March 02, 2014 2:40pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Oscars: A Recap of the Long, Rainy, Party-Packed Weekend Leading Up to Sunday Night
It has not rained more than three or four times since I moved to Los Angeles in November 2012, but, sure enough, it has poured throughout the weekend leading up to this town's biggest event, the Oscars. Still, nothing could dampen the excitement of the long weekend leading up to the show, when everyone packs in their last ceremonies, receptions and parties before the nominees must, at long last, become winners or losers. I slipped and slid my way throughout the TMZ to try to pack in as much as I could, and this is a recap of what I saw.
On Thursday night, Paramount Pictures commandeered the sprawling new Spago in Beverly Hills for a big send-off for its 13 nominees. The Wolf of Wall Street's director Martin Scorsese and lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio huddled in one booth; supporting actor Jonah Hill and 87-year-old comedy legend Don Rickles visited in another. Nebraska's lead actor Bruce Dern was joined by supporting actress June Squibb, their castmates Will Forte and Angela McEwan and a big fan of their film, 96-year-old actress Marsha Hunt, a victim of the Hollywood blacklist. Among the many other Academy members in attendance were Joanna Cassidy, Candy Clark, Roger Corman, Frances Fisher, Peter Fonda, Kelsey Grammer, Mark Lester, Robert Loggia, Karen Lutz, Penny Marshall, Wolf costume designer Sandy Powell, John Savage and Jane Seymour.
Friday brought the 51st Publicist Awards luncheon, hosted by the Local 600 International Cinematographers Guild, which absorbed the Publicists Guild years ago due to their overlapping membership and interests in terms of on-set unit photographers. While a number of PR folks were recognized with various awards -- Access Hollywood journalist Scott Mantz was honored with the Press Award and Frozen's Josh Gad led a celebration of the 90th anniversary of Disney -- the biggest rounds of applause of the night -- standing ovations, in fact -- were reserved for the introductions of 80-year-old Carol Burnett and then 87-year-old Jerry Lewis; the former presented the latter with the group's lifetime achievement award, and the latter told some very funny jokes. The afternoon's top competitive honor, for best publicized film of the year, went to the Warner Bros. team that oversaw Gravity's campaign; WB also took home this prize last year for Argo, and we all remember how that film performed on Oscar night.
Later that same afternoon, the Great British Film Reception was held at the home of the British consul general in Los Angeles. Seemingly hundreds of British Empire subjects packed into a tent, including many of this year's 26 nominees from the UK -- a number hailed as "astounding" by guest host Steve McQueen, who is himself up for best picture and best director this year -- such as Prisoners lenser Roger Deakins of Australia; UK Oscar voters and tastemakers (including Dame Helen Mirren and the aforementioned Jane Seymour); and the most popular woman in the room to my eye, 80-year-old Philomena inspiration Philomena Lee.
The 29th Independent Spirit Awards, which took place, as always, during the afternoon of the Saturday before Oscars Sunday, proved, as always, to be a fun, boozy, star-studded affair, with the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon and Keanu Reeves all packed into a big tent by the beach in Santa Monica. The event usually produces a set of winners that ends up looking nothing like the Academy's winners list. This year, however, the vast majority of the winners at the Spirit Awards are also the frontrunners for the major Academy Awards honors (except for best director): 12 Years a Slave for best feature; Dallas Buyers Club's Matthew McConaughey for best actor; Blue Jasmine's Cate Blanchett for best actress; Dallas Buyers' Jared Leto for best supporting actor; 12 Years' Lupita Nyong'o for best supporting actress; 12 Years' John Ridley for best screenplay; and Morgan Neville's 20 Feet from Stardom for best documentary. All of them accepted in-person, none more memorably than Leto.
