‘Belfast’ And The Ukraine Connection, ‘CODA’s’ Ascension, And How Sam Elliott May Have Just Helped ‘Power Of The Dog’s’ Oscar Campaign – Deadline

A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit. 


I always have begun this column with above line that it is all about “events and conversations on the awards circuit”, but sadly in the past two years the great percentage of those “events and conversations” have moved online into the virtual universe of how we learned to keep the awards machine going, and the industry chugging along, inside a global pandemic that just never seemed to stop. However Sunday night we had a SAG awards show that seemed, well, like a SAG awards show again, and this weekend we return to the tent at the beach for an Indie Spirits awards that hopes to spark memories of the way were in early 2020, the last time it took place there. We also have live Art Directors Guild and ACE Eddie Awards as other early Guild awards ceremonies on Saturday. Q&As have gone back to in person again as the county relaxes Covid rules of engagement, although almost every kudos gathering requires testing either in advance, or on site, as do even moderating Q&As with talent involved. I have been tested so much my nose doesn’t know what a day would be like without a swab rolling around in it. Between today, and Monday’s Oscar luncheon I have five things for which I must submit a negative result. ‘Tis this season, but I have to say it is good to be out and about again with three weeks of this movie awards season to go.


Pete Hammond/Deadline

Just today I was at the Advanced Imaging Society’s 12th Annual Lumiere Awards luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the “geek Oscars” as AIS honcho Jim Chabin called them. It was very well organized and moved along, a nice primer for the tsunami of awards gatherings to come this month. The on-site rapid antigen testing was as efficient as I have seen to date, and as you entered the hotel (I had my mask on) they actually said ‘feel free to wear or not wear your mask’, the early indication of those new less restrictive L.A. County guidelines. I had never been before but “geek Oscars” is an apt description for an awards gathering that honors the technical aspects, visually and audio and all that, of movies. Dune, West Side Story, Nightmare Alley, Encanto and No Time to Die were among the big winners. Adam McKay was there to receive the Voices for the Earth Award for his satirical Don’t Look Up, which is cleverly constructed to also make us think about climate change and the bleak future of the world. Denis Villeneuve, Dune’s director also received the Harold Lloyd Award, with him noting in his acceptance that silent movie star Lloyd was born about the same time as movies were. Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne presented it and showed a cool clip of Lloyd in Girl Shy which, BTW, looked nothing like Dune.

Pete Hammond/Deadline

Highlight of the speeches came from both presenter Patricia Kelly (Mrs. Gene Kelly) and recipient of the inaugural Gene Kelly Visionary Award, Guillermo del Toro. Kelly, whose home is a virtual museum to the career of her late husband, noted she became smitten with del Toro not only after seeing his Oscar winning The Shape Of Water, but before that when she heard one of his most influential and favorite films was the same one as hers during high school, The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Del Toro was his usual charming self during the speech, in which he praised actor/dancer Kelly’s cinematic work both in front of, and especially behind the camera as choreographer and director. Noting that it was wonderful to see people again in person, del Toro got a big laugh when he said “when I first heard about the award I thought maybe somebody had finally seen me dance.”



As in every Oscar year when things start to get serious, and the clock starts ticking, this one is a bit of crazy already. Pundits seem to be throwing out their endless non-scientific predictions after CODA’s triumph at the aforementioned SAG Awards on Sunday not only winning Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur, but the all-telling (?) Outstanding Cast award. Even though the latter has been a correct indicator of the Best Picture Academy Award less than 50% of the time in the last decade or so, suddenly talk is boiling over about the possibility this little movie that could could. Remember it started life absolutely historically sweeping four top 2021 Sundance awards over a year ago, but it hasn’t been considered front runner material – until now that is. To put it on top means you have to throw out the rule book. With only three Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actor (where Kotsur looks like a sure thing), the lack of directing, editing, even a DGA nod, any below the line mentions and all the other indicators pundits suck up like blood to Dracula, the headlines are now proclaiming it could go all the way and become the first streaming movie (Apple has it of course) to win the big one. But before Ted and Reed jump from the roof of their new Hollywood headquarters building why don’t we wait for a little more evidence? When I predicted (correctly) in this column last Friday, even in the headline, that CODA would pull off both of the SAG wins it did indeed get, I wasn’t thinking that was necessarily a complete game changer, as important as hearing from an industry group or guild is in testing the temperature of the water. But here you have it, and with ballots not going out until March 17 (coincidentally on St Patrick’s Day when awards strategists can finally go out and get drunk as the final bell rings), the momentum could shift significantly, and likely will next weekend when DGA, BAFTA, and a very late Critics Choice Awards are all handed out within 24 hours of each other.

All that said, and with Oscar’s consensus-taking ranked method of accounting the Best Picture votes, it does appear to be a year when anything could happen and that makes it interesting. Yesterday one voter called to ask if I thought CODA could actually win, so the possibility is starting to sink in a bit it appears. Another voter, and awards circuit veteran emailed this today: “Ok, maybe first awards in a LONG time where there is total mystery. Any one of Belfast, West Side Story, maybe (The Power of the Dog. I doubt CODA with only three noms, maybe King Richard, though I doubt it. And what is so weird is there is only ONE film that has all the usual indicators and that’s the most divisive film, Dog, that is very unlikely to get any number two votes. So what wins?”

