A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
This week interviews with Amy Pascal, Daniel Craig, and Cary Joji Fukunaga on finding elusive Oscar love for the two buzziest blockbusters of the year, plus why Oscar screenplay front runners aren’t eligible for the WGA awards, and why March is becoming the equivalent of a pileup on the 405 – awards-wise that is.
COVID CHASES OUT AWARDS SHOWS BUT WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE THOSE GLOBES
This week it has been a rush to the exit for any awards show previously scheduled in January and February. The only ones staying put so far are the ANNIES and SAG awards on the final weekend of February. Otherwise the moving van is out for the Critics Choice Awards heading to the same day as BAFTA on March 13, the PGA awards leapfrogging from Feb 26 to March 19, the ACE Eddies going from Feb 26 to March 6, the AFI Awards Luncheon landing on March 12 from Jan 7, the SCL awards rescheduled to March 8 and who knows what else as the Omicron stampede continues and organizers try to hit safe space. These shows are crowding into a month that already includes the DGA awards on March 12, plus the usual crunch of pre-Oscar below the line guild shows such as Costume Designers (3/9), Art Directors (3/5), Visual Effects Society (3/8), MPSE (3/13), Artios (3/17), CAS (3/19), ASC (3/20). There is also the Oscar Nominees Luncheon set for March 7, and the Indie Spirits which actually Film Independent decided months ago to move up three weeks from its usual day before Oscars to March 6. You have to wonder if they picked the wrong year to go earlier. Oh and I left out the WGA Awards which always go pretty late in the season and have been set on March 20 for some time. Of course all of this is leading up to March 27th and the 94th Academy Awards. Isn’t that what all of this is about anyway?
Oh well at least the Golden Globes got in under the wire last weekend, the one group determined not to let a little contagious killer pandemic ruin their ‘party of the year’. It certainly is a weird season, not just because of Omicron, but because a major nationally broadcast awards-giving show kept it mostly to themselves other than crazy tweets announcing winners and a lot of patting themselves on the back for admittedly admirable philanthrophy. Normally the trades would be full of thank you ads following the Golden Globes, plus lots of advertising touting the winners in print, online, and on TV. Not this time. Consultants have told me they are leaving it alone, not touching it this year. As far as I can tell there hasn’t been a single mention in awards ads of any kind touting advertising of any Globes win. One major PR player even told me a brand new GG winner asked them if they should publicly refuse the award. The awards consultant advised just to say nothing. That seems to be what the industry is doing as well. That same consultant however believes the Globes will come back in all its former glory next year, and that even the famously boycotting group of 100+ publicists would like that to happen. Not sure what intel this person has but we will see. It seems like it is all up to NBC on this one, and of course all that money involved that comes with it. Considering the ultimate results and negative press, both in the industry and consumer outlets (Jimmy Kimmel skewered the Globes on his show Monday), going ahead with their awards this year though is unanimously recognized by those with whom I have spoken in the past week as an unnecessary self-inflicted wound for the HFPA, but probably not a fatal one.
BRANAGH AND CAMPION ARE NOT GOING TO THE WRITERS GUILD AWARDS
But back to the WGA, I got my ballot and as usual the guild has KO’d the chances for a number of serious Oscar contenders in their Original and Adapted Screenplay categories. It happens every year, and this one is no different as WGA is the one guild that does not make any movie not produced under the Guild’s MBA eligible for their awards. Still usually the guild matches the eventual Oscar winner in at least one category. This year they might be 0 for 2. Looking at my ballot and the choices I have been given there are still a number of fine films, but the real eye opener are the AWOL scripts not on the list including Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast in Original Screenplay and Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog in Adapted Screenplay. You could realistically predict that those two would be front runners for the Oscar in their respective categories.
Others among the missing in Original are Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero, Pig, Mass, Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers, Cannes Palme d’Or winner Titane, Jockey, Flee, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand Of God, Annette, and the wonderful German shortlisted International Film Oscar contender I’m Your Man. Among those also ineligible in the Adapted category in addition to Campion’s acclaimed script are Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, critical favorite and LA, NY, and National Society of Film Critics Best Picture winner Drive My Car, Passing, Cyrano, and oh lord even the year’s highest grossing film Spider Man: No Way Home which found out last week it wasn’t eligible for BAFTA awards either.
Oh well, at least we have two months or so to catch up with some of the films that did make the cut including curios like Deadly Illusions, Senior Moment, Holler, and no less than two different movies both called Swan Song which reminds me of the 1956 Oscar race when there were two movies out that year both called High Society. One was a lavish MGM all star musical with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Grace Kelly based on the classic The Philadelphia Story.
