Notes on a Season
February 3, 2008
Now it's really starting to look like an awards season we can place bets on.
The weekend was filled with talk of defensive struggles and opening possessions -- and we're not talking about Super Bowl XLII.
First we heard word that the writers strike may be coming to an end within a week; then we attended an Oscar nominee-laden Santa Barbara Film Festival; then the Producers Guild of America Awards just about sealed the race for "No Country for Old Men" on Saturday night.
Top those "two days of rest" off with the arrival of "Sicko" Oscar nominee Michael Moore, who had a few choice things to say about the upcoming ceremony when we caught up with him at a Polo Lounge brunch Sunday morning.
Spirits were high around town, particularly at the PGA Awards, as news had broken earlier in the day that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and Writers Guild of America had basically come to terms on a blueprint for a deal that could save not only the fall TV season but – and yes, there is a God – the Oscars as we know them and love them.
This will considerably lighten the mood at Monday's annual Oscar nominees lunch which (at least earlier in the week, when things seemed especially bleak on the strike front) was starting to look like the only time we'd see most of this year's honorees all in one room.
Now Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Sid Ganis and show producer Gil Cates can breathe a little easier knowing this gang is also ready to walk the Oscar red carpet at the Kodak in just three weeks. And if you don't think you heard a huge sigh of relief emanating from academy headquarters this weekend, then you just weren't listening.
One nominee who was in especially good spirits was "In the Valley of Elah" best-actor contender Tommy Lee Jones, who appeared at a tribute Friday night at Santa Barbara's historic Arlington Theatre (moderated by your columnist) to receive the Riviera Award.
The Oscar winner (for 1993's "The Fugitive"), not always known for being talkative, opened up on everything from his first film ("Love Story") to his acclaimed work in this season's "No Country for Old Men" (for which he just shared a Screen Actors Guild best-cast award) and, of course, "Elah."
Clips were shown from many of his most memorable performances, including Oliver Stone's "JFK," for which he earned his first supporting-actor Oscar nomination.
Jones spoke fondly about Stone, with whom he's worked several times. When we suggested that he might be perfect to play Dick Cheney opposite "No Country" co-star Josh Brolin's George W. Bush in Stone's next flick, "Bush," Jones paused and laughed but then – more than once – suggested he would rather play Gen. Tommy Franks.
Jones is clearly proud of his Oscar and this year's surprise nomination for "Elah" (his first in the lead-actor category) which he hopes will get more people to pick up the DVD of the box-office failure when it comes out this month. Jones notes that Oscars are good for business.
He also said he thought his nomination stemmed from the academy screener videos that were sent to actors, enabling them to see "Elah," which was in and out of theaters in September. As a diligent academy voter himself, Jones said, he has spent the last month watching two DVD screeners a day.
Saturday the fest hosted a rollicking directors panel featuring Oscar nominees Julian Schnabel ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), Jason Reitman ("Juno") and "Ratatouille's" Brad Bird, along with "Hairspray"'s Adam Shankman (who stole the show), Craig Gillespie ("Lars and the Real Girl") and Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up").
Basically it was five directors of comedies, musicals and toons versus "Diving Bell's" Schnabel, who really opened things up when he called for a moratorium on the word "awesome." Someone suggested perhaps they could replace the adjective with "Schnabelicious" instead.
Schnabel also addressed actress Sean Young's outburst during his nomination acceptance speech at the Directors Guild of America Awards last week when she yelled out from the crowd that the director should "get on with it!"
"Thank you to Sean Young because I actually got more press than the Coen brothers [who won] and I had nothing to say. She was very dramatic and saved my life. I love Sean Young and wish she was here today," he said.
Young's people sent out a statement earlier in the week saying she's in rehab now, which must have made it less convenient to head to Santa Barbara over the weekend.
Schnabel also mentioned that Dick Cavett was writing his acceptance speech for the Oscars. The director (jokingly) suggested he would say that "maybe next year I will do not such a good job and get best picture," a reference to the odd fact that "Diving Bell" is nominated for directing, writing, editing and cinematography but not picture.
Schnabel is looking forward to taking part in all the Oscar hoopla since, he said, he was in the baggage claim at JFK when he learned he had won a Golden Globe (actually two).
On Saturday night your columnist also moderated the festival's tribute to Angelina Jolie for performance of the year for her role as Mariane Pearl in "A Mighty Heart."
The arrival of Jolie and Brad Pitt caused more commotion than anyone can remember at previous SB fest tributes (George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio included). The megastars diligently went over to sign autographs for the rabid fans but skipped most of the TV shows lined up to get a soundbyte.
Jolie told us backstage that she didn't realize it was going to be a tribute to her entire career, but went with the flow anyway. She said she never watches her movies but gamely sat as we talked about everything (even "Cyborg 2"!) and showed clips from several, including her Oscar-winning turn in "Girl, Interrupted."
She doesn't like to be surrounded by awards, so her late mother kept her Oscar for years. Now it's at her brother Jamie's (appropriate since he got a lot of attention the night she won) along with all her Golden Globes and SAG awards. She promised she would keep her Santa Barbara award, though.
Clint Eastwood, who directed Jolie in the upcoming "Changeling" – and seemed to be having a great time chomping on popcorn and watching the festivities – showed up to present the festival award to the actress, saying the camera loves her like almost no other actor he knows.
The warm vibes in the room seemed to go a long way (at least momentarily) in making up for Jolie inexplicably missing out on an Oscar nomination for "A Mighty Heart." It is the role she is most proud of and said will be the most important she will ever play.
When Jolie came back in the green room with award in hand, Pitt told her he was really entertained watching her on stage. But when someone suggested that maybe he should sit for a tribute of his own someday, he quickly changed the subject.
Racing down the coast, we made it back in time to the Beverly Hills Hotel for a Polo Lounge brunch Sunday honoring Michael Moore's "Sicko," an Oscar nominee for best documentary which had just nabbed the same award the night before from the producers guild.
An eclectic industry crowd that included Roseanne, Larry Charles, Todd Haynes and many others talked primary politics and listened to Moore as he proudly noted that the health insurance issues at the heart of his movie are now at the forefront of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's campaigns.
He told us he was encouraged that, like "An Inconvenient Truth," his film is proving to be a catalyst for cultural change, at least as far as awareness of universal healthcare is concerned, and he's glad the Oscar attention will continue to keep it in the media eye during election season.
Asked if we can expect a repeat (should he win) of his now infamous acceptance speech for "Bowling for Columbine" (2002), given just five days after the U.S. started bombing Iraq and for which he was practically booed out of the Kodak, Moore was actually contrite.
"I want to say I will be on my best behavior and I am a good guest," Moore said.
He thinks times have changed since then anyway.
"I was honored this year to actually see the thing that I was booed off the stage for, speaking out against the war, is now the thing the academy is honoring, with three of the five nominees being antiwar documentaries ["Taxi to the Dark Side," "Operation Homecoming" and "No End in Sight"]," Moore said.
"That's how much things have changed, and that makes me very happy. Anyway, I'm really looking forward to going. I only had 10 seconds left in the speech last time. Maybe I'll just pick up where I left off. I was just getting to the comedy portion."
Now that could be something to look forward to as The Season drops the picket signs and rolls on.