Renée Zellweger Solidifies Oscar Frontrunner Status As 'Judy' Premieres in Hollywood

The actress received applause during — and a giant ovation at the end of — the Hollywood premiere of the new film in which she plays Judy Garland.
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Renée Zellweger arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of 'Judy.'

Judy, Rupert Goold's portrait of the last year in the life of Judy Garland, premiered in Los Angeles on Thursday night. The film unspooled at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, and now the belly of the industry knows what Telluride and Toronto film festivalgoers found out weeks ago: Renée Zellweger, who plays Garland, has never been better — and is going to be very hard to beat at the Oscars.

While this was not an official Academy member screening of Judy — those will take place on Saturday night in L.A. (a Q&A with Zellweger, Goold and producer David Livingstone will follow) and on Sept. 25 in New York (Zellweger and Finn Wittrock will be there for a post-screening Q&A) — it was jam-packed with Academy members. Moreover, it was not a coincidence that distributors Roadside Attractions and LD Entertainment wanted the film to play on this screen, which is sandwiched by two giant Oscars — stand-ins, perhaps, for the best supporting actress Oscar that Zellweger won for 2003's Cold Mountain and the best actress Oscar that she is poised to win for this film.

Although I saw Judy less than a month ago, at its world premiere in Telluride, I wanted to see how its biggest moments played with a Hollywood crowd, so I arrived midway through the movie — and encountered Zellweger, who looked stunning, sitting right outside the theater's doors with a friend. I thanked her again for being my guest on the episode of The Hollywood Reporter's 'Awards Chatter' podcast that posted earlier today, and then hustled inside to catch the moment in which her Garland is pushed out on stage while drunk and/or drugged and then gathers herself, as troupers do, and belts out a showstopping rendition of 'By Myself.' (Zellweger does her own singing throughout the film.) As was the case in Telluride and Toronto, the audience erupted into applause at the end of the number.

From that point forward, Zellweger had people wrapped around her finger. There was complete silence, save for a few sniffles, during her big telephone scene near the end of the film (Luise Rainer won the best actress Oscar for a similar one in 1936's The Great Ziegfeld). And, as you can see here, there was a thunderous ovation when the end credits arrived at her name.

When the film let out, attendees made their way downstairs to the lobby, where a buffet supper was laid out, but where, instead of eating, many immediately crowded around Zellweger as original Judy Garland tunes played over the loudspeaker. Zellweger gamely chatted and/or smiled for photos with all comers, including actor Clifton Collins Jr. and Call Me By Your Name producer Howard Rosenman, both Academy members.

Meanwhile, while having a nibble at a nearby banquette, I was joined by and struck up a conversation with a gentleman who turned out to be the actor Warren Berlinger. An Academy member, he told me that he was appearing on the West End in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying when Garland was doing her rocky run at the Talk of the Town (at which much of Judy is set), and he went to see her there one night. On the basis of that, and a subsequent performance of hers that he caught at the Hollywood Bowl, he felt Zellweger nailed Garland and deserves at least a best actress nomination. Bill Goldstein of the music branch, whom I ran into on my way out, seconded that — and said he "loved" the movie, too.

Judy, which now stands at a formidable 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, will open in the U.S. on Sept. 27.