With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, it may also be time to reflect on what is easily one of the most harrowing movies of the year, Prisoners. The film, which starts out at a Thanksgiving day celebration that turns tragic when two young girls from different families are snatched in broad daylight, was a blacklisted script by Aaron Guzikowski that the writer says was meant more to focus on those who feel the loss rather than the actual act itself. Alcon produced the film which launched at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals and for which director Denis Villeneuve and stars Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Melissa Leo are getting plenty of Oscar buzz. There’s also buzz for the original screenplay by Guzikowski who explores what dark recesses of his mind led to the film’s birth during the Warner Bros panel at Deadline’s THE CONTENDERS event earlier this month.
The Contenders 2013: ‘Prisoners’ Screenwriter Asks “How Did I Become So Warped To Give Birth To This Story?” (Video)
Another piece of the Oscar-season puzzle was unveiled Sunday night when Sony held the first major screening of David O. Russell‘s American Hustle at the Cary Grant Theatre on the Culver City lot. The packed crowd was largely made up of SAG and a few Academy members, plus select press. Since this and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street (which begins screening at the end of the month) have been the two remaining question marks before we have a clear view of the complete competitive landscape, the unveiling of this one was hotly anticipated. It was definitely the place to be. In fact, one New York-based consultant working on the film flew in Sunday afternoon specifically for the screening and flew back on the red-eye immediately afterwards.
If rivals were hoping it would be a bust, or at the very least a disappointment, I hate to bring them the bad news. Although formal reviews are verboten until early next month, I can say that from my vantage point, Russell — whose last two films Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and The Fighter (2010) were nominated for Best Picture and Director, as well as taking some acting Oscars — has another winner with a film that will have strong appeal particularly in the actors branch and at SAG. I also think, even in this fiercely contested year, Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing and Costume nods could be in the cards along with any number of possibilities for its superb ensemble including lead actor Christian Bale, lead actress Amy Adams, supporting actors Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner, and supporting actress Jennifer Lawrence. Especially Lawrence; she is simply dazzling as Bale’s wife, a total knockout scene-stealer throughout. If she hadn’t already won last year as Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, there is no doubt she might be unbeatable here. At 23 years old and the star of this weekend’s all-time November record breaker, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, she may well become the frontrunner anyway to take back-to-back Academy Awards after this performance is seen. It’s prime Oscar bait. The actors, including voters I spoke to afterward, were clearly blown away. In fact the entire cast — which also includes a terrific unbilled one-scene cameo from Robert De Niro, who was nominated last year for Silver Linings — will certainly figure heavily for the SAG Outstanding Cast of a Motion Picture award. One person connected to the film to whom I spoke said early reaction had been on the mixed side, but I couldn’t detect that at this screening. It was all upbeat. Time will tell.
Since graduating from Juilliard in 2005, Guatamalan-born and Miami-bred Oscar Isaac has been on a steady rise. With noticeable roles in films such as Robin Hood, Drive and The Bourne Legacy, Isaac has been proving his worth as a film actor with something extra. That “something extra” has been fully realized with his breakthrough role as the title character in Joel and Ethan Coen’s tale of a struggling folk singer in the early 1960s, Inside Llewyn Davis. Since winning the Grand Prize at Cannes in May, the film has been building a high profile this season and promises to put Isaac, who does all of his own singing, right in the heart of the race.
AwardsLine: Recount how you got this role, because the audition process was drawn out for the film. The Coen brothers thought the movie wouldn’t get made if they didn’t find the right actor.
Oscar Isaac: I heard about the audition process early on, and I was like, “I have got to get into this thing because I love the Coen brothers, I play music and I can sing.” I went in (to the audition) knowing that it was loosely based on (folk musician) Dave Van Ronk’s memoirs, and I knew he was this huge 6-foot-5, 200-pound Swede. I knew (I would be) a stretch, if they were trying to do a biopic. So I came in and I had a beard and I saw a photograph of this well-known musician—dark hair, dark beard. Suddenly, I calmed down and said, “So is this a reference shot? You guys are looking for people like that?” (Someone in casting) says, “Oh, no. He came in; he killed it.” It was like all the blood being drained out of my veins. They had been looking at a lot of really great musicians for the part because they wanted to have full songs performed live in the film, which is very unusual. I learned three songs and did the audition, and about a week later, they called me in to meet with the Coens. They’re the best to audition for. They are incredibly generous, and they’re quick to laugh, even just in conversation. So it was impossible to tell how it went because, apparently, they’re like that for everybody. A month went by, and I was just begging the universe to give me this one shot. Then I got a call (from) Joel. I remember him talking for a while before saying it, but then he finally said, “We’d love for you to do (the film), if you’d want to be a part of it.” I couldn’t believe it.
Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is constantly reviewing their rules and regulations, the changes are usually minor. But this year one major change regarding the foreign-language category could cause a few tremors in that race: For the first time, the entire Academy will vote on the winner.
The nominating process to select five foreign-language contenders from the 70-some entries from individual countries remains the same. But in the past, only members who had proven they had seen all five nominees in a theater were able to vote. Now everyone gets to vote without proving they’ve seen the films, just like the rest of the major categories.
But will this change the dynamics of the race, perhaps favoring higher-profile titles? Last year, Austria’s acclaimed Amour won the foreign-language Oscar the old-fashioned way. Had the new rules been in effect, it almost certainly would have won anyway because it was the rare foreign-language entry that also received a best picture nomination. Would lesser-known winners such as Argentina’s The Secret In Their Eyes (2009) or Japan’s Departures (2008) have reigned in an unsupervised Academy-wide vote against better-known nominees?
A recent, and unsolicited, email from a producer friend of mine demonstrates what a lot of people are saying about this year’s best picture race: “Now this is a year for film! Tremendous. Going to be a fun one, my friend.” It is going to be a fun one. Nearly every Academy member to whom I have spoken seems excited about the level of quality in this year’s race, which is a strong indication that this could be the first year 10 films are nominated since the rules changed to allow a variable number. Just consider what’s already out there in theaters or on Blu-Ray: 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, Captain Phillips, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Dallas Buyers Club, Blue Jasmine, All Is Lost, Fruitvale Station, Prisoners, Rush, Blue Is The Warmest Color, Before Midnight, Mud and The Place Beyond The Pines.
The fact is, this is a year in which there could be room for 20 films. Consider those yet to open or just opening: Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, August: Osage County, The Book Thief, Her, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Lone Survivor, Labor Day and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. All of those films have played the fest circuit, and most pundits—including this one—already have seen them and can say definitively that it’s a formidable list. Of those yet to be seen by just about anyone outside of rarefied circles are The Wolf Of Wall Street and American Hustle, both December releases expected to be major players in several races.
With this kind of lineup, it is no wonder some movies once thought to have awards aspiration—such as Foxcatcher, Grace Of Monaco, The Immigrant and George Clooney’s The Monuments Men—have all opted out. And why not?
OSCARS: ‘Despicable Me 2′s Pharrell Williams Aims For Best Song Spot With “World’s First” 24-Hour Music Video
Well here is an idea that could be very intimidating for other tunes trying to get a foothold in the Oscar race for Best Song this year. Pharrell Williams, who has been on the circuit performing his Academy Award contending song “Happy” from Despicable Me 2, has created what is being billed at the world’s first 24-hour music video to showcase it. Shot over 11 days in L.A entirely on Stedicam (the camera crew estimates they walked over 8 miles each day) more than 400 extras appear in it, including several celebrities and the film’s stars Steve Carell and Miranda Cosgrove. All of them hand off to one another as the song continues in a loop. Williams appears in the video 24 times, at the top of every hour, and then followed by 14 additional performances in the same hour. Here’s a sample:
The emphasis on the song is a big part of Universal’s awards campaign for the movie which at over $900 million worldwide is the biggest grossing hit in the studio’s history.
Listen to (and share) episode 51 of our audio podcast “Deadline Awards Watch with Pete Hammond.”
Deadline’s awards columnist talks with host David Bloom about more highlights from Deadline’s recent The Contenders event, including Meryl Streep‘s all-business approach behind her sterling performance in August: Osage County; how screenwriter Kelly Marcel had to make the irascible author of Mary Poppins just a wee bit more cuddly to help save Saving Mr. Banks; and behind the scenes with the tech and design gurus who helped make Spike Jonze’s latest, Her, another unique cinematic experience.
We also talk about the looming voting deadline for the shortlist of Oscar documentary features, a publicists’ pre-Oscar frenzy at the glitzy and star-filled Academy Governors Awards and how recent festival fever among the major studios might help their entries scoop up more Oscar gold.
With the long Thanksgiving weekend just ahead, however, several other substantial entries will open in U.S. theaters this weekend, including Disney’s animated tale Frozen, which also features a marvelous Mickey Mouse short, Get A Horse, that Pete picks as a can’t-miss for the animated short Oscar; the big festival favorite Philomena, with Judi Dench and do-everything sidekick Steve Coogan; and the somewhat serious comedy remake Delivery Man, with Vince Vaughn in perhaps his most well-rounded performance ever.
