OSCAR: Campaigning At This Fevered Pitch All About Who You Know For Endorsements

Pete Hammond

Parties are rampant as usual at this point in awards season but the biggest new trend, or so it seems at least, is the number of publicized hosted screenings and endorsements for various contenders. There was a time when it … Read More »

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OSCAR: No T-Day Slowdown For Contenders

Pete Hammond

Traditionally, most Hollywood businesses grind to a halt for the 5-day Thanksgiving holiday. But not this wide-open awards season. Tangled had its official Academy screening last Sunday morning but only drew about 200 people. Instead, the holidays actually seem like a good time to push an animated Disney musical. So Disney isn’t even taking Turkey Day off: instead, the studio has skedded screenings of Tangled at the DGA open to all Guild and Academy members. This isn’t actually a new practice. In the past, Oscar hopefuls like Dreamgirls, The Lord Of The Rings, and others have done the same thing at the DGA theater drawing surprisingly strong crowds of potential voters on a day most people are thought to stay at home. Disney also sent a note warning some early voting groups that they wouldn’t be able to send screeners of the film before deadlines for ballots (piracy concerns are part of that problem), so the T-Day screenings take on even greater import.

Tangled aside, distributors have been rushing to get screeners in as many voter hands as possible before Thanksgiving when they think people will have more time on their hands to pop a DVD in the player before the real crunch comes in December. Among those sent in the last few days are The Social Network, Made In Dagenham, Inside Job, Stone, Let Me In, 127 Hours, Black Swan, Conviction, Never Let Me Go, Toy Story 3, Winter’s Bone, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1,  The Town, Inception, Hereafter, Legends Of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole, and The Ghost Writer.

Meanwhile, campaign season continues. Over the weekend, American Cinematheque also proved why it can be a very useful tool during awards season by hosting two sold-out events  for Oscar hopefuls. Saturday night, there was a tribute to Pierce Brosnan at the Aero in Santa Monica with a double feature of Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer and Matador. Inbetween, Pierce appeared for a nearly hour-long Q&A (I moderated) in which he discussed his career from TV’s Remington Steele to James Bond to an Roman Polanski’s Ghost Writer in which he plays ex-British Prime Minister (Tony Blair, anyone?) now writing his controversial memoir. Summit Entertainment is hoping the pic will land him in the Best Supporting Actor conversation. Its early February release is a hindrance but by having a toney organization like American Cinematheque create these little tribute evenings, studios believe they can get the “right” kind of association for their contenders.

It was completely sold out, as was the next night at the same venue which hosted a Q&A session with writer Aaron Sorkin and stars Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer following a special screening of Sony Pictures’ The Social Network. All were talking about the genius of Director David Fincher (away on location in Sweden shooting The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake) and the number of takes he would require of his actors. “Sometimes there would be 99 of them, but not 100, never 100,” Timberlake said. In an encouraging sign for writerly respect, most of the audience questions from the predominantly young crowd were surprisingly directed at Sorkin who said dialogue-heavy movie might have been written by Paddy Chayefsky in another era. Not bad company to be in since Paddy won no less than three screenwriting Oscars. Some are asking if there is any way Sorkin can lose the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar this year? Especially after The Social Network opened to near-unanimous acclaim and strong business for a drama.

Other Best Picture competitors were also active over the weekend Read More »

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OSCAR: Private Screenings Aplenty & ‘The Kids Are All Right’ Campaign Heats Up

Pete Hammond

Screening rooms all over town are booked solid for the tsunami of Q&A sessions being held for WGA, PGA, DGA, SAG and countless media organizations which host their own sponsored screenings of contenders. One SAG Nominating Committee member I ran into at the Arclight said he was skipping the screenings … Read More »

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EXCLUSIVE: Oscar Foreign Language Race Starts With 65 Films Competing

Pete Hammond

EXCLUSIVE: (Screening schedule below) Although the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has yet to officially announce it, their official Best Foreign Language Film Award screening schedule has begun circulating and I’ve obtained a copy (see below). It contains a total of 65 movies competing, each selected as the sole entry from their home countries per Academy rules. AMPAS breaks the unwieldy process into four different color groups: Red, White, Green, and Blue with each section assigned 16 films (although RED gets an extra one as it is currently laid out). Screenings for the large volunteer committees will begin  Friday at 7:30 PM with the Canadian entry Incendies and end Thursday January 13 with a 9:40 PM screening of Latvia’s Hong Kong Confidential (not to be confused with Hong Kong’s Echoes Of The Rainbow screening November 12). After this 3-month  process is completed, and the top six scoring movies are selected, another uber-Academy committee presided over by Foreign Language committee head Mark Johnson will choose 3 more movies from the initial 65 entries. Then these 9 films will be judged by specially selected  groups in LA and NY who will whittle the list down to the 5 official contenders. After years of controversy over glaring omissions from the big committee like Brazil’s City Of God among others, the Academy reverted to this 3-step nomination process in order to protect some of the more internationally well-regarded, but perhaps edgier, entries from embarrassing slights in the Oscar process.

