UPDATE: Moviegoer interest in seeing Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood apparently wasn’t just among the public, who crowded theaters to bring in an impressive $40 million-plus weekend estimated box office haul and sold out shows in major markets, especially L.A. Oscar voters jumped on board, too.
There was a turnaway crowd Saturday night at the Motion Picture Academy’s 1010 seat Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, with at least 75 people turned away, “maybe more,” according to one observer, for the Academy’s official membership screening. Another emailed me just before the start of the screening, saying officials were asking people to raise hands if there was a vacant seat next to them. In other words, interest in seeing this was extremely high, and the place was packed with the people who work in the industry in which its story is set. The Academy plans to add an additional screening next week because of the overflow and just posted details on their membership screenings site: “To accommodate the overflow of members at the Saturday 7/27 screening of Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Sony has agreed to hold an additional screening for Academy members at 7:30pm, Thursday, August 1, at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.” That is the same night the Academy will also have its official Bay Area members screening. New York AMPAS members had their’s last Thursday.
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As Deadline has noted, when the film premiered in Cannes in May, there were also many people (with actual tickets) left on the outside of the Grand Theatre Lumiere, such was the anticipation for the unveiling of this movie. The want-to-see factor continues.
Although unusual for one of these screenings, especially in the summer months generally filled with films that aren’t exactly prime Oscar contenders, adding a second showing because of a turnaway crowd is not completely unprecedented. Rocketman drew a huge crowd earlier this year too. The Academy allows members to bring up to three guests, and the same thing happened two years ago, also on a Saturday night in July, when Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk played there in a 70MM film print. The Academy decided on the spot to add another screening that night at 10PM due to the overflow crowd and high interest (it helped that it ran under two hours). That film went on to eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, winning three Academy Awards.
Due to its two hour and forty one minute running time, as well as a planned Q&A with some of the crafts people, that would not have been possible for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, which was shown at the Academy in a 35MM film print, although it is playing in some venues in 70MM. The post-screening Q&A did not include Tarantino or members of the cast, but did feature below the line artisans, such as Production Designer Barbara Ling, Costume Designer Arianne Phillips, Editor Fred Raskin, and Sound Mixer Mark Ulano. I am told about half the audience stayed for that, however others are saying it was less than half.
By the way the Writers Guild which also has weekend membership screenings had first scheduled, then cancelled (without explanation but at Sony’s request) their planned Once Upon A Time In Hollywood screenings set for today and replaced with other movies, according to the Guild’s website (they listed Crawl, Brian Banks. David Crosby: Remember My Name, and The Nightingale as “replacement films”). Tarantino is not a member and has routinely had his films denied entry for WGA awards because of that guild’s arcane particular rules when it comes to who is eligible (based on if a movie was produced under WGA Basic Agreement) .
There can be no question that Tarantino’s ninth film is an early major Oscar contender in many categories, and it is said to have played very well with much of the Academy crowd. There reportedly was applause for Tarantino, the actors, and key department heads as credits rolled, although there was no standing ovation which, to be fair, usually only occurs with a major actor or director being introduced, and they weren’t there (Tarantino did appear at the official BAFTA screening Wednesday night at Arclight). According to one Oscar voter, chatter in the lobby they heard included some scattered complaints about liberties the script took with the facts (it blends real and fictional characters), and some complaining about the violence. But with a Tarantino film, isn’t that to be expected? Overall, it seemed it was an upbeat response. “I heard people say that it was a really great piece of bravura filmmaking, especially the end. I’m with them,” the Academy member emailed after I reached out for response.
In the past, the Academy has been very good to Tarantino films and the filmmaker himself, who has two Oscars on his shelf, both for screenwriting for Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained. Three of his previous eight films have been nominated for Best Picture, including Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds, and Django Unchained. A big question for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is whether both Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt will be campaigned for Lead Actor (which is what they are), or split up, with perhaps Pitt going into supporting so as not to compete with each other. One Sony executive told me at Monday night’s premiere they haven’t determined campaign plans yet, including where the actors might be placed.
As I have said recently, so far the presence of genuine Best Picture contenders for the 92nd Academy Awards is on the light side, with perhaps only A24’s current release The Farewell and now Once Upon A Time In Hollywood starting to get any serious buzz in that direction. But with the Fall festivals upon us in just a few weeks, hopefully all that is going to change.