Finally, an awards show for all those people who usually get played off the stage after 45 seconds. Actually last night’s event at the Ebell Theatre was the 7th Annual Hamilton Behind The Camera Awards, an honor for which actors need not apply except as a presenter. Production Designers, Casting Directors, Film Editors, Costume Designers, Cinematographers, even a Property Master got to be in the spotlight here. Yes, there were some “above the line” awards too including David O. Russell (American Hustle) for Directing, Brad Ingelsby and Scott Cooper (Out Of The Furnace) for writing, Saudi Arabia’s Haifaa Al Mansour (Wadja) for Foreign Film and Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter (Dallas Buyers Club) for Producing. I am not exactly sure who votes on these except to say the watchmaker bases the choice of honorees on “the knowledgeable advice of professionals” which I imagine is code for studio publicists who want to get their Oscar contenders out winning something on a November Sunday night. There were lots of PR people swarming the red carpet last night so Hamilton definitely has this on the Hollywood radar. Nevertheless it was a nice, well-organized event and any awards show devoted to the artists who make great movies happen behind the scenes is a worthwhile one.
Numerous actors did show up to make the presentations including Casey Affleck to his Out Of The Furnace writer/director Cooper who was excited about the early trade reviews from the intense film’s AFI Fest premiere the night before. After the Hamilton award he was heading to the DGA where he was thrilled William Friedkin would be doing the Q&A following their official screening. He told me the movie was a “very personal” one that is really about examining the “times in which we live” over the past five years in a country that he says is the “most violent” on earth. Cooper got laughs though in his acceptance when he talked about his very first watch, a Hamilton. “I cherished it until it stopped working. But it sure looked good,” he said which was not exactly the kind of ringing endorsement for which the evening’s sponsor might have been hoping.
There’s no question about it. Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award For Excellence In Comedy winner Sacha Baron Cohen stole the BAFTA-LA ‘s annual Britannia Awards Saturday night with a comedy routine that had half the packed Beverly Hilton audience roaring and the other half shaking in their Jimmy Choos wondering if he had really just killed an elderly woman in a wheelchair – or was it one of his patented tasteless gags? You can see for yourself when the show airs Sunday night on BBC America but the reaction was so visceral in the room host Rob Brydon had to literally calm down the normally more sedate British crowd. Some clearly thought it was real.
At any rate, the bit made the awards gathering memorable for reasons organizers probably didn’t imagine. One BAFTA exec told me later that they were up until 3 AM just trying to clear all the legalities of Cohen’s acceptance bit which involved presenter Salma Hayek on stage with someone rolled out in a wheelchair she very believably identified as Grace Collington, an actress she said appeared with Charlie Chaplin in 1931′s City Lights at the age of five. “At 87, she’s the oldest surviving actor to have worked with Chaplin in a silent movie,” she told the audience as the woman sat there. When Cohen came up to accept his award from them, “Collington” warmly presented him with one of Chaplin’s famous canes. He then proceeded to push her off the stage and she landed face down, motionless and apparently dead on the ground. “Grace Collington is the oldest, sorry, was the oldest… I dedicate my award to her. It’s obviously a tragedy, but on the bright side what a great way to go. She’ll probably make the Oscars In Memoriam section… Anyway tonight is not about her, it’s about me,” he said as the limp body was carried out of the ballroom to rollicking laughter of the sort you rarely hear at these events.
Any doubt that awards season has not kicked into full gear even though it’s only early November were firmly erased Friday night as I kept running into the same Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Academy members as we dashed from an AFI Fest pre-party for The Weinstein Co.‘s August Osage County premiere in Hollywood, to a Lionsgate holiday (!) celebration at Spago, to Disney‘s Mary Poppins sing-a-long for Saving Mr. Banks at the Beverly Hills Hotel. And that doesn’t even count Sony‘s tribute to their American Hustle David O. Russell for the AFI Fest at the Egyptian. When the picture isn’t ready to show why not just throw a tribute with clips instead? (they sneaked the first six minutes). Deadline’s Jen Yamato was there and reports Jane Fonda and his Oscar winning Silver Linings Playbook star Jennifer Lawrence showed up for the pre-reception. Just down the street at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Gravity star Sandra Bullock was holding court doing a Q&A for SAG nominating committee members after a screening of the film (Warner Bros. had a separate Gravity press cocktail reception Wednesday night in West Hollywood which drew director Alfonso Cuaron and son, co-writer Jonas, along with producer David Heyman).
