Pete Hammond

“I’m here to get nominated,”  laughed Dustin Hoffman (who is making his directorial debut at age 75 with the 2012 Weinstein release, Quartet) as he took the stage at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual lunch to present grants to non-profit entertainment related organizations and scholarship programs. It was meant as a joke but clearly there is some truth to it, as this luncheon, held today at the Beverly Hills Hotel, often draws a lot of awards hopefuls to accept the generous grants in front of virtually the entire HFPA membership. If you’re a film or TV contender it certainly doesn’t hurt to be seen in this room. Awards consultants and PR Execs eagerly cooperate with the HFPA to get a strong turnout of contenders at this early pre-season kickoff to yet another awards race. Among the many PR types present you heard the same phrase over and over, “well here we go again”.

Among those presenting the total of more than $1.2 million to some 40 organizations today in addition to Hoffman were Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), John Travolta (Savages), Don Johnson and Kerry Washington (Django Unchained), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games), Jack Black (Bernie), Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Kelsey Grammer (Boss) and Carla Gugino (Political Animals). Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) opened the proceedings for the Foreign Press group by joking that ”the 40 grants are as diverse as the people sitting in this audience today”.

Four-time President Dr. Aida Takla O’Reilly noted her group’s Emmy nomination for the 69th Golden Globe show and said they look forward to their upcoming 70th. “NBC is dying to keep us,” she said, a definite understatement considering the NBC deal was the crux of the lawsuit between the HFPA and longtime production company Dick Clark Productions over control of broadcast rights (which the HFPA lost). The HFPA is appealing but it’s apparent the show will continue on NBC even though the January 2013 airdate and network have yet to be officially announced.

O’Reilly, the first of several speakers who noted problems with the teleprompter introduced Spielberg, a 16-time Globe nominee, 6-time winner and recipient of the HFPA’s 2008 Cecil B. DeMille award. Accepting a $250,000 grant for The Film Foundation the director noted his 22 year  involvement with George Lucas and particularly Martin Scorsese in the group’s efforts to preserve and restore films. He said the HFPA has so far donated $3.6 million to the Film Foundation cause which has benefitted over 80 films from many great directors. He announced this year’s $250,000 contribution will go to restoring Federico Fellini’s 1954 masterpiece, La Strada. Spielberg also used the occasion to give a ringing endorsement to analog film in general saying “this has been the stuff of dreams since 1895 and I will remain loyal to it until its dying day”.

A nervous Lawrence  next presented a $50,000  grant to the Sundance Institute. “It’s hard to follow Steven Spielberg. Or I guess he actually opened for me,”  she said. Before presenting a grant to American Cinematheque Johnson looked over the crowd and said, ” I used to get drunk with some of you”. Afterwards he told me he’s really proud of his role in Quentin Tarantino’s Christmas release, Django Unchained. “Quentin’s writing is like music for a guy like me. I am looking forward to seeing the film. I hear even the long cut is great. We had a lot of fun making that movie,”  he said about his role as a wealthy plantation owner. There’s talk this role could boost Johnson’s film career the way Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction ignited a second career for Travolta.

Cooper is going to have a busy Fall.  After the lunch we talked about his September 7th release, The Words which he said he was in a position to help get made for co-director Brian Klugman, a friend since they were 11 years old. He thinks co-star Zoe Saldana who plays his wife really pops in the movie. The film has been re-worked a bit since its Sundance debut and pickup by CBS Films. He’s also high on his November release, Silver Linings Playbook from director David O’ Russell. “I think it is David’s best work yet”, he said and will be in Toronto in early September  to premiere the film on the Fest’s first weekend.

Jack Black, who could well be contending for a Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for Bernie got laughs before accepting grants for a number of children’s groups. “I thought it was gonna be me and a few stragglers. But Steven Spielberg is in the house. Steven I want to say ‘Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter’ just looks incredible”.

Conspicuous by his presence in the room and at Spielberg’s and Travolta’s table was Harvey Weinstein (the rare studio/company head in attendance), and certainly in his element as his favorite time of the year is about to begin. He’s really high on his lineup this year that includes The Master, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained and Quartet for starters. Many of the stars who participated at today’s luncheon are in those films. “You’ll be seeing the movies soon enough”, he told me looking like a guy holding another hot hand. Here we go again, indeed. You can read the full list of grant recipients here.

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