Oscar Contenders Make Final Pitches on Busy Holiday Weekend (Analysis)

Silver Linings Playbook - Bradley Cooper Robert De Niro - H 2013
Courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

With final ballots for the 85th Annual Academy Awards due back to PricewaterhouseCoopers via snail mail, hand delivery or e-vote by 5 p.m. Tuesday, and the Oscars ceremony itself set to take place in Hollywood on Sunday, the holiday weekend offered anxious studios their last opportunity to get their nominees in front of straggling voters and/or to tear down their competitors. Like so many of the weekends leading up to it, it was jam-packed with awards shows and screenings, each of which attracted some of Hollywood's biggest names to appear in front of hundreds of its smallest -- some of whom also get to vote for the Oscars -- each using the other for their own purposes. Such is the awards season. (Of course, we'll never know whether any of this actually impacted the results.)

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On Saturday night, the American Cinema Editors held its 63rd ACE Eddie Awards at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, and the Cinema Audio Society held its 49th CAS Awards at the Millennium Biltmore in Los Angeles. And on Sunday night, the Motion Picture Sound Editors held its 60th Golden Reel Awards at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, and the Writers Guild of America held its 65th WGA Awards simultaneously for its East Coast members at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York and for its West Coast members at the JW Marriott L.A. Live in Los Angeles. (Almost simultaneously, I should say -- the East Coast was running a little ahead of the West Coast, and, thanks to social media, spoiled the suspense for the West Coast.)

At the ACE Eddies, all five best editing Oscar nominees were nominated, four for best edited feature (drama) -- Argo (William Goldenberg), Life of Pi (Tim Squyres), Lincoln (Michael Kahn), Skyfall (Stuard Baird) and Zero Dark Thirty (Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor) -- and one, Silver Linings Playbook (Jay Cassidy), for best edited feature (musical or comedy). Argo maintained its almost-perfect record at the major guild awards by winning the former, while Silver Linings held off Les Miserables to win the latter. Meanwhile, best documentary feature Oscar nominee Searching for Sugar Man (which was edited by its director, Malik Bendjelloul) won best edited documentary (feature) and best animated feature Oscar nominee Brave (Robert Grahamjones and Nicholas C. Smith) won best edited animated feature film.

ACE Eddie presenters connected to this year's Oscar race included best supporting actress nominee Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) and best animated feature nominee Mark Andrews (Brave), while best director nominee David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) cheered Cassidy from the audience. Best director nominee Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) was the recipient of this year's Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award, which was presented to him by his longtime producer, best picture nominee Kathleen Kennedy (Lincoln). During Spielberg's speech, he gave a shout-out to his own editor of 37 years, four-time Eddie winner and current best film editing Oscar nominee Kahn (Lincoln), who received a hearty ovation.

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At the CAS Awards, which honor achievements in sound mixing, three of the five best sound mixing Oscar nominees were in contention for the highest-profile prize, best mixed live-action feature: Argo, Les Miserables and Skyfall. (The CAS did not nominate the other two, Life of Pi and Lincoln.) Les Mis prevailed, as it was widely expected to do, considering that it is a musical featuring songs recorded live on set. (Sound mixers work with sound recorded on set, not sound added in during post-production, which is the terrain of sound editors.) Meanwhile, in the best mixed animated feature category, the winner was Brave, which topped fellow best animated feature Oscar nominees Frankenweenie and Wreck-It Ralph, as well as The Lorax and Rise of the Guardians.

Best supporting actress Oscar nominee and heavy frontrunner Anne Hathway (Les Miserables) was on hand at the event, ostensibly to present the CAS Filmmaker Award to her Rachel Getting Married (2008) director Jonathan Demme, but also no doubt to court the support of the sound mixers spread throughout the room who also belong to the Academy. The only downside to Les Mis winning at the Oscars would be that sound re-recording mixer Greg P. Russell, who is nominated for the 16th time for mixing Skyfall with four-time Oscar winner Scott Millan, would remain Oscar-less.

