The clock is ticking, Academy members.
As the deadline looms for the close of Oscar nomination polls at 5 PM Wednesday, I have talked to a large number of potential voters who are still not even close to seeing the key movies, whether in theaters or making a dent in that pile of screeners at home. A more limited voting pool could lead to a surprising outcome, and this year it seems there are many members struggling to check out all the contenders. Last year then-Academy President Hawk Koch boasted to me on the day of nominations that with the help of the (then-controversial) new online voting system, turnout was the largest in recent Academy history. Hoping not to fall off the pace, new President Cheryl Boone Isaacs has been sending recorded messages urging voters who haven’t marked their ballots yet to get them in before the deadline.
And according to one member who told me he finally voted this morning, it’s working. “I couldn’t take another phone call or email from Cheryl, Dawn and Kimberly reminding me to vote,” he said, but he added that the actual process “could not have been easier this year”. On the other hand, I just talked to another voter who said they were told to get a new password and spent two hours trying to deal with getting the right security code to sync with their computer. The member said he was at a campaign lunch earlier today and also discovered he was the only one who had voted so far. Most members there told him they were waiting until tomorrow. Still, a lot to catch up with.
Certainly the studios and Oscar campaigners are aware that there are still a lot of votes out there to be had. With just a two days before the deadline, both coasts have been buzzing with more pre-Oscar events this close to deadline that I can remember. This is the last chance to wine and dine and throw a tea to tout your movie and stars for members before the Academy’s much-stricter rules about campaigning kick in after the nominations are announced on January 16. So if you are an Oscar voter in Southern California or New York, you would have had to be living under a rock not to have several invitations.
Paramount’s Brad Grey hosted a Sunday luncheon at the Bel Air Hotel in honor of The Wolf Of Wall Street star Leonardo DiCaprio. Several members showed up including 93-year-old Mickey Rooney, who brought Leo (a well-known classic film poster collector) a vintage signed poster of one of his movies. Shortly afterward, DiCaprio headed to the massive Cinerama Dome for a Q&A following a 3 PM screening for a mix of the public and Academy members (I moderated). A Paramount executive tells me they sold it out within 20 minutes on Friday after putting it — and the lunch — together quickly. There’s also a Wolf event happening tomorrow in New York as well a Q&A and luncheon for co-star Margot Robbie in L.A.
Of course The Weinstein Company also has been out in force. Sunday was a big day for Lee Daniels’ The Butler with a special lunch and screening for invited Academy members at a private Beverly Hills home that was hosted by Sharon Stone and Berry Gordy. And up north. star and SAG nominee Forest Whitaker was feted at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s annual Kirk Douglas dinner. And the great Wong Kar Wai came from his Talking Pictures appearance over the weekend at the Palm Springs Fest to special screenings and tributes in L.A. on Sunday and Monday night. His The Grandmaster is among the nine shortlisted finalists for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It could be his first nomination ever.
Just as I was able to get back from Palm Springs Sunday afternoon I was also barely in time for the tea the Weinstein Company threw for their Philomena, a movie I think could be their Best Picture nominee despite the absence of a PGA or WGA (it wasn’t eligible for the latter) nod last week. Harvey Weinstein, who traveled from his PSIFF bash the night before, said their campaign was emphasizing the fact that there are a lot of great films this year but Philomena was one everyone seems to love. It reflects the sentiment I’ve heard firsthand from members too, and there was a great Academy turnout for the tea, which featured meet-and-greet opportunities for voters with co-star and writer Steve Coogan and the real Philomena Lee, now 80 years old. She told me she had just gotten off a plane from London with her daughter and would only be in town for a couple of days. She’s a pistol and so pleased with the film. “When I had lunch before filming began with Judi Dench I felt like I had known her for years,” she said, adding that the film never would have happened without the book and it took her 50 years before she could let it go.
Diane Ladd, Jane Seymour, Jackie Bisset, Renee Taylor and many others were all angling to speak to Philomena. She could be a real secret weapon for the film if Weinstein was able to get her out to more of these kinds of events or Q&As. Also among those wanting to meet her was the film’s composer, Alexandre Desplat, and at this event in the Beverly Wilshire’s Royal Suite he finally did. Desplat also had another soiree on tap for music voters Monday night at a party also being attended by U2′s Bono and The Edge (just honored at the Palm Springs Fest), who wrote the Golden Globe -nominated song “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. Later Sunday night Weinstein himself moved on to the DGA, where PSIFF ”Icon” honoree Meryl Streep sat for a live streamed Q&A with co-star Margo Martindale following a screening of August: Osage County.
Coogan, meanwhile, was on a plane to New York for another Philomena tea — East Coast style — earlier today that was also attended by director Stephen Frears and several NY Oscar voters who got to ask questions along with their tea and crumpets. The pace doesn’t slow down tomorrow in NY, where along with the Wolf event there will be a luncheon for 12 Years A Slave at 21. The National Board Of Review has its banquet tomorrow night, following a similar soiree for New York Film Critics Circle winners tonight.
And back in L.A. on Tuesday night the Broadcast Film Critics Association hosts a Celebration Of Black Cinema with many expected contenders attending. The five ladies from Documentary Oscar finalist Twenty Feet From Stardom will all be performing at that hot ticket being held at the House Of Blues on the Sunset Strip.
With all these events to keep a voter hopping it’s no wonder there’s no time to actually see the movies. Oh, and did we mention ballots are due Wednesday at 5 PM?
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.