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Pete Hammond’s Notes On The Season: Meryl Makes Another Speech; Walmart Cozies Up To Oscar; Razzies Get Political

Deadline logo Deadline 2/25/2017 Pete Hammond
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A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

It’s down to one day and counting.

That’s right, it all comes down to this as the six month long awards season that started with the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals in early September culminates Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre with the 89th Annual Academy Awards. No more campaigning. No more Q&As. No more critics awards. No more Guild ceremonies. With today’s Independent Spirit Awards on the beach in Santa Monica, the end is in sight and all that’s left is the big one tomorrow.

But for this weekend that also means non-stop parties of every possible kind. At PMK’s Friday night annual pre-Oscar dinner at Craig’s Restaurant (where Oscar producer Michael DeLuca was spotted catching a late-night meal after rehearsals), I had a blast sitting next to Oscar winner Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) whose next film, The Promise starring Christian Bale and  Oscar Isaac opens from Open Road in April. It’s a sweeping romantic epic in the vein of a Doctor Zhivago, set near the end of the Ottoman Empireand is the kind of  movie movie (I saw it at Toronto where it premiered) that sadly Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to make. George told me he’s working on an idea to expand his terrific Oscar winning 2011 short The Shore into a feature film.

If the Academy’s goal to be a “global” organization is represented by the large new number of internationally-based members this year, the sheer amount of parties being thrown from the Irish (Thursday night’s Oscar Wilde Awards at host J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot offices), the British (the packed Friday night Film Is GREAT reception for Brit nominees at Fig & Olive ), the Australians (the Four Seasons celebration for Aussie nominees also Friday) was proof. The Germans, French, Swiss and many other nationalities also are hitching their party wagon around the Oscars this weekend.

Of course agencies like WME and CAA had their annual bashes last night too. The Weinstein Company, partnering with Piaget, held one at a private home that drew the Lion crowd, and tonight host its annual dinner at Montage for their nominees, with entertainment from Tony winner Cynthia Ervio (The Color Purple), Hamilton’s Chris Jackson, and the In The Heights original cast. Harvey Weinstein emailed, “You know I always like to put on a show.”

The biggest  pre-Oscar party happens tonight at Fox where Jeffrey Katzenberg’s 15th Annual The Night Before benefit for the Motion Picture and Television Fund takes place with loads of stars and nominees expected. More than $75 million has been raised for MPTF since the event first started, and all for a great cause. Definitely a place to be and a very hot ticket.

The Oscar weekend is also when the Publicists Guild has its annual awards lunch at the Beverly Hilton. It took place Friday and featured an array of especially great presentations this year including an Entertainment Tonight-produced tribute reel to the late, great and beloved ET producer Bonnie Tiegel, who passed away earlier this year.

And the President’s Award was given to publicity heavyweight Nanci Ryder who has been courageously – and publicly – battling ALS while at the same time raising big money to fight it on behalf of others. Her longtime client and friend Renee Zellweger got very emotional during her touching tribute to Nanci, who can no longer speak or walk but, as witnessed by her wryly funny and inspiring acceptance (read by Zellweger), has not lost any of her spirit or wit. “I am not sure this is exactly the right year to be getting something called the Presidents Award,” she said to big laughs from the room.

After Ryder left the stage , Zellweger did everything she could to control her tears before reading the speech, determined to do it without breaking down. “This is going to be some of the best acting I have ever done, ” she said but then delivered it flawlessly.

There were also great speeches from Lifetime Achievement winner Jeffrey Katzenberg who played a hilarious clip of an encounter he had on stage with a real lion while promoting Disney’s The Lion King at a Las Vegas exhibitors convention.

Television Showman Of The Year Ryan Murphy amusingly described how watching Leonardo DiCaprio persevere after getting mauled by that bear in TheRevenant changed his outlook on things. He said if Leo can get himself up, slice open that horse and crawl inside to survive, he can keep going in show business even on days “when I just want to stay home and watch The OA on Netflix.” His new limited series Feud with Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis premieres March 5th on FX and judging from the first few episodes it is a real corker. One episode that he directed himself recreates the infamous 1963 Oscar show when Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? was nominated.

MERYL STREEP MAKES ANOTHER SPEECH

One of the biggest pre-Oscar parties is always the one thrown by Women In Film , and last night’s soiree had those women in film and a lot of men (including Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen) packed like sardines into the Nightingale Plaza club on La Cienega where WIF honored the 46 women in front of and behind the camera that have been nominated for Oscars this year. WIF President Cathy Schulman made very brief remarks before dragging Meryl Streep and Ava DuVernay on stage to make some comments. There was much anticipation about Streep in particular, especially after her well-publicized remarks at the Golden Globes last month when she effectively took on President Donald Trump without ever mentioning his name. Trump later tweeted she’s “overrated.”  This crowd, and probably everyone else, would agree this now-20 time Oscar nominee is anything but what Trump claimed.