At Hollywood and Highland’s The Grill, August Osage County co-producer George Clooney was clearly the star attraction taking photo after photo with excited (mostly female) members of the HFPA who swarmed around him at the intimate, but crowded event before the North American premiere of the film at the Chinese. If anyone knows how to work a room like this, it is Clooney. When I managed to catch his eye he told me the film has been reworked a bit since I saw it at its Toronto Fest debut in September and that, after the balancing act of getting the adaptation of a 3 1/2 hour play down to a tight – and funny – two hours (it’s entered in the Golden Globes as a comedy), both Harvey Weinstein and director John Wells are happy with it, as Wells also confirmed. The director said he worked on honing the script for over two years with Pulitzer Prize and Tony winner Tracy Letts (also at the reception). As Clooney explained they had to take a rather insular play and open it up a bit which wasn’t easy, but the film I saw played like gangbusters in Toronto and was well-received at AFI, I am told by some who saw it last night for the first time. Co-stars Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson, Dermot Mulroney and Chris Cooper who has a couple of scenes that stop the show were also at the reception before hitting the red carpet (stars Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep were absent).
The Contenders 2013: Producer Robbie Brenner On Two Decade Quest To Get ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ Made: “Like Pushing A Rock Up A Hill” (Video)
At Deadline’s THE CONTENDERS sold-out daylong event last Saturday, producers Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter told the gathered AMPAS and Guild members the epic saga of getting Dallas Buyers Club — this “little-movie-that-could” — made. As Brenner says after actors like Brad Pitt came and went, it finally was Matthew McConaughey who proved the charm, even if he still had to force the issue after losing 47 pounds for the role. Dallas Buyers Club is getting especially strong Oscar buzz for its actors including McConaughey and co-star Jared Leto. Jennifer Garner has also gotten some of the best reviews of her career. After opening with limited runs last week, the film about Texan Ron Woodroof’s fierce battle against AIDS in the early years of the outbreak is expanding to more theaters today.
The 2013 AFI Fest opening night at Hollywood’s famed, newly IMAX’d Chinese Theatre was as AFI president and CEO Bob Gazzale said “practically perfect in every way” — thanks in no small part to nabbing the North American premiere of Disney’s surefire Oscar contender Saving Mr. Banks. It was a no-brainer on AFI and Disney’s part to launch this holiday release (it opens domestically December 13) which chronicles the turbulent relationship of Walt Disney and Mary Poppins creator P.L. Travers during the the making of that 1964 musical classic which had its premiere at the very same theatre a half century ago. Director John Lee Hancock noted that in his opening remarks: “My life just keeps folding around. Just like in Mary Poppins it seems what happened has happened before. Fifty years ago there was a premiere here for Mary Poppins. About a year ago we were here filming the re-creation of that premiere, and now here we are again so it all just feels right,” he said. By the way, Poppins itself returns to the Chinese when AFI Fest hosts a red-carpet screening Saturday with stars Dick Van Dyke, Karen Dotrice and Oscar-winning composer Richard Sherman attending.
Disney chair Alan Horn was taking congrats for the film he actually inherited when he came to the studio, and production president Sean Bailey was also singled out for praise in making this happen. Of course stars Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson were there, but both skipped the Hollywood Roosevelt after-party where Sherman was the main attraction. I told Horn this is a word-of-mouth movie if ever there was one and should be a big hit for the studio. How it fares in the Oscar race will be interesting considering the last three Best Picture winners — Argo, The Artist and The King’s Speech — all seem to be films that make audiences feel good about themselves with the former two having a special Hollywood connection just like this one. Banks seems to fit the same bill that Oscar voters have been responding to recently, effortlessly blending laughs, tears, comedy, drama and emotion. This was my second viewing in three weeks (I saw it at a small screening shortly before it had its world premiere at the London Film Festival) and it holds up. Hanks and Thompson are slam-dunk nominees here and the film has many possibilities — but it is facing weightier fare in frontrunners 12 Years A Slave, Gravity and Captain Phillips (another film with Hanks, which could make him a double nominee this year).
The Contenders 2013: Director Peter Berg Talks ‘Lone Survivor’ And The Choice Of The “Least-Horrific Decision” (Video)
Director Peter Berg tells Mike Fleming about his research and the reasons he decided to bring the real life 2005 story of Marcus Luttrell and his Seal Team 10 as they face a life or death decision in the face of a horrific war in Afghanistan. Berg appeared on behalf of the harrowing war film Lone Survivor starring Mark Wahlberg as part of Universal’s presentation at Saturday’s Deadline THE CONTENDERS sold out event at the new Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The film will open in late December in order to qualify for Oscar consideration before going wide on January 10th. But it is already getting noticed as a stealth late-inning awards contender and will have its World Premiere at AFI Fest next Tuesday.
The Contenders 2013: First-Time Actor Barkhad Abdi On ‘Captain Phillips’ Co-Star Tom Hanks: “He’s Really Good At It”
Barkhad Abdi had never acted before being plucked out of obscurity in Minneapolis (by way of his native Somalia and Yemen) to audition for director Paul Greengrass as the key Somali Pirate who takes over the cargo …