A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Despite the shortcomings posed by pandemic considerations, plus the financial constraints that forced them to pre-tape canned acceptance speeches in certain less-starry categories, Thursday night’s Film Independent Spirit Awards was a pretty lively affair taking into account the Covid circumstances preventing us all from gathering under the big tent at the beach per tradition the day before the Oscars. For one thing, it managed to showcase host Melissa Villaseñor better than her home turf of Saturday Night Live ever has. Her amusing impressions and filmed bits really show the importance of a host at these awards shows, just as the Emmys, Grammys and even snakebit Golden Globes did. And in this looooooong eight-month season — all culminating in the two-month-delayed 93rd annual Academy Awards on Sunday, the latest date ever — the Indie Spirits is the last stop on the crowded precursor awards show circuit that started, for all intents and purposes, way back in September with the Venice Film Festival. Well, we have the Razzies on Saturday, but more on their Oscar connection this year later in the column.
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WILL THE BEST ACTOR RACE SPRING A SURPRISE?
The Spirit results won’t affect Oscar voting because that balloting closed on Tuesday, and the fact that Nomadland dominated with four wins including Best Film and Best Director, plus Cinematography and Editing, doesn’t change the dynamics indicated at earlier shows that this Chloe Zhao film is the one to beat come Sunday. But the Spirits still might have provided a few clues that maybe, just maybe, the acting races — particularly Lead Actor — might be more competitive than originally thought even a few weeks ago when the late Chadwick Boseman was tearing through the season with wins at the Globes, Critics Choice and SAG, along with numerous critics groups. The BAFTA win a couple of weeks ago stalled that momentum for the Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Best Actor nominee, when The Father’s Anthony Hopkins took the prize, but some pundits dismissed that as “well, he’s British.” Except in a newly diversity-conscious BAFTA, Boseman was heavily favored to win. At that point, a Sony Classics source opined that suddenly the race between the two might be 50-50 as it has been clear that within the Academy there is sentiment as well for the 83-year-old Hopkins in a role of a man entering dementia, a heartbreaking subject that has touched so many lives. Hopkins. however, wasn’t eligible at the Spirits, and neither was his Oscar-nominated fellow Brit Gary Oldman, but the other three Best Actor Oscar nominees Steven Yeun, Riz Ahmed and heavily favored Boseman were.
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Ahmed won for Sound of Metal, and it generally has been conceded that if there was a candidate to really upset the apple cart, it is Ahmed. The Spirits just confirmed that. Some have speculated that Ahmed might be taking votes away from Boseman, not Hopkins — which, if true (and we will never know for sure), really shakes up a category that in the end could go in unexpected ways. Campaigners certainly sense this as both Hopkins and Ahmed were on the trail until the very last minute, when on Monday night, with just 17 hours until voting closed, Hopkins was appearing via Zoom (with director Florian Zeller) on A Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS, while over at ABC, Ahmed was the lead guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! at the same time (Best Actress nominee Andra Day followed him). Rest assured, both from personal conversations and anecdotal polling, a fairly large number of ballots likely were still out until the 5 p.m. PT deadline on Tuesday, so file this all under “never say never.”
THE UNPREDICTABLE RACES THAT COULD WIN YOUR OSCAR POOL
This is just one of the tight races for the Oscar gold. Here are some more that might go any number of ways and mean the difference between victory or defeat in your Oscar pool:
BEST ACTRESS: With Promising Young Woman’s Carey Mulligan’s Indie Spirit win, the plot thickened even more. Although Vanessa Kirby and Andra Day weren’t nominated, two other competitors were, and Mulligan triumphed over Nomadland’s Frances McDormand and Ma Rainey herself, Viola Davis, among others. What does this indicate? Hard to say, but each of the Oscar-nominated women in this category have won at least one significant precursor award this season — an unprecedented situation in recent times that make this the tightest and most unpredictable of all. Kirby won Venice, Day took the Globe, Mulligan grabbed Critics Choice and Indie Spirit, Davis took SAG, and McDormand (facing only Kirby among the Oscar quintet) picked up a BAFTA. This reminds me of the 1962 Best Actress race, when Hollywood columnists had lined up against each other projecting a different winner among Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Geraldine Page, Anne Bancroft and Lee Remick. In the end, it was Bancroft for The Miracle Worker, but bets were all over the place, just as they are this year.
