Oscar Voters Starving For Good Movies; Plus Tributes To The Crafts From American Cinematheque And AIS Lumieres Kick Off The Awards-Giving Season In Style Notes On The Season

A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

The gold season is in full swing as awards are being handed out on just about a nightly basis. The full report on Thursday night’s lively American Cinematheque Tribute To The Crafts as well as Friday’s AIS Lumiere Awards is below, but first….

We are now in what is affectionately known as Phase 2 of the Oscar season, easily the most important part of the six month-long journey to the Dolby as it gets really serious. You know it is serious because Academy members are not allowed to eat anymore, at least at screenings of movies in the awards sphere. They can still go to nominated movies with a Q&A (each film is allowed a set number in Phase 2). They could eat and drink at receptions (held within walking distance to the screening room) in phase one, before the films actually had nominations trademarked by the Academy, but campaign rules adopted a few years ago outlawed any receptions with eating or drinking associated with attending a screening of a nominated film in Phase 2, and you definitely can’t throw a separate party or dinner where voters are invited. I think it had something to do with lobster, but I know things went a bridge too far for the Academy leader’s tastes, thus the crackdown.

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You voters can certainly go to official screenings to see the movies nominated, but the only place where food might be served is from your kitchen if you just stay at home and watch them on the Academy’s digital portal. I am pretty sure that is okay, but considering the kerfuffle that the whole Andrea Riseborough campaign and subsequent Best Actress nomination caused, you can bet next year the rules are going to be tightened to the point that Academy members are likely to feel they might be expelled if they pick up the phone or send an email or instagram or tik tok or DM or anything else suggesting directly to a fellow member that they might watch a movie that is worthy of consideration. Expect the rule writers to go overboard, and expect campaigners to try to find inventive new ways around it, all for the love of Oscar.

Not being an Academy member myself (except in the Television Academy where you can eat and drink year round) I feel no guilt accepting numerous invitations to the various screenings, Q&As, and receptions still taking place, and there seem to be quite a few. This weekend for instance Steven Spielberg, Michelle Williams and others from The Fabelmans will be having a screening, Q&A and post-reception at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood, but not for Oscar voters. I got the invite through my membership in the WGA, and I assume other guilds were similarly invited since the film is nominated at all of them. Of course there are many Oscar voters who are also members of the guilds, but you know who you are and if somehow you find yourself at a campaign event where food and drink are served, please go ahead and starve.

I know there is going to be a dinner in honor of Michelle Yeoh’s nomination catered by a Michelin Chef in Beverly Hills on Super Bowl Sunday, no Oscar voters on the guest list I presume. Netflix is having a cocktail reception for the nine-time Oscar nominated gang behind All Quiet On The Western Front on Saturday night, no Oscar voters allowed there, but presumably they could go see the film beforehand at the Academy Museum special screening with a Q&A moderated by none other than Brian Williams.

One place where you will run into Academy members eating and mingling with nominees will be at Monday’s annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton. That’s cool, though.

Still even though you don’t get to go to the receptions the rest of us do this time of year, please don’t let the lack of food and drink keep you away from seeing the likes of Best Picture nominees such as Avatar: The Way Of Water, Top Gun: Maverick, Elvis, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Tar, and others on the biggest screen possible when you get the invite. It really makes a difference. And from everything I am hearing, a surprisingly high percentage of the nearly 10,000 eligible Oscar voters really are making an effort to see this year’s crop. If that is the case there could even be a few surprises when those envelopes are opened on March 12.

Don’t believe those headlines when you see a trade exclaiming this movie or that movie is “pulling away” as I saw yesterday in the case of one nominated Best Picture. Based on what? Not a single Oscar vote has yet been cast, nor will it be until next month. The parade of guild banquets hasn’t even begun yet (Oscar voters can eat at those), and PGA, DGA, SAG, WGA, BAFTA etc etc can turn the race on its head. Remember when The Social Network was “pulling away” with everything – Globes, Critics Choice – all the Critics Circles? It took one PGA dinner to send all the momentum to The King’s Speech and the rest is Oscar history. Take a look at just last year when SAG and BAFTA and PGA all signaled a big Oscar night for CODA which had just about the smallest amount of nominations among all the Best Picture nominees. Stuff happens. Keep your eye on the prize.


Meanwhile the awards machine is in full bloom. Last night at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica American Cinematheque’s 2nd Annual Tribute To The Crafts awards ceremony took place. This is a show designed to highlight the extraordinary work from artisans working behind the scenes, the categories the Oscars themselves controversially mostly pre-taped last year for “time” before the actual ceremony went live on ABC. Fortunately that idea was such a dud (and saved no time after all) that it isn’t being repeated this year. And perhaps the Academy could learn from the spirited – and speedy – 90 minute Tribute To The Crafts ceremony on Thursday in Santa Monica that honoring these artists at the top of their profession can actually be entertaining too.

Among the winners: Women Talking took Casting, RRR was tapped for Choreography, NOPE won for its daring day for night Cinematography, Everything Everywhere All At Once was named for Editing, Hair and Makeup went to The Whale, Production Design and Set Decoration to Babylon, Music Score to Alexandre Desplat’s work on Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Sound for Top Gun: Maverick, Stunts for The Woman King, and Visual and Special Effects to Avatar: The Way Of Water.

