Pete Hammond

‘Tis the season. Studios and distributors are pulling out all the stops to bring attention to their big awards contenders. The drumbeat has been so loud since Thanksgiving that it’s not uncommon to be invited to 4 or 5 sceenings, parties, events, and Q&As in a single night. I get the feeling everyone is pushing a lot harder this year than ever before because of relaxed pre-nomination Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences rules and the feeling that the race is wide open. And with ballots due by Sunday for LA Film Critics, Critics Choice, and Golden Globe awards, AFI Top 10, and others, the crush was heavy this week.

Witness Focus Features’ push for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Gary Oldman and cast including Colin Firth and key crew have been in town doing one screening after another to packed Industry crowds for the likes of SAG, BAFTA, DGA guild awards. A post-premiere party Tuesday night drew swarms of Academy members while Oldman and company held court. A Sunday cocktail party attended by Oldman and director Tomas Alfredson was attended by members of the Los Angeles Film Critics, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and guild members just in time to get exposed to these potential nominees before casting their ballots.

The  Tinker Tailor contingent is pretty thrilled about their own reviews and current 86% fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes plus the industry reaction. At a KCET/American Cinematheque post-screening Q&A Saturday, Oldman was presented with a career achievement Lumiere award. The actor is known for portraying far less restrained characters. But he  told me playing George Smiley and walking in Alec Guiness’ footsteps was a career highlight and he is hoping to do another turn based on John Le Carre’s Smiley’s People. Tinker Tailor opens in the U.S. today so box office and perhaps awards attention may figure in that decision to go forward with another Smiley project.

Angelina Jolie also has been busy promoting her writing and directorial debut, the Bosnian war drama In The Land of Blood and Honey which is getting attention from news shows like Nightline, 60 Minutes, and This Week With Christiane Amanpour. Jolie uses a virtually unknown cast of local actors and shot the film in both English and the native Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian language – but it is releasing in the latter, complete with English subtitles. At least for now. Thursday night’s Los Angeles premiere party at Boulevard 3 swarming with well-wishers, Jolie told me she wanted the pic to be true to the events that happened and did what was best for the film. An HFPA officer in charge of eligibility for the Golden Globes confirmed to me that Jolie’s movie will be considered for their Best Foreign Language Film prize. In fact, if you did not know who directed this movie, you might think it is the work of a great European auteur. It is not eligible, however, for the Academy Awards’ Foreign Language category due to more complicated rules. It is, of course, eligible in regular categories for the Oscars.

One of the many offering congratulations was former Presidential candidate General Wesley Clark who introduced Jolie to his son, a budding filmmaker himself.  Clark told me he thought the movie, about a war he knew very well, was just “incredible”. That’s the exact word Jolie’s proud father, Jon Voight, also used to describe her uncompromising film which opens on December 23rd. GK Films and Film District toppers Graham King and Peter Schlessel also were singing the star’s praises. I suggested to King that he personally could be nominated in an unprecented 3 picture categories when next week’s Golden Globe nominations are unveiled: Best Picture Drama for Hugo, Best Animated Feature for Rango, and Best Foreign Language Film for In The Land Of Blood And Honey. “I would be happy just to get one,” he said with a smile.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the room stood Brad Pitt, who could nab a couple of those nominations for himself for Moneyball and The Tree of Life. Pitt seemed alternately fascinated and amused as we talked about the whole circus and strategies of awards season. He couldn’t believe guys like me cover this thing yearround now. (“You should write a book in a few years,” he laughed.) He told me he was very happy about his Best Actor award from the New York Film Critics and also very proud of Jolie’s movie.

The Academy’s relaxed rules mean the food and wine are flowing at these screening/party events. And Academy members I have seen on the circuit seem to be enjoying it more with studios sending out the invites directly to them for the first time. There are Q&As everywhere and, for the likes of The Iron Lady’s Meryl Streep and War Horse’s Steven Spielberg in just past week, they are webcast live around the world, too, to give studios the biggest bang for their campaign bucks. So far no webcasts of the numerous parties aimed at attracting voters: like the post-screening fete for Drive Wednesday at the Andaz Hotel on the Sunset Strip that drew Supporting Actor hopeful Albert Brooks and Cannes-winning director Nicolas Winding Refn among others. Earlier that night there was a packed reception at Spago for the Chinese Foreign Language entry, The Flowers of War that had Academy and HFPA members mingling with director Zhang Yimou and stars Christian Bale and Ni Ni just before all of them had to catch a plane for the movie’s world premiere in Beijing. Some of those attendees then headed over to ICM for a special screening event  of Cuba’s entry Habanasation hosted by Michael Moore which drew Sean Penn among others to offer support.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros was showing off its late-inning release, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, at an industry screening and reception  at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, similar to an event they did for J. Edgar there a few weeks earlier. Not to be outdone, Dreamworks did their industry screening of War Horse the night before at the Academy. And all of this is just a small sample of goings on out on the circuit all week. This non-stop awards train is enough to drive you insane this time of year.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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