'The Awards Pundits' on 'The Revenant,' Ongoing SAG Awards Voting and Thanksgiving Screeners

Scott Feinberg and Stephen Galloway discuss the week's awards-related news and controversies.
'The Revenant,' Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
'The Revenant'

This is the 10th installment of what will be an ongoing dialogue, throughout the awards season, between THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg and executive editor, features Stephen Galloway.

GALLOWAY Scott, we’re sitting in my office, counting down the three hours before we head over to the Academy for the screening of The Revenant. Tell me, sight unseen, is this going to be a game changer?

FEINBERG I've been betting on it to win since last year. The source novel and script are brilliant; the director is coming off two Oscars for Birdman; there are few better actors in the business than Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy; and with Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki lensing it, you know it's going to be a sight to behold.

GALLOWAY You’re right — you were betting on it before anyone knew anything about the movie, except of course how much it cost, which we’ve reported on extensively, and which I thought might overwhelm the narrative. Do you still feel that positive?

FEINBERG I feel better about that gut call in light of the buzz coming out of its first hush-hush screenings from the last few days, which is terrific. Apparently it's very long and very violent, but so were Dances With Wolves, Braveheart and No Country for Old Men, all of which won in the last 25 years —

GALLOWAY — though there have been some truly brilliant, very violent films that haven’t resonated, like Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler and Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, and even France’s A Prophet, which was never going to break out of the foreign-language category, in part because of its violence. If Revenant is that violent, how will it affect the voters?

FEINBERG It seems it’s going to resonate more with men than with women — which is fine, considering the Academy still is overwhelmingly comprised of males.

GALLOWAY What’s the word on the cast?

FEINBERG DiCaprio and Hardy couldn't be better — and we know that it's not uncommon to have costars win best actor and best supporting actor, with examples ranging from The Best Years of Our Lives to Mystic River. I couldn't be more excited to finally see it.

GALLOWAY So, Scott, assuming you’re right, let’s look at who’s behind the movie. We all know Fox Searchlight has had a stupendous record of tipping its movies over the finish line, and taking them from being nominees to winners, including the last two, 12 Years a Slave and Birdman. But “big” Fox isn’t the same at all. I can’t even think of its last best picture winner —

FEINBERG Titanic, 18 years ago.

GALLOWAY Precisely! They couldn’t even get Avatar across the finish line. It may have made $100 billion, give or take a few zeros, but it lost to a picture nobody actually saw, The Hurt Locker.

FEINBERG I'll tell you who you can thank for that: Cynthia Swartz, the original awards strategist (she was Harvey Weinstein's guru during the boom days of the 1990s). While working for 42West, she orchestrated Summit's campaign for Locker — she got out their screeners at just the right time, among other key moves. Her new company, Strategy PR, is partnering with Fox on Revenant as the advocate for the production company, New Regency. Fox's PR team is very talented, but it primarily focuses on making sure its movies are hits.

GALLOWAY Well, they certainly had a hit with The Martian, and they’ve also got Joy coming up this season, with Jennifer Lawrence, which should be a box-office winner. An embarrassment of riches. Which of course is going to leave them with a bit of a dilemma: Who do they push for what? I wouldn’t want to be in those marketing meetings where one agent is calling, yelling, “What’ve you done for Ridley Scott lately?” and the other one is barking, “How about my man Alejandro G. Inarritu?”

FEINBERG Could be worse. David O. Russell might call himself.

GALLOWAY So Fox has three A-list directors and three major awards movies — but there’s only one best picture Oscar and one best director Oscar. That’s a nightmare for any studio chief. Jim Gianopulos had better take a l-o-o-ng break for Christmas. Because you know what this means? It means that, whoever wins, at least two losers are going to be saying “sayonara" to Fox for a while. Plus, there are problems with each of these pictures that have nothing to do with their quality, which means Fox might end up with no winners at all. Revenant is violent; Martian is sci-fi; and, even though you know I’m particularly fond of David, Joy is coming out awfully late in the game. I wonder if people will get their screeners on time.

FEINBERG Forget about screeners — nobody has even seen it on the big screen. This is weeks later in the year than when Selma first screened last year at AFI Fest, and you may recall how its subsequent bumps-in-the-road were chalked up to the delay in affording people a chance to see it.

GALLOWAY So does that doom Joy's chances, you think?

FEINBERG Ultimately, I think Joy is more immune to those sorts of problems because, unlike Selma, everyone already knows and cares about the people involved — Russell, Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro — and may even get off their butts to see it in a theater, when that option finally becomes available.

GALLOWAY You know where I think the delay is going to have the biggest impact? When SAG-AFTRA unveils its nominations. Didn't its nominating committee begin voting Nov. 18? I guess that means they won’t be able to see it, or will they? How can Joy — or the other two awards hopefuls that haven't yet screened, The Hateful Eight and Star Wars: The Force Awakens — overcome that obstacle?

FEINBERG I'm not sure they can. The SAG-AFTRA nom-com ballots have to be mailed back by Dec. 7, which means there's a very small window in which Joy and those other films can still reach the voters. We just learned today that Hateful Eight will begin screening for the press starting Dec. 1 (under embargo until Dec. 21, which isn't the most promising sign), so The Weinstein Co. is going to try to get in under the wire.

GALLOWAY Then there’s Star Wars, the great white whale of this awards game.

FEINBERG I don’t know if Disney particularly cares about SAG-AFTRA recognition, but I do know that SAG-AFTRA doesn't care enough about Star Wars to push back its voting — unlike the AFI, which postponed voting for the year's top 10 films by nine days so its jury could consider Star Wars.

GALLOWAY At least you could argue, at a stretch, that the SAG Awards nominations aren't make-or-break when it comes to the Oscars, though I do believe the acting members of the Academy are incredibly important.

FEINBERG They’re the largest branch of the Academy, by far — and SAG Awards voting is the best window into their thinking, even if they’re not the same group of voters. Russell and Tarantino both make movies that feature large ensembles and tend to be loved by actors —

GALLOWAY You mean, if they’re not acknowledged by SAG-AFTRA, they might fall out of the conversation?

FEINBERG Both of these directors have done well in the past, so any omission would be doubly noticeable. SAG-AFTRA members nominated Silver Linings Playbook for best ensemble; and they gave their award to American Hustle, just as they did Inglourious Basterds. Then again, if we’re going to dissect things that carefully, Django Unchained came out late and failed to land a single SAG Awards nom — and it still was Oscar-nominated for best picture, with Christoph Waltz winning best supporting actor. This year's SAG Awards noms will be announced Dec. 9.

GALLOWAY An actual result at last? Can’t wait. Given how wide open this race has been, that’ll be the first time we really get to see who’s seriously in the running. So, as voters finish their Thanksgiving turkeys and waddle over to their big-screen TVs, which screeners are they most likely to pop into the DVD player?

FEINBERG A lot of them are going to gravitate toward movies they've heard good things about but wouldn't schlep to a theater to see, because they don’t know their stars, such as Room and Brooklyn. But movies that might have multigenerational appeal — and that would pique the interest of both Grandma and Little Joey — will fare well, too. That could mean anything from Straight Outta Compton to Trainwreck.

GALLOWAY Straight Outta Compton? I bet my grandma would just love it.