But the other was a black and white B-movie comedy starring the Bowery Boys, hardly Oscar fodder. Somehow voters got so confused they actually inadvertently nominated the writers for the Bowery Boys movie instead of their obvious choice which wasn’t even eligible in the Best Motion Picture story category anyway since it was a musical adaptation. The Bowery writers eventually withdrew their nomination admitting it was clearly a case of mistaken identity, even though the Academy’s writers branch had tried to save face by saying voters did mean to nominate the Bowery Boys movie.
WILL THE OSCAR SNOBS EVER SHOW SPIDEY SOME LOVE?
Although Spider Man: No Way Home will not be spinning his web around BAFTA, the WGA, and Critics Choice (which voted its noms before the film was screening in December), or even SAG which always begins its voting process early and didn’t even nominate Spidey for its stunts team, there is genuine hope that it can survive its lack of any precursor awards action and still find its way to a rare Best Picture nomination for a comic book movie, a feat achieved only by Black Panther which had some major social and cultural significance to tout in addition to the movie itself. Especially daunting is the fact that none of the seven previous Spidey movies have even been whispered about in terms of Oscar Best Picture recognition, but this one with massive critical approval and of course that enormous box office validation around the globe, seems like a possibly different case, especially if Academy voters actually see it. It definitely made my top 3 of the year surprising the hell out of , well, me. It currently still isn’t in the Academy’s digital screening room so those famously snobbish Oscar voters would actually have to venture out to a theatre to see it (heavens to murgatroyd! as Snagglepuss might say).They should. The reactions with a crowd are what movies are all about and really enhances the experience of this one like no other I have seen in ages. Not being made available in BAFTA’s digital platform was the hiccup in its eligibility there, but it is clear piracy concerns and keeping the theatrical run going strong are front of mind for Sony.
Producer Amy Pascal and former Sony Pictures chief basically glossed over the issue of piracy fears when I spoke to her about the movie’s Oscar viability. “I will let you get that from them (Sony). I just know that the movie is still rock and rolling in the theatre and there are more territories to open. It will eventually be in the Academy library,” she said. “I know it’s going to be. It’s sometimes hard to get people who are in the Academy to the movie theatre but that should not be the case. They should be the people who want to go to the movie theatre the most.”
I suggested this would have been a slam dunk if the Academy had not scrapped announced plans for that widely derided “Popular Movie” category a while back. Pascal, who was previously on the AMPAS Board told me that idea just didn’t seem right in the first place. “Because in the olden days where you and I are from, you know people just made movies, and movies that were good were also popular. We should be beyond that snobbery now,” she said embracing all sorts of movies in the Best Picture hunt. “People should vote for The Tragedy Of Macbeth and they should vote for The Lost Daughter, and they should vote for Licorice Pizza, and they should vote for movies that are box office popular too. They’re all movies.”
After drastically declining Oscar ratings that would seem to be the reason for the decision this year to go back to a solid ten nominees for Best Picture rather than anywhere from five to ten. That initial idea in raising the number of nominees was directly in response to the fact that The Dark Knight failed to make the Best Picture cut in 2009. We will see if we just get more of the same old-same old or if the Academy is willing to be more, shall we say, “inclusive’ when it comes to something like Spider-Man. Pascal mentions the overwhelming win of Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King which won 11 Oscars in 2003, and also even her own Animated Feature winner, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse which she also thinks should have been nominated for Best Picture (she told me she is excited for the sequel which opens in October). She feels No Way Home is not a mere sequel but rather a “culmination” for the series 20 years in the making.
“I mean I don’t want to sound like I am kind of campaigning for my own movie. That sounds a bit crass, but I think whether it’s this movie or whether it’s movies in the future. I think James Bond (No Time To Die) is a fantastic movie that is also an artistic achievement. It was a risky movie and in our own way ours was a risky movie too. We did something no one has ever done before. We made a love letter to all superhero movies, not just our franchise, but all of them, and connected them and said they matter…I just think movies that are great are great and just because everybody goes to them doesn’t make them any less great,” she said. “What a wonderful thing when the whole world decides to go and do one thing at the same time. How many things in the world are like that anymore? How many things are that kind of shared experience? Why not honor that?…You know the Oscars are the Oscars and I’m not here to make any kind of judgment. I can only talk about this movie and to say that, it was a beautiful experience for all of us making it and we’re so overwhelmed and gratified by the audience response to it. And I just don’t think people should be snobbish.”