One highlight was Ruth E. Carter’s speech as Costume Design winner for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever where she turned to the night’s co-host Paula Wagner who produced, among many others, the movie Marshall. “Paula, we met on Marshall, and that was the first time I met Chadwick Boseman, and on the first day of doing Marshall I was told I was going to be the costume designer for Black Panther, and I thought like ‘wow, I am working with the Black Panther right now’. How is this a reality? We wanted to honor Chadwick with Wakanda Forever so it was very cathartic. We put our heart and souls into the costumes and kept our heads down,” she said in accepting.

Another sheer highlight was the Career Achievement Award to Sir Roger Deakins, and the two-time Oscar winning and 16- time nominated cinematographer (up again this year for Empire Of Light) and he won an enthusiastic standing ovation from the packed audience. He and Cinematheque turned this honor into a two day affair as he also appeared at the Aero the night before for a Q&A before the double feature of two of his films for the Coen Brothers, Fargo and The Man Who Wasn’t There. Plus he did a signing beforehand for his beautiful new book, “Byways” , and was so mobbed by the sold-out crowd of cinephiles he ran out of books to sell there.

Maybe it was just because of the evening’s unique vibe, but the after-party was swinging and just about all the honorees were there late into the night, some drinking the Balvenie Scotch Whiskey specialty drinks and heading for the food trucks in front of the theatre on Montana Ave.

The Black List founder and CEO Franklin Leonard expertly shared hosting duties with Wagner (both are Cinematheque Board members), and the evening was opened by American Cinematheque Board Chairman Rick Nicita who recounted the inspiration for the idea of honoring the crafts in this way, one where the emphasis in on the word Tribute, not competition. Honorees were selected by a jury of journalists, film historians and others. The event was again produced by Madelyn Hammond and Javier Infante.


Another day, another reason to hand out awards. That is what happened today at the Beverly Hills Hotel with the 13th Annual Lumiere Awards presented by the Advanced Imaging Society. Avatar: The Way Of Water (Best Feature Film -Live Action), Elvis (3 awards including Best Motion Picture -Musical), Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (Best Feature Film – Animation) and Good Night Oppy (Best Documentary) took top motion picture honors, and it was a real battle for bragging rights between these films for the love of the geeks. That is the phrase, The Geeks Oscars, that more than one presenter employed to describe the awards that were being handed out at this event, one that drew some heavy hitters on stage clutching these attractive golden statuettes representing movies and television that are really raising the bar in the technological advance of the industry.

Although the above-mentioned were the more glamorous categories, this event was about so much more , and many of the people who vote on them are from across the industry and include AMPAS members as well. There is no TV deal for this ceremony, and you might understand that by realizing awards were being handed out for the likes of Best Use Of High Dynamic Range, Best 2D To 3D Conversion, Best Achievement in 8K Production, Innovation In Post Production Tools, Best Use Of AR/VR, and, well you get the idea. Among the winners in those categories were familiar names though like Dr. Strange In The Multiverse of Madness, The Batman, Strange Things, Lightyear and others. Microsoft, Adobe, Weta FX were other big winners.

Top Gun: Maverick was a double winner for Best Scene or Sequence in a Feature Film and Best Song for Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand”. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer was on hand to accept both. After a particularly thrilling scene from the movie was shown AIS President Jim Chabin noted that Tom Cruise had attended this ceremony three years earlier in order to thank all the geeks, er artisans, responsible for making his movies as good as they are. Noting there were, uh, important voters in the room, Chabin said “Just remember that when you are filling out your ballots”.

I was seated next to del Toro at his table and he too was clearly appreciative for what these often unsung geniuses do. Upon accepting his award for Pinocchio he thanked Netflix and Ted Sarandos “for saying yes when everyone else in town has said ‘no’ – twice”. del Toro genuinely seems to enjoy these events, loudly applauding for all the winners, and he also got a shout out from Gene Kelly’s widow, Patricia Ward Kelly when she was presenting the winner of the Gene Kelly Visionary Award to Damien Chazelle for Babylon. del Toro had won it last year (he said for his “dancing”) and he made an impassioned speech then too. Chazelle related that he was so inspired by Kelly while developing his Oscar winning musical, La La Land that he arranged a trip to Kelly’s house to see Patricia’s archive for the star, and he took along Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. “I’ve been pilfering Singin’ In The Rain my whole life,” he laughed.

Elvis director Baz Luhrmann was recipient of the Harold Lloyd Award, named for the great silent movie comic actor. What is great is that with the Kelly and Lloyd awards organizers put together really impressive reels of those icons to lead into the presentation. It shows what these greats were able to do without the kind of technology these artisans being honored have available to them today. Elvis himself, Austin Butler, was on hand to present Luhrmann with this award (along with Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne) who told his star “I’ve been meeting you this season at all these events and red carpets, but I just want to eternally thank you here for your performance”. Afterwards Lurhmann, who refers to his film in terms other than the “musical ” label given it at this ceremony, told me you can look at it as a drama, a tragedy, a musical, many different ways. It also won AIS’ award for Best Scene in a Musical and Luhrmann pointed out the precise cinematography of Mandy Walker who recently became only the third woman in Oscar history to be nominated.

Avatar producer Jon Landau was up on stage twice, once for the movie and once sharing the environmentally conscious Voices For The Earth Award which also went to James Cameron who sent a video message from New Zealand where he is working on the next installment.

Fasten your seat belts, it is about to be crunch time with one awards ceremony after another on almost a nightly basis, finally culminating with the Oscars on March 12 when the long, long season finally comes to a close.

To be continued.

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