A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Oscar ballots are now in the laptops of Academy voters and as you read this someone somewhere among the 9487 total eligible voters is likely clicking “SEND” with their choices in 23 categories for the 94th Annual Academy Awards, but the assault from contenders still standing continues, especially knowing the difference between a win or a loss could be decided right up to end on Tuesday at 5pm PT, with many voters waiting until the last minute. That also means this weekend, with four guild shows still to be heard from, can still make a difference. Or not.
And yes, we are now officially in the final weekend of a seven month Oscar campaign season – and if you think it was going to just drift away quietly, think again. Since last weekend’s crucial contests at BAFTA, Critics Choice (with TV ratings up nicely back to pre-pandemic numbers), and the DGA all gave renewed momentum to front running The Power Of The Dog, heavy advertising continues from Netflix for that film (and their others) apparently leaving nothing to chance. They dropped a new glossy brochure in with the print trades delivery Wednesday morning, but then so did Belfast for which Focus Features is really turning on the heat in hopes of nabbing their first Best Picture win in their history right in time for the celebration of their 20th anniversary as a specialty distribution survivor among the major studios. Although it picked up some wins at Critics Choice, it only took Best British Film at its hometown BAFTAs so it needs to generate some renewed momentum, something The Power Of The Dog was able to pull off in style over the weekend in picking up those Best Picture and DGA wins (the count of overall Best Picture wins for Power Of The Dog went from 34 on their four page wraparound ad on the Sunday L.A. Times, to Wednesday’s covers where it now has risen to 36).
CAMPAIGNING INTENSIFIES AND FINAL Q&As TAKE CENTER COURT
Netflix also dropped a picture postcard packet tied to their Italian International Film nominee, The Hand Of God in with the print trades this week ( AMPAS bars sending stand-alone advertising directly to Academy members so you have to resort to other ways to catch those eyeballs).Great as that Paolo Sorrentino film is, it is looking like a long shot for anything but Japan’s Drive My Car which not only is a solid front runner for Int’l Film, but also is up for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Director. And, like everyone else in also not leaving anything to chance director Ryusuke Hamaguchi and producer Teruhisa Yamamoto arrived in town Monday direct from the BAFTA bash in London (where they won International Film) for a round of Q&As and other activities on their Oscar whirlwind. Yamamoto actually told me in addition to producing Oscar nominated movies, he still works for Disney in various capacities. I suggested maybe with this new notoriety he could pitch Disney and their Pixar label on a Japanese sequel to their animated auto franchise. How about Drive My CARS? He laughed but I don’t think he is gonna take me up on the idea. Since its Oscar nominations triumph he told me Drive My Car, considered an art house movie in Japan, has actually doubled its lifetime gross there. I also asked Director Hamaguchi if, like last year’s Best Director winner Chloe Zhao, he was planning on joining the Marvel Universe anytime soon. He indicated it would have to be a very unique film for that to happen.
Despite the fact there are only a few days left, that hasn’t stopped the Q&A circuit. Kristin Stewart was at Soho House (where visitors to the parking garage couldn’t miss the expensive electronic billboard for Belfast as you drop off for valet) for a screening and post-conversation I moderated Wednesday night in front of Academy members. I assumed it might be her last in this long Oscar journey, but no. NEON had her heading to San Francisco for a final Q&A Thursday night. Aunjanue Ellis will be among those doing the same thing for King Richard at the London Hotel tonight. The entire CODA cast, director and producers took over the San Vicente Bungalows screening room also on Wednesday for a Q&A. It goes on and on. Nominated movies get four shots at voters post-noms according to the rules, and most are doing just that. I heard Apple doubled the CODA campaign budget after its big SAG win on February 27.
WILL PGA WINNER TELL THE TALE?
So this weekend the big one to watch will be Saturday night’s Producers Guild Awards. Normally that is the first guild to throw its awards show, and was in fact scheduled originally for February 26, night before SAG, but due to Covid concerns moved to the latest Saturday it could and so now, for the first time, will actually be taking place in the middle of final Oscar voting. This is important because the PGA walks in lockstep with AMPAS, has ten nominees for Best Picture, and uses the same ranked choice system as the Oscars does for Best Picture only, meaning voters must list their choices from 1 being favorite to 10 being least favorite, thus making PGA the one group to possibly indicate a similar result could well happen with the Academy, where your number two or three choice just might be as valuable as your first pick. It tends to favor consensus choices for the most generally liked movie or least disliked.
A win for anything other than front runner The Power of the Dog could potentially upend the Best Picture Oscar race almost at the finish line since there would still be three days of voting left, or due to its lateness in the game it could make less of an impact than usual. Netflix is doing everything possible to prevent an upset of course, and they are, pardon the pun, the leading dog at PGA with an impressive three of ten nominees that also include Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tick, tick….BOOM! (the latter should have been up for Best Picture at the Oscars as well, if you ask me). If there is an upset it could come from any direction including CODA, Belfast, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, West Side Story, and Dune. The ranked choice accounting method makes predicting PGA well, uh, complicated.