The opener, Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, is one of the most anticipated this year after highly successful showings in this Fall’s film festival trifecta of Venice, Telluride and Toronto. Perhaps the best known film on the list is Mexico’s entry, Biutiful, from 3-time Oscar-nominee Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu. It was in the official Cannes competition and won Best Actor for star Javier Bardem. After several tense months, it was finally picked up for American distribution by Roadside Attractions and will open on December 29th in time to compete in other categories as well. With a January 11th official screening, it will be one of the last to show for the foreign language committee as well as the only entry not currently scheduled as part of a double feature. At 148 minutes, it sports the longest running time, too. The shortest is Uruguay’s La Vida Util at a breezy 66 minutes.

Other anticipated entries include Thailand’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (screening Nov 15), France’s Cannes Grand Prize winner, Of Gods And Men (Nov 13), the controversial Cannes entry Hors La Loi from Algeria (Dec 4), another Cannes discovery, South Africa’s Life, Above All (Jan 6), Greece’s Dogtooth (Dec 4), Spain’s Tambien La Liuvia (Dec 3), China’s earthquake drama, Aftershock (Oct 25), Romania’s When I Want To Whistle, I Whistle (Jan 6), and Danish director Susanne Bier’s In A Better World (Jan 13). Germany’s When We Leave (Oct 29) just screened at this weekend’s Hamptons Film Festival to acclaim and will be paired with Iraq’s Son Of Babylon (Oct 29). Israel will also have the chance to continue it’s hot streak of 3 nominations in a row (Beaufort, Waltz With Bashir, Ajami) by going for a 4th with  the tragi-comedy, The Human Resources Manager (Oct 18). Kazakhstan’s Strayed (Dec 18) could be one to watch along with India’s Peepli (Oct 16) as both those countries have had recent contenders. But with 65 entries, it’s anybody’s guess where this is going. Discoveries will always be made and American distribution scouts will be checking out those lesser known films that are still up for grabs.

Of course, as I’ve already detailed previously, controversy has reared its head in the selection of some entries, as it always does, including Italy’s well-reviewed The First Beautiful Thing (Dec 6), selected over the international Tilda Swinton hi, I Am Love, sparking outrage from Love’s American distributor Eamonn Bowles of Magnolia and disappointment from the producers of another well-regarded italian possibility, The Man Who Will Come. Some also accused politics in playing a part in Brazil’s selection of the glowing biography of its current popular President, Lula, The Son Of Brazil (Dec 11). Eyebrows have also been raised over South Korea’s snubbing of its highly regarded Cannes competition selection, Poetry which was thought in many quarters to be a sure thing and has received an American distribution deal from Kino. Instead South Korea chose the less  buzzed-about A Barefoot Dream (Oct 22).

Of course the hottest titles going in are not necessarily going to be the big winners in the end. Remember that 2008’s eventual foreign language champ, Japan’s Departures, and even last year’s crowd pleaser from Argentina, The Secret In Their Eyes, ( were big surprises to many when the envelope was finally opened (although I managed to correctly predict both). Members who vote in this competition often tend to shun the heavier stuff and go for the more accessible alternative. Screening schedules follow: Read More »

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The Importance Of Academy Screenings: Oscar Prospects For ‘The Town’ Lift Quickly

Pete Hammond

The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Science’s official private weekend screenings for voting members are generally a must-stop for serious Oscar contenders, not only to show the films to voters all at once but also to gauge reaction both audibly during the film and by buzz in the lobby and restrooms after. After complaints about the quality of some the films shown, the Academy last year revamped the committee that chooses them and now seems much more savvy about booking movies that aren’t wasting members’ time – or so they’d like to think. While some fluff still gets screened, the cinematic menu this time of year turns to a heavy sked of Oscar prospects.

Not everything gets booked because there are basically just four slots each weekend: two matinees and two evening shows. But of the 10 pictures nominated last year, only The Blind Side, which seemed to catch even Warner Bros by surprise, did not play at one of these screenings.

In terms of this year’s Oscar contenders, it was a big weekend for Ben Affleck’s The Town (which he directed and co-wrote and stars in for Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures) which topped the weekend box office with nearly $24 million. That was a bit of a surprise, particularly for an adult-skewing drama (albeit one with a LOT of action in it). Then again, it had a 94% fresh critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But what was really significant awards-wise is that I hear it had a smash screening at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills on Saturday night. So you have a film right out of the gate among Fall releases that looks to be a serious awards prospect.

Even though the movie’s official Academy screening was skedded just as Yom Kippur was ending, the turnout was larger than normal and the response at the end very enthusiastic. A 2-time Oscar winner who frequently attends these private weekend screenings for voting members told me, “There was big loud applause at the end credits — and that’s something I rarely see at the Academy.” He went on to praise the film as easily one of the best he has seen there in some time (and, interestingly, he’s not impressed with much of the 2010 output so far). He singled out Affleck’s direction and the acting ensemble for particular kudos. Two other Academy members who saw the film at non-Academy screenings told me the same thing. So Warners could Read More »

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