Oscar Campaigns Enter Final Weekend As Ballots Are Live; All The Pre-Awards Action, An Oscar Voter Poll & Ana De Armas On Her Journey With Marilyn – Notes On The Season
A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
“Well Pete, do you think we already know who all the winners are?” That was the weary question that greeted me on a rainy night this week when I arrived for a Q&A at The London, the last one (for me at least) of this long, very long Oscar season that is now travelling into its final weekend of campaigning and awards action before the Academy finally has its moment.
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Following a particularly big weekend for what is now the undisputed Oscar Best Picture front-runner, Everything Everywhere All At Once, this veteran pair of publicists who have pretty much seen it all in their careers, and are working on one of the Best Picture nominees, were wondering whether I thought it was all over. Of course it could be. Statistically, when a movie sweeps all the major guilds there is a good chance it is. But I wasn’t just giving lip service when I opined that this particular year may not follow the rules of the game, and, as I offered in Sunday night’s column after the historic SAG sweep for A24 and Everything Everywhere, lone wolf BAFTA seemed to signal with its nearly wholesale wipeout for that movie (except for Film Editing) at the hands of a German-language anti-war movie remake of a 1930 Oscar-winning Best Picture, that possibly we can ask the question: Are the two most prominent Academys on the same trajectory — or not ? (BAFTA has only matched Oscar’s Best Picture choice once in the past eight years).
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It really depends who you are talking to. Most pundits have drunk the Kool-Aid at this point and I don’t blame them, especially since All Quiet on the Western Front wasn’t even nominated at any of the four major guilds. An example of the emerging lopsided prediction environment: On the Los Angeles Times‘ “Buzzmeter,” all six prominent pundits have landed squarely on a Best Picture win for Everything Everywhere. Sounds pretty locked, eh? But keep in mind this same group of soothsayers all predicted Roma in 2019 (Green Book won) and last year five out of the six predicted Power of the Dog (CODA won).
Throwing a bone to anything not called Everything Everywhere All at Once, one veteran consultant in the Oscar wars told me this week they conducted their annual poll of AMPAS voters (about 80 or so out of 9579, and mostly age 50+, so it is, uh, not scientific) and results were a significant lead of 38 for All Quiet, nearly half, followed by The Banshees of Inisherin and then Top Gun: Maverick (this consultant’s film in the race was not in the top three), so beware of all this when it comes to filling out your office-pool ballots. Nothing is ever certain, and for Oscar’s sake don’t we have to keep this interesting at least?
That actually begs the question: How many are still going to the office anyway to even fill out a ballot in order to win $50?
BIG WEEKEND AHEAD
However, if you can find people in your office, and are looking to jump into a pool, clues historically come from the precursor awards ceremonies, especially the guilds, and this weekend is going to be our last indication of the way industry winds are blowing; ceremonies are set for Sunday with the WGA (where Banshees of Inisherin and All Quiet on the Western Front are ineligible), ACE Eddies, and ASC cinematographers. On Saturday we have the Independent Spirit Awards, which this year have three Best Picture Oscar nominees in common in Everything Everywhere, Tár and Women Talking. But I see no reason for this group to deviate from the pattern of most precursors so far, and benefitting EEAAO, Film Independent’s membership skews much younger at this fun beach party than does AMPAS. There is also the USC Scripter Awards for adapted screenplays Saturday night, where I am betting on Sarah Polley.
In the new gender-neutral acting races at the Spirits, the Best Actress contest with Oscar nominees Cate Blanchett, Michelle Yeoh and Andrea Riseborough competing for Lead Performance against five other women and only two men (Paul Mescal and Jeremy Pope), while Everything Everywhere’s front-running Ke Huy Quan is competing against six other men and three women (including castmate Jamie Lee Curtis) for Supporting Performance. For that matter, it is actually both lead acting Oscar races and supporting actress that are providing the lion’s share of suspense right now for the Academy Awards.