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FILM EDITING: It seems unlikely that Chloe Zhao wins here as well as for writing, directing and producing Nomadland, which would give her an unreal four individual Oscars. But Bong Joon Ho won four last year for Parasite, and Alfonso Cuaron nearly pulled it off winning three (Director, Editing, Foreign Film) for Roma even while losing Picture and Screenplay bids (technically the foreign film win was for Mexico). I project Zhao will come up short in Editing and Screenplay Adaptation, but if that is the case who wins here? The ACE Eddie went to The Trial Of The Chicago 7, but you could easily make arguments for both Sound Of Metal and The Father, even Promising Young Woman. Editing wins often portend a Picture victory so this is one to watch.
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE: Common wisdom is this is Denmark’s Another Round’s to lose, especially since Thomas Vinterberg also nabbed a rare Best Director nomination. The film swept the European Awards and won BAFTA too so betting against it might be unwise, especially since it is the best known of the bunch. However nearly every voter to whom I have spoken feels passionately about Bosnia and Herzegovina’s powerful and devastating Indie Spirit Award winner Quo Vadis, Aida? When you hear the same name uttered by voters over and over you start to get a vibe that a genuine upset could be brewing, the kind that wins Oscar pools.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: This is genuinely a toss-up between all five. I could give you a scenario for each of them with support for H.E.R.’s “Fight For You” (Judas And The Black Messiah); Celeste’s “Hear My Voice” (Trial Of The Chicago 7); the fun and pop-centric ballad from Eurovision called “Husavik” for which a clever campaign was waged by the town it is named after in Iceland; Leslie Odom Jr.’s anthem “Speak Now” benefits from his visibility and popularity of his turn as Sam Cooke in One Night In Miami; and finally once again a bid by the great Diane Warren with her 12th nomination, this time for the Italian song, “Io Si (Seen)” from The Life Ahead. By the way individual songwriter names don’t appear on the ballot, so it can be tricky. There is no denying Warren deserves it, and sometimes that is enough considering the number of nominations she has received. Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Randy Newman are just three musicians who finally won even with a lesser known nomination. This morning a former Academy President emailed to say he agreed with most of my predictions, but then added: “I just hope Diane Warren finally wins it!” Don’t we all, but this particular year it could go any of five ways with none being a surprise. Oscar can be an unreliable and unsentimental dude.
ALL THE SHORTS CATEGORIES: Best Animated Short, Best Live Action Short, and Best Documentary Short are generally where pools are won or lost and each of these categories this year has been hard to call so study them and take your shot.
WOULD LOUSY RATINGS KILL THE OSCARS?
The outcome of the 23 categories is still up in the air, some more predictable than others, but I know of no one in the industry – or out – who isn’t confident in predicting that, because of the pandemic and all the upheaval it has caused, this will easily be the lowest rated Oscar show of all time, handily coming in well below last year’s record low number. Many pool ballots even have a tie breaker in which you can predict the actual rating number. Some writers are already forecasting the Nielsen numbers will be so calamitous that it will be the end of Oscar as we know and love him. They may be right about the eventual ratings because every single awards show in this zoom-infested year has experienced huge drops to embarrassing lows. Still I have solid research evidence to pass along that no matter what happens dear old 93 years young Oscar will be just fine. Why? Recently I moderated a conversation for the World Affairs Council of Los Angeles with Kevin Goetz, founder and CEO of Screen Engine/ASI, the research firm that tests movies and other issues for the studios, providing a reliable handle on just what public perceptions are for various facets of the industry. The Oscars he tells me are in good shape.
“I would say in defense of the Academy, and we are lucky enough to conduct a brand study every year post-Oscars, that there is not even an iota of diminishing tarnish on the brand. In other words Oscar is still Oscar,” he said in answer to an audience question of what might happen if the ratings continue tanking. “It is more of an indictment on television viewing and live anything than it is on Oscar itself. So Oscar still has great meaning, no matter whatever movie it is, and there is still a loyal group that is going to continue to watch it until we’re dead, but young people just don’t watch live TV so the ratings are just going to keep going down and down.” He further agreed that no matter the direct ratings, the winners and individual segments will be consumed in great numbers in bits and pieces via You Tube and other outlets, particularly by young people who rep the future viewership, much the same way Late Night talk shows are also consumed these days.