“I feel like never saying anything again,” she smiled. “Everyone is speaking up and that’s great. With numbers, they can’t ignore us. There is 51 or 52% of women in the population now and this organization is absolutely wonderful…Stuff can change and you have to really feel the earth move under your feet and act.”

Streep, nominated for Florence Foster Jenkins has just been announced as an Oscar presenter, so it will be interesting to see if she has anything more to say on Sunday.

13th Documentary Feature nominee DuVernay took it from there. “Anytime we have like-minded voices coming together to express ourselves whether it’s defense, whether it’s welcome, whether it’s invitation, whether it’s revolution, it is an important thing to do… Right now more than ever these kind of gatherings are very important, really powerful. We are in a fight right now so we come together, power in numbers, power in unity. I hope we can take the energy that is in the room right now, very celebratory, and extend it throughout the whole year,” she said.

Reigning Best Actress Oscar winner Brie Larson co-hosted the event which drew Emma Stone, Viola Davis and others. “I am probably one of the younger people here but I am going to refrain from giving advice because I don’t know anything, I really don’t,” Larson said modestly said before telling her story of how acting has helped inform her view of the world. “Let’s incubate all of this and make something amazing because we will be here a year later, and let’s talk about how ‘This was the moment when I got it. I know how to make the world a better place.’ Artists are the ones the politicians fear. That has always been the case. So let’s do it.”

Quite a gathering that provides a real opportunity for networking  in a year some pundits are calling the Academy Awards “#OscarsSoMale”.

AND THE BEST DIRECTOR OSCAR GOES TO…WALMART?

The Academy announced this week that Walmart has given a $250,000 donation to the Academy Foundation in support of the organization’s educational and outreach initiatives. The retail giant is also a brand new sponsor of the Oscar show this year and decided to get creative, or actually hire directors Marc Forster, Antoine Fuqua and the team of Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg to get creative on their behalf. They commissioned each one to create a 60 second film based on six items of a single Walmart receipt: Bananas, Paper Towels, Batteries, Scooter, Wrapping Paper, Video Baby  Monitor. The idea, says Walmart, is that behind every receipt there is a story. Certainly this sounds like a better use of those Oscar ad dollars, where every 30 second spot goes for about $2 million, than just doing the same old-same old. “It’s three different directors and we had the freedom to do what we wanted to do. It was pretty incredible,” said Forster who is director of Finding Neverland, Monsters Ball, Quantum Of Solace and World War Z, among others. This little film of his will probably instantly have the biggest audience of any of his movies due to the sheer size of the Oscar audience. “It better be good because everyone will see it. Nobody gave me any notes or told me what it has to be like, so whatever it is it’s my fault,” he laughed. His 60 second Walmart film, he says, is about the spirit of wonder and finding an unexpected gift that opens up a window of hope. And you never knew that was possible just looking at your Walmart receipt, did you? He says he wants to be inspirational due to the nature of the current dystopian nature of the real world and offer a “ray of light”. He’s thankful to Walmart for the opportunity.

“Ultimately it is about how those products find their way into the story, and less about what is on a shelf at Walmart. What is interesting about it is a brand like Walmart has the guts to hand over the reins to these filmmakers and not really know what they are going to get back.”

Interestingly, like just about everything else this awards season, politics has found its way into the conversation of these spots. A full page ad in Variety this week, paid for by the United Food And Commercial Workers International, claims the real “stories” Walmart should be telling are about “poverty level wages” that the group says the company pays its employees. The ad targets the names of these directors in an ad aimed at industry eyes. “So the question is, if Mr. Rogen, Goldberg, Fuqua and Forster fail to tell the full Walmart story – will you speak out?”

As you can see even what sounds like a simple and creative advertising idea can be some group’s spark for protest in this age of Trump.

The three Walmart spots debut during the Academy  Awards broadcast on Sunday.

AND THE RAZZIE GOES TO…..

The annual Golden Raspberry “Razzie” winners for the worst films of the year were announced today and those too got very political, with right-wing gadfly Dinesh D’Souza’s anti-Clinton docu Hillary’s America: The Secret History Of The Democratic Party taking the top prize for Worst Picture and in three other categories. Batman v Superman also took four awards including Worst Rip Off, Remake or Sequel.

Those two films dominated the list but, I am ashamed to say, as a Razzie voter my choice for Worst Film of this or any other year, Dirty Grandpa,  came away empty handed despite numerous nominations. You wuz robbed, Dirty Grandpa.

There’s no accounting for some Razzie voters’ tastes in failing to recognize really bad taste.

As for those other awards coming our way tomorrow, the ones for the BEST movies, good luck to all the Oscar nominees!

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