To be more “influential” as it was put to me at the time, the Spirits moved their traditional date of Oscar weekend to an earlier spot during which Academy voting still in progress — we’ll see if they are an influencer. By the way, I have to say Sunday’s nice SAG Awards wins for that trio from EEAAO — Yeoh, Curtis and Quan — was really fun to see. Their enthusiasm was infectious and hard to resist, especially five months-plus into the season. It is nice to see winners actually excited and not going by the book. The same goes for SAG Best Actor winner Brendan Fraser’s heartfelt speech.
Meanwhile with all this awards traffic, Oscar voters will be busy filling out their ballots since voting has been going on since Thursday. Ballots aren’t due back until Tuesday at 5 p.m. PT.
‘WOMAN KING’, ‘TILL’ AND WILL AT AAFCA
Among other highlights of the week’s awards action for me was happily attending the African American Film Critics Association Awards at the Beverly Wilshire on Wednesday evening. The egregiously Oscar-snubbed The Woman King deservedly got some well-deserved attention, accepting Best Director honors for Gina Prince-Bythewood and Best Film. Viola Davis made a powerful acceptance speech for the latter, albeit at the end of a very long evening that ran five hours from reception to valet.
It was also heartening to see Till’s Danielle Deadwyler get the props she deserved, honored with Lead Actress for her towering Mamie Till, as well as Angela Bassett with a great acceptance speech honoring those who came before her. “I could have go on with many more, like Diana Sands,” she told me as I saw her in the lobby shortly after her speech about the wonderful, sadly unrecognized Sands, who deserved her own Oscar nomination for 1970’s The Landlord.
As previously reported, Will Smith was in the room too, a first for the actor at an awards show since the infamous Oscar slap. He, along with his Emancipation director Antoine Fuqua, received the Beacon Award. During the dinner hour I caught up with Smith and we talked about his return to major moviemaking after that infamous night a year ago where, though he did win Best Actor for King Richard, his shocking actions led to banishment from any Academy events for 10 years, and his own AMPAS resignation.
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Putting that unfortunate event front of mind again will be Chris Rock’s looming live Netflix comedy special Saturday night which is being promoted in part with the promise of the comedian’s long-gestating public response to that aforementioned slap, conveniently timed to just a week before this year’s Oscars show (I bet the Academy isn’t thrilled about the reminder as they ramp up promotions for the big night).
From my perspective, and having talked to Smith on other occasions, the star, clearly the center of attention at AAFCA, was relieved to be talking about getting back to work and a sense of normalcy after a difficult year. He is starring in the new Bad Boys sequel with Martin Lawrence and I had recently interviewed its producer Jerry Bruckheimer, which I mentioned to Smith. Bruckheimer, who has the highest regard for Smith, said, “that is not the Will I knew in that moment. You can’t judge him on one incident. … Actors recover. He’s a good individual.” Smith told me he had never done “a 4” before, meaning a fourth film in a series, but that at this time in his life he was thrilled to be back in a familiar place with friends. He is looking forward to the whole Bad Boys shoot “with family” as he referred to the cast and crew.
‘BLONDE’ AMBITION WITH ANA de ARMAS
Also this week I finally got to sit down with first-time Best Actress Oscar nominee Ana de Armas, whose brave and risky performance as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde, the controversial NC-17 Netflix film that has won divided opinions (it is even up for a Razzie), has won across-the-board raves for this Cuban-born star ever since her reported 14-minute standing ovation at Venice at the beginning of the season.
De Armas has spent the lion’s share of this season in Prague, where she has been making the John Wick spinoff Ballerina, so she has not really been on the circuit much at all. She was back for the SAG awards where she was also nominated last weekend. On Monday night at The London, we talked about what this nomination means to her. In fact, when I introduced her I used the term “Oscar-nominated Ana de Armas” to which she expressed puzzlement, saying, “That was weird. It is the first time someone introduced me that way. What did you say?” she laughed.
