior car sequence in “Carol” as Carol and Therese feel each other’s proximity; Jacob Tremblay staring hungrily at the light coming through the skylight in Best Picture Oscar nominee “Room”; and Mark Ruffalo in “Spotlight” screaming at his editor in anguish: “We got to nail these guys!”

I showed up around the same time as the “Carol” gang, who were in high spirits, along with perennial Oscar rivals Steven Spielberg and Harvey Weinstein, as “Bridge of Spies” and “Carol” led the BAFTA nominations with nine apiece. (Each earned six Oscar nominations, but only “Bridge of Spies” got a Best Picture slot.) Weinstein was looking for explanations for why Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” wasn’t getting more awards love. Some Academy voters had told me the stunning Ultra-Panavision photography was wasted inside an enclosed room, but on Thursday, Bob Richardson and Jennifer Jason Leigh joined Morricone in the Oscar nominees’ circle.

READ MORE: Oscar Nominations Snubs and Surprises, Stats, Winner Picks

I greeted directors Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”), Ridley Scott (“The Martian”), George Miller (“Mad Max: Fury Road”), J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”), whose films all landed Oscar nominations. Leonard Maltin snapped photos with Tremblay and Ryan Gosling. Inside I told the patiently smiling Claire Danes that my daughter and I have consistently enjoyed her performances, from “My So Called Life” to Showtime AFI winner “Homeland.” She’s heard this before.

Her director Lesli Linka Glatter is a graduate of the AFI’s directing program for women. “81% of graduates of the AFI Conservatory are working in the field,” said AFI president Bob Gazzale, including Matthew Libatique, who shot “Straight Outta Compton,” Affonso Goncalves, the editor of “Carol,” and Anonymous Content’s Steve Golin (“Spotlight” and “The Revenant”). 

Standing tall over the room were lanky screenwriter Drew Goddard (Oscar-nominated for “The Martian”) and Adam McKay (nominated for writing and directing “The Big Short”), who hung with Paramount CEO Brad Grey, Plan B’s Dede Gardner and stars Christian Bale (sporting full beard), Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Jeremy Strong. They weren’t expecting any Globe wins, and didn’t get any—the movie peaked after the Globes voting. But they landed five Oscar kudos, including Picture. 

The warmth in the room for “Inside Out” (two Oscar noms) and Pete Docter was palpable—and for JJ Abrams and “Force Awakens” (five Oscar noms).

Conversations can be enlightening. Some men just don’t respond to “Carol,” while women and gay men adore it. Trouble is, despite annual membership drives to add diversity, older white men (“steak eaters”) still dominate the Academy, many of whom didn’t relate to “Brokeback Mountain” either—and wound up overlooking AFI Award-winners “Carol” and “Straight Outta Compton” in a field of eight Best Picture slots.

At the lunch’s end, Robert Towne, writer of “Chinatown” and contributor to the “Mad Men” writer’s room, gave the benediction, reminding that writers and creative people are often “trying to discover something by accident. I often feel, what I aspire to, though you surprise yourself with what you’ve done, it’s no accident. It’s such a gift!” He then told the classic story of the Epstein brothers driving down Sunset Boulevard as they were struggling with the ending of “Casablanca.” They had Rick at the airport but no idea where to go from there. As they turned up Beverly Glen, they turned to each other and said at exactly the same time: “Round up the usual suspects!” 

On my way out, Bale and Jon Hamm, whose “Mad Men” series was given a special award, were waiting for their cars; no valet parking for busy Universal studio chief Donna Langley (“Straight Outta Compton”), who crossed Burton Way to her own car. “I have work to do!” she demurred. 

That night, Open Road’s Tom Ortenberg and Golin threw a packed party at Bouchon for “Spotlight,” attended by writer-director Tom McCarthy, producer Michael Sugar, Sean Penn (the day before the shit hit the fan), Participant execs David Linde, Jonathan King, Diane Weyermann and Laura Kim, and “The Look of Silence” director Joshua Oppenheimer—who has yet to figure out where he will go for his next post-Indonesia subject—and the usual Academy suspects, all munching on yummy food in the kitchen, from fried chicken to the party favors, memorable cream-filled chocolate doughnuts.

Golden Globes weekend kicked into gear with Saturday’s Indie Spirit brunch on Sunset. Very tan documentarian Lucy Walker has a VR short at Sundance (the hot new area in the Frontiers section); she’s been scouting for music talent in Cuba for her follow-up to “The Buena Vista Social Club,” and promises more gifted musician discoveries including some fantastic women. She met with Ry Cooder but will put her own stamp on this one. Fellow documentarian and world-class alpinist Jimmy Chin is up for several awards (if not the Oscar) for gorgeous, dramatic survival doc “Meru.” 

DGA first-time director nominee Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) has been taking meetings all over town—par for the course—but parted ways with Natalie Portman’s Ruth Bader Ginsberg project and is looking to direct one of her own scripts.

I greeted “Tangerine” producer Jay Duplass (who acts on Amazon’s “Transparent”) and writer-director Sean Baker, who is leaving iPhone filmmaking behind and going 35 mm on his sixth, bigger-budget movie, “The Florida Project,” which he describes as “the summer adventures of a group of children living on Rt. 192 in Orlando, Florida.” 

Outgoing LA Weekly critic Amy Nicholson, soon to be the new critic for MTV, hung in a booth with Toronto programmer Michael Lerman and filmmaker Chad Hartigan, whose “Morris from America” debuts at Sundance. 

Also heading to Park City is “Amy” Oscar documentary frontrunner Asif Kapadia, whose period romance “Ali and Nino” debuts there. Kapadia was working the room at the annual pre-Globes BAFTA party at the Four Seasons, where the Brits celebrate their own and anyone else who wants to do a drop-by. It’s astonishing that Kapadia was able to shoot and complete another feature—adapted by Christopher Hampton from Kurban Said’s book about a Muslim Azerbaijani boy and Christian Georgian girl in Baku from 1918 to 1920—whilst promoting “Amy” from Cannes through the fall festivals. 

Best Actress Oscar rivals Saoirse Ronan and Brie Larson stood at the center of the room engaged in animated conversation; they have become best friends, Larson told me. “Spotlight” Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo and writer-director Tom McCarthy continued to make the rounds. Later that night Paramount threw its pre-Globes party at the Chateau Marmont to celebrate “Anomalisa” and “The Big Short” gang—of the cast I spotted only Jeremy Strong.

And on Golden Globes Sunday I made the fatal error of deciding to forgo the Fox viewing party to write my story from home, winding up in the hideous 1999 Avenue of the Stars parking snafu from hell with about a thousand would-be partygoers held captive in a Disney ride-style snaking line through the parking structure for two hours or more. Many not willing to suffer the indignity (including future Relativity chief Dana Brunetti, Sundance’s Michele Satter and others) gave up and went home. Thanks to kind friends Kyle Buchanan and Jeremy Podeswa we cut the line twice and shaved our time down to an hour—but long enough to miss the real action at Fox, Weinstein/Netflix, Amazon, Universal, Warner/InStyle and HBO. (The hotel took the rap for the stringent security and too few, too small shuttles.) 

We had a fab time anyway schmoozing with pals. But watching the Golden Globe winners and losers come together and party? Not to be. 

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