Foreign-language film screenings began in earnest at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with entries from Norway, China, Cuba, Ireland, Japan, and Italy.
The latter country's "The Unknown" (from "Cinema Paradiso" director Giuseppe Tornatore) sparked the most enthusiastic buzz among members afterward in the lobby. One voter told us "The Unknown" was an easy 10 while the other films were just OK.
Of course, with front-runners like Israel's wonderful "The Band's Visit," "La Vie en Rose" and Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" knocked out of contention for various reasons, look for a really unpredictable final lineup in the foreign language race.
Screenings of the 63 entries continue through Jan. 12, including the Russian entry "12." Meanwhile, Romania's controversial Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner, "4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days" unspools for the committee Nov. 2.
Also this week, stars like "La Vie en Rose's" Marion Cotillard and "Juno's" Ellen Page got a chance to rehearse their Golden Globe speeches to warm response in front of the noisy Beverly Hilton crowd at the Hollywood Film Festival on Monday, a non-televised, liquor-flowing event that increasingly manages to draw big names like Brad Pitt simply because it is first on the calendar.
John Travolta, trying to create a buzz for his summer smash "Hairspray," accepted Supporting Actor and Ensemble awards during the event. The following night, Travolta danced with a Screen Actors Guild nominating committee member at a packed SAG screening and Q&A, which reportedly had some people lining up for hours to get in.
In fact these well-timed appearances, such as the Hollywood Awards gala, the upcoming AFI Fest (Nov. 1 to 11), Palm Springs (Jan. 3 to 14) and Santa Barbara (Jan. 24 to Feb. 3) film festivals are increasingly important stops on the awards circuit.
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Not only does the timing help shape popular opinion during the height of voting cycles, but they also generate enormous local publicity in their host cities. As one publicist related, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara "are lousy [as in, infested!] with academy members."
That's why you will be seeing "The Savages" Best Actress hopeful, Laura Linney getting an on-stage career tribute at the AFI Fest Nov. 9 even though her significant film work barely started 10 years ago.
That's also why Sean Penn will be showing up in Palm Springs to be honored in connection with his directing work on "Into the Wild" along with his "rising star" young lead actor Emile Hirsch.
It's also why Angelina Jolie is accepting the "Performance of the Year" award from the Santa Barbara Film Festival on Feb. 2, just days after Oscar nominations are revealed.
Last week's announcement of Jolie's appearance gave her best actress chances a big shot of adrenaline after the film's disappointing summer box office. Should she end up nominated, Jolie's appearance in Santa Barbara during the prime voting period could give a boost when she needs it most.
Cate Blanchett is scheduled to do time in Santa Barbara too. Thanks to her turns in the under-performing "Elizabeth: the Golden Age" and her critically acclaimed stint as Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There," Blanchett is also going to be there a week earlier accepting the festival's Modern Master Award.
And look for at least two more contenders to make the Santa Barbara honor role as well as hordes of other acting, writing and directing and crafts nominees who will trek northward for key voting period panels and one-on-one conversations.
Recent years have seen Santa Barbara tributes (locked in many months in advance) for the likes of Charlize Theron, Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren and George Clooney, who all went on to win Oscars that same year.
Travolta, who is busy, busy, BUSY isn't even waiting for the Santa Barbara festival to start, and he has agreed to accept the annual Kirk Douglas award at the event's annual fundraiser Nov. 15.
These festival displays of celebrity love not only show an Oscar hopeful being showered in respect, they also help to take away the sting of low box office receipts and fading public awareness and publicity, in many cases helping to reignite a campaign.
Which brings us to the question of how much a box office bust really affects an Oscar campaign.