As soon as Spirit Awards show ended, I hustled back to Beverly Hills for the annual Society of Composers and Lyricists champagne reception, which toasts the best original score and best original song Oscar nominees and has previously drawn everyone from Itzhak Perlman to Three Six Mafia. It took place at the home of Bonnie Cacavas and John Cacavas, as it has for years -- John was a composer who, sadly, died just over a month ago -- and was emceed by SCL board member and co-founder Charles Bernstein and SCL president Ashley Irwin, in partnership with Academy music branch governors Charles Fox (also an SCL board member) and Arthur Hamilton, who received heaps of praise for their orchestration (forgive me) of the Academy's first-ever Oscar concert at UCLA's Royce Hall earlier in the week. As a gawking crowd of music industry folks looked on, including 85-year-old Mary Poppins composer Richard Sherman, all of the score nominees took turns at the podium thanking and posing for photos with the hosts, Arcade Fire's Win Butler and Regine Chassagne (Her); Alexandre Desplat (Philomena), who is nominated for the sixth time in eight years; Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks), who hopes to win for the first time on his 12th nomination; new-kid-on-the-block Steven Price (Gravity), this year's frontrunner; and the legendary John Williams (The Book Thief), who was jokingly introduced as a 44-time Oscar loser -- he has won five times and been nominated a total of 49, more than any other living person. Then came the song nominees Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen's "Let It Go") -- Robert will become the youngest member of the super-elite EGOT club if his song wins tonight. None of the other nominees were able to make it except for Spike Jonze (Her), although he had to leave before the photo-op.
Finally, on Sunday night, while the Motion Picture and Television Fund and THR hosted the Night Before party to raise money for the MPTF, and Shorts HD hosted the Shorts Awards Party at the Paley Center for Media to honor this year's nominees in the three shorts categories (Shorts HD is distributing the 15 films theatrically), I was at Beverly Hills' Montage Hotel's Marchesa Ballroom, where Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein hosted a seated dinner celebrating the 11 nominations accrued by The Weinstein Co. and RADiUS-TWC. Rarely have I seen as star-packed a room. You literally couldn't turn around without bumping into someone interesting, such as Lee Daniels' The Butler's Oprah Winfrey (whom even celebrities bother for photos) and Gayle King, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom's best original song nominee Bono, August: Osage County's Meryl Streep and Dermot Mulroney, Robert De Niro, Kim Kardashian, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift (separately, of course), Ted Sarandos, Sharon Osbourne, Jason Sudeikis and a very pregnant Olivia Wilde, Kerry Washington, Philomena's costar and scribe Steve Coogan and inspiration Philomena Lee, The Grandmaster's director Wong Kar Wai, The Butler's scribe Danny Strong, Tyler Perry, Arsenio Hall, Piers Morgan, Diane Warren, Bob Balaban, Jason Alexander, Gary Barlow, Laura Michelle Kelly and the subjects of the RADiUS docs Cutie and the Boxer (Ushio Shinohara and Noriko Shinohara, who joked about scalping their Oscar tickets, to the laughter of their film's great young director Zachary Heinzerling) and 20 Feet from Stardom (Judith Hill, Darlene Love and Tata Vega, with their director Morgan Neville).
Also welcomed at the TWC dinner were several of the nominees from Fox Searchlight's 12 Years a Slave, including Steve McQueen (of whom Harvey said, "Steve McQueen is here tonight and we're rooting for him tomorrow and members of the press I don't care if you write that!") and Chiwetel Ejiofor (who told me he and his family were very excited to attend the Oscars for the first time, regardless of how things play out for him and the film, of which he is so proud).
Ever the showman, Weinstein's musical entertainment for the night, which was truly terrific, came courtesy of the stars of the upcoming musical Finding Neverland -- Barlow, Kelly and Alexander -- which Weinstein is producing and which will debut this summer at the American Repertory Theater in Boston and then open in London's West End at the end of the year. Bono and Taylor Swift led standing ovations after several of the songs, the loudest of which came for the closer -- "Stronger" -- for which the play's stars were joined by the trio of singers who were featured in 20 Feet from Stardom.
The guest list and the music set a high bar for the Oscars to have to top.