Also on Saturday night, best supporting actor Oscar nominee Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) hosted SNL; his Django costar Jamie Foxx hosted the show on Dec. 8.

Sound editors had their moment in the sun at the Golden Reel Awards, where there are four categories that honor live-action features. Best sound editing Oscar nominees Life of Pi and Skyfall won two (dialogue and ADR editing and music editing) and one (sound effects and Foley editing), respectively, with the fourth going to the Oscar-snubbed Les Miserables (music editing in a musical). The other three Oscar nominees came up empty: Argo went 0-for-3; Django Unchained went 0-for-2; and Zero Dark Thirty wasn't even nominated in any category. Meanwhile, the award for sound editing of an animated feature went to best animated feature Oscar nominee Wreck-It Ralph. And best animated short Oscar nominee Head Over Heels was recognized with the Verna Fields Award in Sound Editing for Student Filmmakers.

Also at the Golden Reel Awards, best director Oscar nominee Ang Lee was honored with the MPSE Filmmaker Award, which was presented to him by three of his Oscar-nominated collaborators on Life of Pi: best cinematography nominee Claudio Miranda, best film editing Oscar nominee Tim Squyres and best visual effects nominee Bill Westenhofer. Argo's best sound editing nominees Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn also took the stage, presenting a scholarship in memory of a late collaborator.

At the WGA Awards, the presumptive favorites prevailed.

The best adapted screenplay category was populated by four of the five nominees for the same Oscar: Argo (Chris Terrio), Life of Pi (David Magee), Lincoln (Tony Kushner) and Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell), plus The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky), which the Academy replaced with Beasts of the Southern Wild (Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin). In honoring Argo, the WGA overturned BAFTA, which had recognized Silver Linings in this category, but seconded the USC Scripter.

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Meanwhile, the screenplay for Lincoln has yet to win any major accolades since it was awarded the Critics' Choice Award (during a TV break!) on the day of the Oscar nominations announcement over a month ago. We'll never know how much the widely reported criticism of Kushner's script by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) over one minor inaccuracy has hurt its standing with voters; it certainly hasn't helped that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd seconded Courtney's concerns in a weekend op-ed entitled "The Oscar for Best Fabrication" (which also targeted Argo). Kushner did receive some recognition at the WGA Awards when Spielberg presented him with the Paul Selvin Award, which the WGA awards to the script that best embodies the sprit of the Constitution and civil liberties. Spielberg talked up his close collaborator, saying, "He helped me to be a different kind of director than I've been."

The best original screenplay category contained three of the five nominees for the corresponding Oscar: Flight (John Gatin), Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola) and Zero Dark Thirty (Mark Boal), plus Looper (Rian Johnson) and The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson), which the Academy replaced with Amour (Michael Haneke) and Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino), neither of which was eligible for WGA Award consideration. Like the script of Lincoln, the screenplay of Zero Dark Thirty has been plagued by allegations of factual inaccuracy, but, as was widely expected, it was recognized by the WGA, marking its first major award win. It's impossible to know what the result really means, though, in terms of the Oscar race, since it is presumed to be in a tight three-way race with the screenplays of Amour and Django.

The most unexpected campaign stop of all was the opening night of the 8th Los Angeles-Italia Film Fashion and Art Festival on Sunday at the TLC Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman's). The three advertised items on the agenda for the evening were the U.S. premiere of Paramount's Italian-language animated flick Gladiators of Rome 3D; the presentation of the Jack Valenti Legend Award to beloved Italian-American actor Al Pacino; and a big Italian dinner. Despite an excessive number of piano-accompanied introductions that preceded the already-delayed Pacino presentation, the honoree was in good spirits and seemed genuinely touched by the cute presentation of the award by Larry King and Valenti's son, and the warm welcome that he received from the largely Italian-American crowd. He received a lengthy standing ovation when he stood up to accept his award, and the audience stayed on its feet throughout his remarks.

