Holiday Oscar Parties Shift Into Overdrive With Early Voting Deadlines

Assembly Line of Hors d'Ouevres Feinberg - H 2012

Assembly Line of Hors d'Ouevres Feinberg - H 2012

This story first appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

You're invited to an intimate little cocktail party Dec. 6 at Rupert Murdoch's New York apartment. Well, only if you've been deemed a "tastemaker" who could help Fox's big Oscar contender Life of Pi and its director, Ang Lee, gain momentum in an especially heated awards season. Thanks to strong films and a shift of the start of Oscar voting to Dec. 17 -- the earliest date ever -- distributors are packing in as many parties and screenings as possible before voting ends Jan. 3. That means an early onslaught of bicoastal campaign lunches, dinners and A-lister-hosted screenings. "It's just exhausting," gripes one Academy member of the barrage of parties. "I've stopped going."

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Already this season, IFC Films hosted a Nov. 8 dinner at Circo in New York for On the Road writer-director Walter Salles and stars Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart; Focus Features organized a dinner for Promised Land co-writers/stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski at New York's Atlantic Grill on Nov. 28; and Roadside Attractions toasted Arbitrage star Richard Gere at Pizzeria Mozza in L.A. on Nov. 30. At Universal's Porter House bash Dec. 2 in New York, Les Miserables stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried worked a room full of Academy and Hollywood Foreign Press Association members (Jackman even sang an impromptu "Happy Birthday" serenade to Seyfried for her 27th).

In Los Angeles, New Line's Toby Emmerich celebrated The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with a reception Dec. 2 for Warner Bros. brass and a few journalists at his Beverly Hills home. In London, Angelina Jolie feted pal and The Impossible star Ewan McGregor, while in New York, his co-star Naomi Watts was toasted by Edward Norton, a friend from The Painted Veil (2006). Steven Spielberg took his Lincoln all the way to the White House on Nov. 15 for a VIP screening.

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Campaign events masquerading as studio holiday parties seem to be falling earlier than usual this year. Disney brought Tim Burton (Frankenweenie) and the Wreck-It Ralph and Brave crews to a Nov. 28 reception at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Fox Searchlight held bicoastal holiday celebrations -- at New York's Andaz Hotel on Nov. 27 and at Cecconis in West Hollywood on Nov. 29 -- that seemed to exist solely for press to mingle with talent from The Sessions, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Hitchcock and with Beasts of the Southern Wild child star Quvenzhane Wallis. Meanwhile, in L.A. on Nov. 30, Paramount's holiday celebration at Spago brought out Flight's Denzel Washington and Robert Zemeckis, Not Fade Away star James Gandolfini and The Dictator's Sacha Baron Cohen, among others, plus HFPA president Aida Takla O'Reilly and Academy members Robert Forster, Sally Kellerman and Doris Roberts. (Spotted at the Paramount party: The Guilt Trip star Barbra Streisand noshing on pasta with truffles.)

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The Academy periodically has cracked down on these types of things, if only to maintain appearances. This summer, though, it announced a rule change that effectively turned phase one of the awards season into an unregulated free-for-all while banning parties during post-noms phase two. "It has increased the amount of campaigning prior to the holiday and also the number of events," says one campaign strategist. "But that is helpful in encouraging people to see these films."