Oscars: Inside the Last, Desperate Push to Win Over Voters Before Balloting Closes
From taking over the late-night talk shows to going anywhere a reporter and camera might follow —even the Vatican — this year's nominees have stopped at nothing to court votes during the final days of this year's cutthroat Oscar race.
The final round of Oscar voting closes at 5 p.m. PT on Tuesday. Knowing that many Academy members wait until the last minute to turn in their selections -- either via online voting or paper ballots, which some even hand-deliver to the PricewaterhouseCoopers offices -- and that numerous categories in this year's race are still too close to call, contending distributors and talent have been fighting for every vote in every imaginable way. Will any of their efforts make a significant difference in a contender's prospects? We'll never know for sure. But that won't keep them from trying.
No operation is better at mobilizing its talent for a late push than The Weinstein Co., which believes U2's "Ordinary Love" could upset Frozen's frontrunner "Let It Go" in the best original song race; that 20 Feet From Stardom is in a fight to the finish with The Act of Killing and The Square in the best documentary feature category; and that Philomena is poised to pull off upsets in the categories of best original score (Alexandre Desplat), best adapted screenplay (Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope), best actress (Judi Dench) and maybe even best picture.
To this end, the Weinstein Co.'s talent has shown up everywhere. On Feb. 5, Coogan and Philomena inspiration Philomena Lee met Pope Francis in Vatican City. (Photos were then widely circulated.) 20 Feet subjects Darlene Love and Judith Hill appeared on Ellen on Feb. 6. On Feb. 11, the city of Los Angeles presented Lee with a certificate of recognition for her lifelong work and devotion to issues of adoption rights, as well as her commitment to The Philomena Project charity, and 20 Feet subjects Love and Merry Clayton appeared on The Queen Latifah Show. 20 Feet subjects Clayton, Judith Hill and Tata Vega appeared on Piers Morgan on Feb. 14. On Feb. 17, 20 Feet's Love appeared on CBS This Morning. That night, U2 was the musical act on the first first episode of NBC's New York-based The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, playing their nominated song before a massive audience, while, across the country, 20 Feet subjects Clayton and Vega performed a live set in Los Angeles. On Feb. 20, it was announced that Lee will receive the Feminist Majority Foundation's Eleanor Roosevelt Award at its Global Women's Rights ceremony in May. Coogan appeared on HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher on Feb. 21, the same night that Clayton, Love and Vega performed on The Arsenio Hall Show. Desplat led "an intimate conversation on composing and performance of his music" over cocktails and appetizers at the Beverly Hills Hotel's Polo Lounge on the afternoon of Feb. 23. And Love stopped by The Colbert Report on Feb. 24.
On the night of Feb. 23, TWC essentially commandeered the Los Angeles-Italia Film, Fashion and Art Festival's awards ceremony -- as it does each year -- a truly Fellini-esque pseudoevent held by the organizers of the Capri, Hollywood Film Festival in a movie theater above the TCL Chinese Theatre. This year, TWC trotted out U2's Bono, Desplat, Coogan and 20 Feet director Morgan Neville and subject Vega to receive various awards, the titles of which weren't even shared with an audience that included industry insiders like Keith Carradine, Avi Lerner, Joe Mantegna and Eli Roth, except for the one that Bono accepted on behalf of his band, Best Song of the Year, from someone with actual Italian heritage, Al Pacino. (American Hustle's Oscar-nominated director and co-writer David O. Russell, whose mother is Italian, was the one non-TWC honoree for another award that wasn't identified.) Bono outclassed the event itself with a humble speech in which he provided background about his nominated song and slowly recited its lyrics so that their meaning could really resonate.
Of course, TWC isn't the only operation that knows how to play this game.
Fox Searchlight has had its 12 Years a Slave troops out on the circuit en masse, as well, while simultaneously promoting -- and then withdrawing its promotion of -- the film with ads proclaiming, "It's Time." (Time for what has been heavily debated.) 12 Years a Slave's best supporting actress hopeful Lupita Nyong'o, who is in a nail-biter with American Hustle's Jennifer Lawrence, who has been almost entirely absent from the circuit due to commitments to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, has been working hard to educate people about her story and demonstrate that she has a lighter side, hitting Late Show With David Letterman on Feb. 19, Ellen on Feb. 21 and Conan on Feb. 24. Meanwhile, her costar Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is hoping to ride a wave from his BAFTA win to the Dolby, hasn't been on the air since Jan. 14, when he, too, appeared on Ellen. Filling in for him, though, have been the film's nominated screenwriter John Ridley, who appeared on Real Time With Bill Maher on Jan. 31, and another supporting actress, Sarah Paulson, who visited Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Feb. 5.
