5:54pm PT by Scott Feinberg, Stephen Galloway
'The Awards Pundits' on the New York Film Fest, Death of 'Birth of a Nation' and Clinton-Trump Effect
GALLOWAY Scott, let me throw this at you: will the Clinton-Trump battle have any impact on this year’s Oscar race? In other words — and I say this with a sense of irony — is it good for Hollywood?
FEINBERG I think the outcome of the election may be the biggest factor of all, since the best picture winner tends to reflect the larger zeitgeist. If Hillary wins, expect something upbeat, as we got with Slumdog Millionaire after Obama’s first win and Argo after his second. That could really boost Lion or seal the deal for La La Land. If she loses, look for something bleaker, as we got during the last years of the Bush Administration with The Departed and No Country for Old Men — perhaps Manchester by the Sea or Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
GALLOWAY You could make the case that the election season already has impacted the movies. Take The Birth of a Nation. That picture got into trouble when news surfaced about Nate Parker’s past, and then it opened on Friday — the very same day the Access Hollywood tape came out. It would have done poorly in any case, but to debut at the same time everyone on the planet was talking about Trump groping women — who’d want to see a movie by a guy who’s accused of doing a lot worse?
FEINBERG Clearly not many people, since it’s tanking at the box office. It also had its official Academy screening over the weekend. The 1,010-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theatre was only half full, and just half of that group were members (the rest were guests). They seemed to appreciate the movie, but a lot of their colleagues stayed away. There are other contenders this year that deal with America’s racial tensions — Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Loving — but don’t come with this sort of baggage.
GALLOWAY The sheer tackiness of the presidential race — my God, trotting out the alleged Bill Clinton victims at the debate, and the like — will do wonders for Jackie, about Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) after her husband’s assassination. Her sheen will shine brighter when you contrast her and Camelot with birtherism and emailgate. Similarly, I think the nobility of Sully, about the well-known pilot (played by Tom Hanks), will give that picture a boost. We all want to believe in heroes again.
FEINBERG Another movie that directly deals with America’s racial issues is Ava DuVernay’s 13th, which opened the 54th New York Film Festival last week.
GALLOWAY You were there. What was reaction like?
FEINBERG It’s the first doc ever to open the festival, and it couldn’t have been more timely or received greater applause. It would be a shoo-in for the documentary feature Oscar in almost any year except this one, because it’s up against an even more ambitious and accessible doc about a related subject: O.J.: Made in America, the seven-hour exploration of the O.J. Simpson case and race of America.
GALLOWAY What else went over well? That festival can be a bit elitist and it doesn’t have a terrific track record for picking future Academy favorites.
FEINBERG In 54 years, the only best pictures it’s had were Chariots of Fire, No Country for Old Men, The Artist, 12 Years a Slave and Birdman, all of which screened somewhere else first.
GALLOWAY This year’s edition is half over. Did anything score major points?
FEINBERG Definitely 20th Century Women, which had its world premiere as the Centerpiece screening, especially for Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical screenplay and Annette Bening’s charming performance. Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight, which previously screened elsewhere, maintained their momentum. And, as always, there were a ton of well-received docs (Steve James’ Abacus, Errol Morris’ The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography), foreign-language films (Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta and the German Oscar entry Toni Erdmann, the movie that you love to hate, Stephen) and even one foreign-language doc (Italy’s Oscar submission, Fire at Sea, about immigrants fleeing Africa for Europe).
GALLOWAY Kristen Stewart popped up in three films, Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper and Ang Lee’s still-to-screen Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. She always generates buzz —
FEINBERG — and was the toast of the town, even receiving a special tribute evening from the fest.
GALLOWAY Billy Lynn hasn’t screened. I’m dying to see it. I don’t think there’s a single picture of his that hasn’t been interesting in some way, whether it’s a success or not. Oh, I take that back: I forgot Hulk! But his track record is remarkable. He offered you an early look at Billy. What did you think?
FEINBERG He invited me to his editing room so that I could see part of the film — about the struggles of a young Iraq War veteran — in the way he wants it to be seen, but not all theaters can accommodate: projected in 3D and at a rate of 120 frames-per-second. There’s never been anything quite like it. Most films are shown at 24fps; 120fps eliminates the barely-noticeable flickering sensation of most movies, and makes things look more “real” than ever before. Whether or not people will like this new look remains to be seen, but it was an eye-opening experience and a risky endeavor of the sort for which Lee is famous and likely to be recognized, whether or not the film itself is. Both times he won the best director Oscar, for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi, a different film won best picture.
GALLOWAY Apart from that film — which has its world premiere at the festival on Friday — there’s only a handful of other Oscar hopefuls left to be seen: Paramount’s Allied, Fences and Silence; Warners’ Live By Night and Fox’s Hidden Figures. I’m curious to see Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, and I honestly don’t know what to think. It’s been a while since he made anything I liked — actually, it’s been a while since he made anything at all, and I don’t think he’s even starred in a movie since Town & Country in 2001. What else are you looking forward to?
FEINBERG While I was in New York, Paramount screened about 20 minutes of Allied, the latest film from Robert Zemeckis, which currently is best known as the film on which Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt allegedly got a little too steamy for Angelina Jolie’s liking.
GALLOWAY Romance on a movie set? Say it ain’t so, Scott.
FEINBERG It’s a love story about two spies, in some ways reminiscent of the movie on which Pitt and Jolie fell in love, 2005’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, only set in WWII-era Casablanca. Cotillard, who’s always great, looks particularly strong in it.
GALLOWAY She’s an Oscar darling and a filmmakers’ favorite. Speaking of favorites, nobody’s more admired than Scorsese, but you keep hearing rumors about trouble behind the scenes of Silence. I don’t know if that’s just about finishing it on time, or if there are other problems with the story. I really hope not. This is his 20-year-old dream project. What I wonder is, has he ever made a great film that’s not set in New York, or at least somewhere on the East Coast? Is this his masterpiece, or is it Kundun?
FEINBERG Sorry, Stephen, are you talkin’ to me?