CAN JAMES BOND SHAKE AND STIR THE OSCARS?
And while we are on the subject of movies that were wildly embraced by the public, even in the midst of a pandemic, let’s talk about that Bond film, No Time To Die (the same one Pascal just raved about), that is also vying for attention as a Best Picture possibility with MGM unleashing a new TV For Your Consideration campaign emphasizing what it did for the world in terms of entertainment in a time of need. Of course this one is a “culmination” as well, the last of five Bond films starring Daniel Craig, and the one (Spoiler Alert) that dared to take the ultimate risk and kill him off. It was something Craig tells me he envisioned when he signed on to do his first, Casino Royale, and one that the filmmakers and producers were bold enough to actually do for this, his final turn as 007. Of course no Bond film since they began with Sean Connery in Dr. No in 1962 has ever been a Best Picture nominee, and no Bond ever nominated for Best Actor. Can this be a first, if again the Academy can get over itself and its past practices? Craig modestly doesn’t comment on that specifically,but does give his reasons why this film should be acknowledged for its achievements in a recent zoom call I had with him and director Cary Joji Fukunaga.
“I feel like I’ve been around long enough now to know a good thing when I see it, at least to a certain extent, and what they have done on this film is just extraordinary, the culmination of sound design, and music, and special visual effects and actual physical effects that come into place, that don’t get done on movies very often. They just don’t, I mean, and don’t get done well on movies very often, not like this, ” he said in praising the artisans involved. “Very rarely have I ever had the chance to sort of dissect the process the way I’ve been able to dissect the process a little bit with this, maybe this movie more than any other ones I’ve done. I’m just immensely proud of the work that’s gone in. That’s what gets me up in the morning, kind of going to work with these extraordinary people. And you know, I look at the movie, and whatever is to be said about it, I look at it and I go, it’s an extraordinary piece of work.”
This week No Time To Die landed on the BAFTA longlists with 12 mentions including Best Film and Craig as Best Actor. And actually when the Oscar shortlists were recently released in several crafts categories it was No Time To Die that led every other movie with mentions on five of those lists (Song, Score, Visual Effects, Makeup and Hair Styling,and Sound). A good omen or does it stop there? Traditionally Bond films have only gotten love in a handful of wins for Song or Effects, and that is about it. But, like Spider-Man the powers that be behind this film which really does deserve credit for bringing audiences back to theatres in a big way when it was finally released in October, is more a culmination, and also like Spidey one that gets highly emotional and takes big risks with a legendarily successful franchise. That is what got Fukunaga excited in the first place as he explains. “It was getting that landing right, and having an ending that feels earned sometimes is elusive, and it’s even been elusive to me on previous projects. And I think, to me, trying to get an ending that surprised people, and made people feel emotions they weren’t expecting to feel in a Bond film, and to really, you know, sit with the work that Daniel has put in over the last 15 years, and feel what that means, and to live with this character, ” he said in summing up what made this Bond interesting to do for his first film on this kind of scale. And so the natural question is what about some BAFTA and Oscar recognition for that star?
“Daniel is one of the main reasons I’m a James Bond fan, and you know, I grew up watching the films, and loved the films, but Daniel coming in and playing this role is what made it a role I wanted to watch, made it a role that I wanted to go out to cinemas and watch, you know, in the cinemas, and bring me back in, and it’s the reason why I wanted to direct the film, too. So, in terms of a recognition of a body of work, it absolutely deserves recognition,” he said. “You know, there are very few roles that exist, especially in this day and age, that require this much out of a person, require this much time, this much dedication, and that doesn’t really come around very often. And to be able to, as he said, leave it in a good place, which he’s done times a thousand, should definitely be recognized.”
And for Craig, the fact that initially and globally almost singlehandedly, particularly in terms of reticent older moviegoers, brought people back into theatres, is a kind of win in and of itself. “All movies definitely need to be seen in theaters. That’s number one, but listen, if we did, I’m so glad that, you know, shout-out to MGM, and everybody who held their nerve in keeping this where it is, because there was temptation dangled in its face to go day-and-date on a streaming service. And that would’ve been, not tragic, but it would’ve been very sad, and we did hold out, ” he said. “And people went, and they saw it, and they got it, and then they on the whole seemed to love it. So, for me, on a very personal level, I can’t be happier and more satisfied, and if we’ve in some way helped the theater, the movie theater industry keep going, hallelujah.”
Check out this exclusive clip below which shows the level of emotion just as the film is about to end.