I pointed out the irony of the nomination as Monroe herself was never nominated for an Oscar, though she certainly could have been especially in films like Some Like It Hot for which she won a Golden Globe or especially her wonderful turn in 1956’s Bus Stop in which her co-star Don Murray got a nomination but she didn’t. Both Michelle Williams, who won a Best Actress Oscar nomination playing Monroe in 2011’s lighter My Week With Marilyn, and now de Armas are reaping rewards and a kind of industry praise Monroe never really got.
“That’s one of the things that the movie talks about was her struggle with fighting with this image of her that was represented in the narrative that was out there, that she was very tied up to the specific character that she was supposed to perform and deliver, and this image of her,” said de Armas. “And you know, she struggled to be considered an intellectual and someone smart and someone talented and people just didn’t see her that way, and they just wanted what they got from her, that Marilyn Monroe character. You know, she was trapped.”
It would have been fascinating to see what Monroe might have done as an actor had she lived beyond 36, and in fact she studied with the Actors Studio and Lee Strasberg, and clearly had raw talent. I asked de Armas if she had a favorite Monroe performance. She mentioned 1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl. “She was really good in that,” she said, while also naming Bus Stop.
De Armas was stunned that anyone would have thought of her for the role, but director Andrew Dominik did, and it was for a very unexpected reason.
“It was a very strange thing. He saw years ago Knock Knock, this Eli Roth movie with Keanu Reeves, and it was an OK movie but it wasn’t a job that I was super proud of, and life is funny because Andrew saw that movie and he thought I was perfect for Marilyn Monroe. So, I thank everyone in Knock Knock,” she laughed, perhaps previewing her Oscar acceptance speech should she win. “I had a lot to work against and I had a lot of work to do and I was terrified, and I felt very vulnerable and self-conscious and I was struggling with not only a specific accent and Marilyn’s affectations, but just the language itself was a problem. But it was amazing because I just felt like it was a no-brainer that I had to go through that for myself. No matter what happened to the movie or the performance or getting any recognition, it was something that I had to do for me.”
I asked why 60 years after her death that multiple generations are still fascinated with Marilyn Monroe — she has never gone away, ever.
“I think first of all because she was incandescent and beautiful and very talented and she made people happy, and I also think it’s because she had a problem with boundaries because she felt so unloved that she learned that not having boundaries was kind of like a survival thing,” she said. “People took from her and took and took and took and she gave and gave and gave in fear of staying alone, and I feel like that’s the part that hasn’t changed. People keep taking, even today. Taking pictures. Taking images. Taking inspiration which is great, but taking dresses. Taking things. Taking jewelry. Taking everything, and there’s no end to it. It’s never been a line of when it is too much, and there is such a thing as too much.”
De Armas, as part of her preparation for the role, but also out of respect for the person she was playing, went on several occasions to visit the Westwood cemetery that is Monroe’s resting place, something some in the press did not quite get.
“I mean, again it’s just little things I feel like sometimes the press and the people see it in a funny way,” de Armas said. “I don’t know why something so spiritual is so beautiful that people make fun of it. It’s like when you go to cemetery to visit someone you love, you know, and you respect, and what it did for me was something very personal. I just wanted to do that and be respectful in a way, and it was beautiful because I did feel connected. I felt like, you know, I wish I had met her in person. I wish I would have gone through the script with her and talked to her and get advice from her but I didn’t get the chance. She’s not here. So, the least I could do was to say hi and give her flowers.”
SORRY FOR THAT….
Finally for this week’s Notes on the Season, a correction and apology to first-time Oscar-nominated production designer Florencia Martin, who coincidentally also happens to be the production designer on Blonde. However, she, with Anthony Carlino, is nominated for the movie Babylon, a film for which they have already been honored at BAFTA and the Art Directors Guild Awards this year. In my initial Oscar prediction article in the current Awardsline edition this week, I inadvertently identified her as a past winner for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a film on which she did not work. Sorry for the error, and it will be fully corrected in my final online predictions piece, which you can look for Wednesday on Deadline.
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