Oscar Contenders Recruit Famous Friends for Tastemaker Screenings

Famous Helping Hands - Rami Malek, The Lighthouse’s Robert Pattinson, John David Washington and Chris Evans- Publicity - Embed -2019
Eric Charbonneau/COURTESY OF A24

Stars are turning out in droves to host FYC screenings for their awards-chasing pals this season: "This year, they've been done for every type of movie? — indies and studio."

"The boys!," Robert Pattinson boomed, flanked by his friends at a recent intimate tastemaker screening of A24’s The Lighthouse, the surreal black-and-white drama in which he plays an isolated lighthouse keeper. 

His boys just so happened to be the Oscar-winning Rami Malek and Captain America himself, Chris Evans, who both co-hosted the screening that was also attended by Pattinson’s pal and Tenet co-star John David Washington.

"I’ve been friends with these guys for ages, and it’s cool that they come to support little, tiny, weird movies," Pattinson told The Hollywood Reporter. Washington chimed in: "You can’t just define him [Pattinson] as one thing, and it’s cool to be in support of and celebrating this film that should be seen by the masses."

Harnessing big names for tastemaker screenings during awards season began in the 1990s with Harvey Weinstein unleashing grassroots campaigns that gave studios a run for their money. Ever since, contenders — and the people who orchestrate their campaigns — have recruited famous friends unaffiliated with the project they’re promoting to lend their names to invitations. Notable examples include the anchors of the three nightly network newscasts hosting a screening for Good Night, and Good Luck’s George Clooney in 2005; and 2011's Julia Roberts-hosted screening for Biutiful’s Javier Bardem.

Such screenings are usually for "passion projects, when people don't necessarily have the media dollars, so they reach out to friends," says awards strategist Michele Robertson.

This season, hosts have included Donald Glover, who revealed himself to be a member of the #BongHive as he hosted a screening of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite; Hugh Jackman supporting his Logan director James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari; and Ava DuVernay putting her voice behind Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit.

Deep-pocketed streamers are leading the charge, particularly Netflix, which is pushing multiple contenders with hosted events: The Irishman (David O. Russell), Marriage Story (Daniel Craig), The Two Popes (Glenn Close), Dolemite Is My Name (Quincy Jones) and documentaries such as The Edge of Democracy (Spike Lee) and The Black Godfather (Jamie Foxx).

"This year, these screenings have been done for every type of movie: the docs, the foreign films, the indies and studio movies,” Robertson says. “It’s not just for contenders who need more attention because they don’t have the ad spend or resources."

A celeb-hosted tastemaker screening can also stand out in a packed inbox of invites and help attract the attention and eyeballs of voters and press during a shorter and more condensed awards season. “The whole goal here is for people to see the movie,” Robertson says. And actors and filmmakers with movies in contention are being inspired to call on their famous friends when they see others doing the same. 

Amazon’s Honey Boy has drawn a cadre of different starry fans to throw their support behind Shia LaBeouf’s deeply personal story, directed by Alma Har’el. Damien Chazelle, Jodie Foster and Margot Robbie have all hosted individual events, and Har'el later tweeted, “What moves me are the actors that choose to support films they had nothing to do with.” At an intimate screening hosted at The London Hotel, Robbie said she had never presented a film before but wanted to support it after being moved by watching the emotional drama.

"I felt compelled to share this experience with anyone I could because the experience I had was so incredible," Robbie told the audience. "This movie really hit me on a very deep level and a very profound level, and I think what Alma and Shia have done is truly, truly incredible and beautifully artistic.

Additional reporting by Scott Feinberg.

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.