But after Pacino concluded, and just as people were starting to make their way out of their aisles to leave, the emcee quickly grabbed the mic and urged everyone to stick around for another special guest. He began his introduction to the crowd -- which included Crash co-screenwriter Bobby Moresco and actress Ann Dowd -- by saying, "This gentleman got the Oscar for Roberto Benigni, for Gabriele Salvatores, for Cinema Paradiso and for Massimo Troissi ... a person [to whom] Italy really owes something, and this gentleman is called Harvey Weinstein!" Weinstein then proceeded to accept special festival honors on behalf of his film Silver Linings Playbook's best actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence and best supporting actor nominee Robert De Niro, neither of whom was able to attend the event.

Weinstein, the master of awards-campaigning, charmed the crowd while hammering home his film's talking points: "The festival has honored a movie that I was proud to be part of the team on, Silver Linings Playbook. If we're gonna talk Italian, I will tell you that the guy who really loved Italy more than anybody in my sphere was Anthony Minghella, and when he passed away there were a number of movies in the 'cabinet,' so to speak ... This, unfortunately, is the last project of the late, great Anthony Minghella ... He was the one who instigated it at my company."

He continued, "Tonight I'm accepting on behalf of Bob De Niro -- Robert De Niro -- and Jennifer Lawrence for their acting in Silver Linings Playbook ... I know Jennifer probably three years, and she's an astounding girl. I have four daughters, and sometimes she'll say to me that she's the fifth, especially when she wants to get away with something -- and she's good at it, too! She's very loyal to her family, very close to her family ... I'll tell you that they're having their first vacation ever. They never had the money to all go away, and Jen, of course, is gonna take them ... It's her first break, and then the minute the Academy Awards ceremony is over she's gonna go and do re-shoots on the second Hunger Games ... She's touched by the message of this movie, about destigmatizing mental illness. We should all be able to say, 'Hey, I'm depressed' or 'Hey, I have a disorder,' the same way you say, 'Hey, I have diabetes.' It's ridiculous, and if we do that, there'll be less violence in this country and everywhere else. So, on behalf of Jennifer Lawrence ... a big, big hearty thanks."

Then he was on to De Niro: "In this movie, he reminds you that he's one of the greatest actors ever, if not the greatest actor ever. It's been 32 years since Bob won an award -- it's almost an astonishing amount of years. I had Meryl Streep last year with The Iron Lady, and even I felt like, 'When was the last time you won it, three years ago? Five years ago at the latest?' You just think that these guys are up there all the time, but they aren't. It means a great deal to Bob to do this kind of work, your encouragement makes him do this kind of work, and we need Bob De Niro to do more of this kind of work. So, on behalf of Bob De Niro, he is extremely thankful and honored."

Then Weinstein stepped away, and the event seemed to be over once again -- until the emcee introduced Silver Linings Playbook's writer and director Russell, who collected an award of his own that he had apparently failed to claim at the Capri Festival. And then the ceremonies were over. (The festival has since announced that two other associates of Weinstein, through Django Unchained, will be honored on Tuesday evening: Tarantino, with the Original Screenwriter of the Year Award, and Waltz, with the Friend of Italy Award. There will also be a special salute to Franco Nero, the original "Django," who makes a cameo in Tarantino's film.)

When I left the theater and walked out onto Hollywood Boulevard, it looked like a war zone. Preparations were already underway to turn the busy street into the Oscars' secure entryway. Construction workers were setting up massive gates to separate the sidewalks from the street. The bleachers were ready to be unfurled. And the red carpets must have been nearby, set to be unrolled less than a week from now. There is only one other noteworthy awards show between now and then, Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards. And then we will finally learn the answers to the questions so many of us have.

Can Argo hold on to win best picture despite its lack of a best director nomination? Will Spielberg or Lee step in to claim the latter prize? Daniel Day-Lewis and Hathaway may be sure-things for best actor and best supporting actress, but which of the five nominees for best actress and best supporting actor -- all plausible winners -- will end up prevailing? And what of the screenplay and animation categories? The list goes on, but, soon enough, the awards season will not. You can rest assured, though, that the contenders will keep on fighting right up until the clock strikes 5 p.m. Tuesday.