Sony Pictures’ Oscar hopeful The Social Network not only had a good weekend at the box office with an estimated $23 million, but an even better weekend at the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The film’s “official” West Coast member screening Saturday night at the Samuel Goldwyn theatre in Beverly Hills drew what was described by my spies there as “packed”, “three quarters full”, “about 800” crowd, depending on whom I spoke to. There was a lot of advance interest in this particular screening due to the fact that the blogosphere is early touting Social Network as an Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture – and, in some cases, even the frontrunner. But there’s also been speculation about whether the advanced age of some Academy members might preclude their enjoyment of this Facebook origins movie. Based on what I have been told today by voters who attended, Sony needn’t be too worried. But they are. A rep for the film took the time to send me an unsolicited email that read in part, “FYI, the Academy screening of The Social Network went really well last night. Very full, mix of young and older. Great response to the film throughout. Good applause at the end. Lots of conversation and chatting afterwards! It’s very exciting.”
Let me contrast that spin with my own reports from some of the members NOT associated with the film: “Good turnout tonight, possibly the best of the year to date. Reaction very good as well. Big applause at the end and good applause when the credits were over, though I have to say that I have seen what I think are beloved reactions and this was not one of those. Those are few indeed, but I think Sony should be very happy with the turnout.”
And another: “I liked it, thought it was well-written, like [Aaron Sorkin's] West Wing but unlike that I got bored and hated everyone two thirds of the way through, even the hot chicks so I think it won’t win Best Picture, nothing warm about it. The applause at the end was good and one-third stayed through the credits and applauded a little bit again. But nothing through the credits. But that may be the way they roll. All in all sort of like The Town reaction, but more people.”
Today, I called one of the more dedicated Academy moviegoers I know, a voter who has had an uncanny knack each year for casting a ballot that closely mirrors the eventual winners”. “Considering I am inept with emails and computers, I have to say I just loved this movie, particularly the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg and his lack of social skills,” the member told me. He added that recent screenings of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and The Town were also impressive. But the member characterized last night’s Academy theatre as “really hopping” before jumping off the phone to head to later today’s Academy screenings of You Again and Easy A. Like I said, this person is dedicated.
Thursday night a silence fell over the cavernous Samuel Goldwyn Theatre as the Academy’s latest tributee, writer/director/producer Blake Edwards, asked for a moment to remember Tony Curtis who had just died less than 24 hours earlier. The 88-year-old Edwards was there to participate in an on-stage conversation about his career for the Academy’s annual Jack Oakie Celebration of Comedy in Film and said he had mixed feelings about being amusing in light of Curtis’ sudden passing. Edwards and Curtis worked together on several films including Mister Cory (1957) and The Perfect Furlough (1959) along with huge box office hits Operation Petticoat (1959) and The Great Race (1965). He said he was hit hard after he just happened to turn on the TV and heard of the star’s death — even though he admitted he and Curtis had a “falling out” at one point. Nevertheless, the show must go on – and it did to an enthusiastic sold-out house that included many collaborators and stars of Edwards’ movies including his wife Julie Andrews and daughter Jennifer Edwards.
The entertaining evening featured a liberal dose of clips of The Pink Panther (1964), 10 (1979), Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961), The Party (1968), and Victor Victoria, the 1982 farce that ironically brought Edwards his one and only Oscar nomination (for adapting the screenplay). Of course, the Academy gave him an honorary statuette in 2003 which he accepted in his signature slapstick style: by rolling across the stage in a wheelchair. Host Walter Mirisch (whose company produced Panther and Party) then led the director through a series of observations and anecdotes about his long career. The highlights included a tale about the Paramount exec who, following a preview of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, told Edwards to get rid of “that fucking song”, which of course turned out to be the classic Oscar-winner “Moon River”. Edwards said Audrey Hepburn told the exec, “Over my dead body.” Edwards also talked about what “a pain in the ass” Peter Sellers was while confessing that the unpredictable comic genius could be schizophrenically charming at the same time. “What can you say about a guy who had nightly conversations with his dead mother?” Blake noted.
Surprisingly, there were no behind-the-scenes stories about his notorious 1981 anti-Hollywood satire S.O.B. even though it was chosen to be shown in its entirety after the discussion. Blake and Julie obviously see this as a very personal film about a producer who makes a huge musical flop starring his wife — a Julie Andrews-style beloved star played by, well, Julie Andrews — and then reshoots it as a soft core flick focusing on Andrews’ rack. The film was inspired by Edwards’ battles with Paramount over his disastrous 1970 flop Darling Lili.