The next night brings the Writers Guild awards in a virtual ceremony. Power of the Dog, Belfast, and The Lost Daughter all are top Academy Award writing nominees not eligible for WGA due to their arcane rules prohibiting any movie for eligibility that was not made under the guild’s MBA. This means your top winners making the WGA headlines could well be CODA for Adapted Screenplay and Licorice Pizza for Original, which would actually be the same result as the screenplay categories at last Sunday’s BAFTAs, making it two Sundays in a row and give them last minute momentum with still two more days of Oscar voting. Crazy, right? On the other hand The Power of the Dog could pick up even wind at its back at Sunday’s ASC awards where Ari Wegner is nominated. She won the corresponding award from BSC earlier this month so hopes are high, and that could be a nice boost towards making Wegner the first ever female Oscar winner in the category. Of course Grieg Fraser is also a front runner at ASC for Dune which is also expected to pick up top Cinema Audio Society Awards (CAS) on Saturday night. Should be an interesting weekend.
‘NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING’
Netflix, like the aforementioned Focus, is out to pick up its first Best Picture Oscar with The Power Of The Dog which has 12 nominations overall indicating strength across the board with the Academy, but they have, to use a western term, been snakebit before which brings me back to the idea that it isn’t wise, no matter what level of success on any given Sunday (or Saturday) to leave any stone unturned. In 2019 their Roma took the Best Picture prizes from both BAFTA and Critics Choice, as well as the DGA – the same three Power of the Dog won last weekend – only to lose the Best Picture Oscar to Green Book which also won Supporting Actor and Screenplay Oscars and had previously taken the PGA award. Hmmmmm. Picture? Supporting Actor? Adapted Screenplay? Is that also the recipe for a CODA upset? Sounds like a longshot particularly with those being its only three nominations, but this is what sends awards consultants to the Pepto Bismol bottle. As William Goldman famously said, “nobody knows anything”. Final voting for the PGA awards closed on March 8 and for WGA way back on February 16 so whoever turns out to be their winners have been in the can for some time, and with three days of Oscar voting already also in the can when their envelopes are opened their collective impact this year will be anybody’s guess, no matter what the results.
THE FRENCH INSPIRATION FOR ‘CODA’
“This is very amazing for me because it’s 10 years ago, and it was a very intimate story. I had the idea of the little, little movie when I wrote it, and now, it’s to the Oscars, wow. I don’t understand. I don’t understand why,” French actress/writer/director Victoria Bedos told me over zoom recently during a conversation of how her idea for the original French film that inspired the American remake of CODA came about.
That 2014 film was called La Famille Belier and Bedos not only came up with the story and characters that would inspire writer/director Sian Heder’s multi-Oscar nominated English-language version, she was one of the credited writers for the film, her first movie. She got the idea for it at a very young age upon meeting her father’s assistant who was a CODA herself (Child of Deaf Adults). She thought at the time that was amazing, and years later met a producer telling him the story, but adding a twist based on her own life in being an aspiring singer, and so she combined the two details when she wrote the script for La Famille Belier.
“For me it is more a metaphor because I have the feeling that my family don’t hear me when I was little. I had the feeling to be different of my family, and that’s why I want to sing it because I thought if I sing it, they will hear me,” she explained of the basis for the hearing daughter played in CODA by Emilia Jones who was torn by duty to family and her own musical dreams. That is ultimately the combination that sold the distributor on the idea for a feature film. “So, it’s a very personal story because I think it’s the feeling of my adolescence, teenage years.”
Bedos was not involved in the making of Heder’s movie, although she has emailed back and forth with the filmmaker in talking about it. “I told her bravo, bravo for your movie because you really invented the story for a second time.”
A major change was in the casting which included deaf actors (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur among them) rather than the French film which had hearing actors playing deaf, making the American version far more authentic. “They create perfection for me, just for me, when I saw the movie many months ago, and I was very, very impressed by it because I think it’s close to my feeling, my vision of the story,” she said noting she loved the French film, that it was good but more in a commercial way. “I am closer to independent American movies like Little Miss Sunshine. My feeling was very personal, more intimate, and CODA for me is more intimate.”
Bedos had zero experience in how to write a screenplay, but she wrote the synopsis and all the bible of the characters, as well as creating the story, the book as it were and writing the songs, but she needed help to write a screenplay. “I asked a friend of mine, I was very in love with this boy, so I told him, ‘do you want to go with me to write a movie and to kiss me?’ He don’t kiss me, but we write the movie. Co-writing,” she laughed.
So what does she think about all that now leading to the Academy Awards? “Yes. It’s incredible. I said to my mother, ‘Mama, Mama, my movie got to the Oscars.’ She is so happy, and she said to me, ‘I knew that. I knew it would’. And I said, ‘No Mama. Nobody knew that.” She will be doing some color commentary on the Oscars for French television on March 27, commenting on the dresses she laughed.
She is already prepping her next film which will mark her directorial debut and which she says is another story like CODA, a coming of age tale with complications. It actually sounds like a French twist on Yentl. It is about a girl living in a home for old people on healthcare. She’s got complex feelings about her own body and gender, and she is bullied at school. “So she’s going to a party disguised like a man, a boy, and everybody thinks she’s a boy. And she’s the hero of the party. So, after that, she’s going to be a boy, disguised like a boy, and she’s going to have her first love affair with a boy who loves boys,” she said in explaining part of the idea.
It is for the indie production company Lionceau, and is backed by Universal’s international division. With Universal involved I told her to hold out for those American remake rights! It certainly worked out the first time.