Paramount also has run aggressive late-games for its two best picture nominees, The Wolf of Wall Street and Nebraska. On Jan. 25, Wolf's best supporting actor nominee Jonah Hill hosted SNL (he was the only nominee to do so this season) and was joined during his monologue by a surprise guest, the film's best actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio, for a hilarious riff. On Feb. 13, DiCaprio participated in a Q&A about his five collaborations with director Martin Scorsese at New York's Ziegfeld Theatre, for which he was joined by Wolf's nominated screenwriter Terence Winter. Hill, meanwhile, has papered the talk show circuit, appearing on The Tonight Show (with Scorsese) and Ellen on Feb. 19, Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Feb. 20 and Conan on Feb. 24 (just 14 days after Scorsese, who also hit Late Show on Jan. 22).
Lest you think the Nebraska folks were ceding the spotlight to the Wolf-pack, consider that its generally shy best director nominee Alexander Payne hit The Colbert Report on Feb. 19, 84-year-old best supporting actress nominee June Squibb made a hilarious plea for votes on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that same night and best actor nominee Bruce Dern will schmooze Bill Maher on Real Time on Feb. 28 -- true, that's after voting has ended, but it was announced before!
Many think Warner Bros.' Gravity is the film to beat in the best picture race, so it's a tad surprising that its stars haven't been out there more -- although it's also true that Sandra Bullock, its best actress nominee, isn't thought to have much of a shot of beating Blue Jasmine's Cate Blanchett and probably doesn't want to look desperate, while George Clooney, her sidekick in the film, wasn't nominated and hasn't wanted to steal any of the spotlight from her. Still, Bullock did make one notable appearance, emotionally saying goodbye to Jay Leno on the second-to-last episode of his incarnation of The Tonight Show, on Feb 5. Bullock and Cuaron also discussed the film on CBS This Morning on Feb. 18.
WB's other best picture nominee, Her, has had some high-profile exposure of its own: Its best original screenplay and best original song nominee Spike Jonze, who is generally pretty media-shy, guested on Late Show on Jan. 23 and its best original score nominee Arcade Fire was Jimmy Fallon's musical guest on The Tonight Show on Feb. 20.
Of course, the spoiler in the best picture race -- and perhaps several other categories -- could be American Hustle, which Sony has been pushing as much as possible despite not having access to Lawrence, who has been unavailable, and best actor nominee Christian Bale, who has elected to make himself unavailable. In their stead, best actress nominee Amy Adams and best supporting actor nominee Bradley Cooper have popped up here and there. On Feb. 17, Cooper appeared on Ellen. Adams discussed her career with James Lipton on an episode of Inside the Actors Studio that aired on Feb. 18. And, on Feb. 19, Cooper guested on the third episode of The Tonight Show, with writer-director Russell in the audience, and Russell appeared on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.
The best actor and best supporting actor frontrunners, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, come from the best picture-nominated Dallas Buyers Club. Leto, whom most regard as a slam-dunk winner, has been only sporadically available during the second phase of voting due to overseas commitments to his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. But McConaughey, who is in a much closer contest, has picked up the slack. He was on The Tonight Show on Feb. 4, before Leno departed; Jimmy Kimmel on Feb. 19; and Inside the Actors Studio on Feb. 20.
Others making the rounds include Blue Jasmine's best actress frontrunner Cate Blanchett, who was the subject of a flattering 60 Minutes segment on Feb. 16 (she also appeared on Jimmy Kimmel on Feb. 6 with her Monuments Men co-stars); Captain Phillips' best supporting actor hopeful Barkhad Abdi, who visited Jimmy Kimmel on Feb. 4 (after a Conan appearance back in December); Before Midnight's stars and best adapted screenplay nominees Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who hit Kimmel on Feb. 10; The Square's best documentary feature nominees Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim, who spoke with David Gregory about their film and the situation in Egypt on Meet the Press' "Press Pass" sidebar on Feb. 23; and Jeremy Scahill, a best documentary feature nominee for Dirty Wars, who was a guest on Real Time on Feb. 14 (he's actually a longstanding regular on the show).
After 5 p.m., I'm guessing that most of these folks are going to go into hibernation until Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards and/or Sunday's Oscars. They're probably sick of talking about themselves and their films, just as many people are tiring of hearing about them.
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