DISNEY WANTS OSCAR VIEWERS MORE THAN EVER
There was lots of buzz earlier this season that this was the year streamers, particularly Netflix, would finally crack the Best Picture race and win. That scenario became increasingly unlikely as Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Father, and Minari got the mojo back for movies related to the major studios, their specialty divisions, and indie darlings like A24. Now Disney, flexing its monolithic muscles, really really wants you to watch the Oscars, not only because the show is a magnet for advertisers and their ABC network has a long term deal for the show, but also because it looks likely Disney brands will dominate at the podium this year. Disney inherited Searchlight in their acquisition of Fox and that shingle’s Nomadland – as previously mentioned – looks likely to take Best Picture and a few other statuettes. It would be the fifth film from Searchlight to do so, a big tribute to the regime of outgoing chairs Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula who leave behind a remarkable track record. Disney is also certain to pick up Animated Feature and Music Score wins for Pixar’s Soul. A longer shot win for Andra Day in Hulu’s The United States vs Billie Holiday or an animated short win for Pixar’s Burrow would be the cherry on top.
Maybe that is why, despite doom and gloom predictions about viewership, Disney is pulling out all its various tentacles to push “Oscar! Oscar! Oscar!” American Idol devoted last Sunday’s show to Oscar-nominated songs. Fox juggernaut The Simpsons has been featuring special themed episodes with Oscar winners to aid the cause. ABC shows like Good Morning America, Nightline, and Live With Kelly And Ryan have all been doing their thing to drum up interest, as has Jimmy Kimmel Live, although a segment that aired on the former Oscar show host’s show last night might not have thrilled ABC execs. JKL staged a hilarious “Liewitness News” bit where Kimmel sends a “reporter” on to the street to interview passersby on various hot topics of the day, usually posing questions about something that didn’t really happen and catching these eager participants in a lie because they just want to be on TV. This was all about the Oscars with JKL’s man-on-the-street asking about key moments on “last night’s Oscar show”. One of these clueless persons agreed that maybe it “wasn’t a good idea for Glenn Close to do a shout out for Satan in her acceptance speech.” Another interviewee, prompted about “the comedy and singing skills of Oscar host Jeffrey Epstein,” agreed he was great on the show. Beyond the entertainment value of the bit it actually inadvertently supported the idea that the average Joe out there can’t even correct the reporter with the simple fact that the show hasn’t indeed happened yet.
By the way, in terms of legacy studios, Disney, despite founder Walt’s record number of individual wins, still remains the only one among Sony, Warner Bros, Universal, Fox (when it wasn’t owned by Disney), Paramount, MGM/United Artists not to win a Best Picture Oscar on its own. The closest the Mouse House actually came was for 1964’s Mary Poppins which earned 13 nominations, won 5 Oscars, but missed out on Best Picture to My Fair Lady. Since then the only Best Picture wins it has had came because of the acquisition of Miramax (Chicago, Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient), and if all goes well on Sunday, Searchlight with Nomadland. Incidentally they might have had another with the Lord of the Rings trilogy if Michael Eisner hadn’t shut down Harvey Weinstein’s plan to make it due to costs. New Line Cinema took the bait and took home the gold..
OSCAR NOMINEES GO FOR RAZZIES
It is certainly not unusual for Oscar nominees and winners to also be nominated or win the dreaded Razzie Award for perhaps one of their lesser achievements. Sandra Bullock famously showed up to accept a 2010 Razzie for her Worst Actress and Worst Screen Couple (with Bradley Cooper) win for the forgotten All About Steve, before going on the win the Best Actress Oscar the next evening for The Blind Side. The Razzies should be taken with a grain of salt, if at all, because they often just target movies where they can draw some attention. In a most unusual move however, tomorrow night’s Razzie ceremonies have two current Best Supporting Actress nominees up for the very same film for which they are Oscar nominated, a real first. Glenn Close’s Mamaw in Hillbilly Elegy landed her in the Worst Supporting Actress category, while her Oscar rival Maria Bakalova is nominated for Worst Screen Combo with her Borat Subsequent Moviefilm “co-star” Rudy Giuliani. Close and Bakalova, both exceptional in their nominated roles, deserve a whole lot better than this Razzie attention-grabbing recognition. Giuliani on the other hand, also individually nominated as Worst Supporting Actor, just very well might be Razzie-worthy.
Happy Oscar Sunday everyone. Be sure to check out Deadline’s Oscar night Live Blog where, along with Mike Fleming and Joe Utichi, I will be doing the play-by-play of Hollywood’s biggest night. Afterward I will have a complete analysis of everything that went on.