If it is CODA, you will be able to call it Oscar night when the winner is announced for Best Adapted Screenplay. If it were to beat the more favored Dog and Lost Daughter the die is cast. When I picked Green Book to win in 2018, I went also for Original Screenplay and Supporting Actor. I knew when it won screenplay it probably had Best Picture in the bag, and so it did. CODA could pull off almost an identical feat winning those three awards, but remember even Green Book had six nominations overall, plus a DGA nod so it wasn’t in truly new territory like CODA would be should it pull off the now possibly impossible. And don’t forget Apple has the money to seriously play this game.


'The Power Of The Dog' Kirsten Dunst interview


And speaking of the aforementioned The Power of the Dog, the seasonal silly time award of the week goes to Sam Elliott and the overreaction to his rant over the movie on Marc Maron’s podcast. He has lit up twitter and been called everything from “homophobic” to “clueless” but hey it is just an opinion of one Oscar voter who happens to be a star of many a western including new Yellowstone spinoff 1883, and 2019 Oscar nominee for A Star Is Born. Weren’t veteran Academy members Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine similarly vocal about being outraged by Brokeback Mountain’s gay cowboy story?

Sarah Coulter ViacomCBS

Here, in case you are living under a rock, or not digitally tuned in, is what he told Maron: “You want to talk about that piece of sh@t? The ‘evisceration of the American West?’ They made it look like — what are all those dancers that those guys in New York who wear bowties and not much else. Remember them from back in the day? That’s what all these f*cking cowboys in that movie look like. They’re all running around in chaps and no shirts. There’s all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the f*cking movie.” He went on from there, although praising director Jane Campion for her previous films, but upset she (or “that woman”) would shoot an American western set in Montana in New Zealand instead.

Oh well at least we know he is watching his screeners like any dutiful Academy member. I actually think this was good for the movie by inadvertently reminding voters there is a lot of ignorance out there and maybe this fine film, a searing portrait of masculinity among other things, can offer some food for thought. What is it they say, “any publicity is good publicity?” Gotta love Oscar season.


How long ago was it that the architect of the modern Oscar campaign Harvey Weinstein was riding high during every awards season. It was the disgraced mogul’s time to shine. You have to imagine what he might have done with that kind of Sam Elliott publicity for a rival film, eh? In these strange times in which we live however the only thing we are hearing from Harvey is that he allegedly tried to smuggle Milk Duds into his Los Angeles prison cell where he awaits a trial on more sexual abuse charges. He apologized, says he has been a model prisoner, and didn’t mean any harm. It is a long way from the glory days. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.


Focus Features

And all of this is taking place as the world seems to be going to hell. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is dominating the news on an almost 24/7 daily basis on the cable networks. But I as I have watched those horrific scenes, refugees racing to get out with their kids, horror coming to what were normal peaceful neighborhoods, Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast was something that came to my mind immediately. Nominated for seven Oscars including Picture and Director, as well as numerous other awards, this film is a touching memoir of his own childhood where as a 10 year old his and his family’s life was turned inside out during The Troubles, when rioting protestants and Catholics invaded serene neighborhoods and families were being torn apart. It may have been over a half century ago but it shows things haven’t changed a whole lot when we see what is happening to those families in Ukraine. Heartbreaking, and so unnecessary. Well, this week in one of those in-person Q&As I was speaking of, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell moderated a discussion with Branagh and Oscar nominated co-star Ciaran Hinds. Being someone who is reporting on this nightly, it wasn’t surprising to see O’Donnell notice the same correlation.


Here is the portion of the Q&A where he brings it up, speaking about his memories of what was happening in Northern Ireland back then: “This was breaking as a story while I was in high school. By the time I was in college, it was really on the news every night. And it was basically consumed, I think, in the United States the way we are consuming this story from Ukraine tonight. Which is it’s the explosion story, it’s the war or civil war story in some other country. I felt tonight as I just came from the studio doing an hour of that to race over here, that if I had had this job in 1971, this is what I would have been doing tonight, but it would have been Northern Ireland. It would have been how many, what was the body count in Derry after that incident. That’s what we’re doing now in our delivery of that story.

“And also tonight, I have to say, I was thinking about having watched the film Belfast again today for the third time, it was fascinating to watch it today… the last time I watched it was, I don’t know, about 10 or 12 days ago, and it was before the bombs were going off. It was before the explosions, but having spent an hour last night covering literally the very first hour of the invasion, as I watched it today I was thinking, wow, there’s a 9-year-old boy somewhere, in Kiev, or there’s a 9 -year-old girl, or there are these kids, and they will someday write their stories the way Kenneth has written his story. And there is this universality to living under threat, that you lived under. Living under the threat that forces people to leave. And this movie is about that question of leaving. There’s that fabulous line “the Irish were born for leaving.” They’re not the only ones it turns out, right? This story about leaving, everyone is this room who is not a member of a Native American tribe has a leaving story somewhere back there. Somewhere back there. And it was either forced through economic deprivation, or in the case of part of my family, famine, or in the case of others at the point of a gun. Or it was a choice. A choice made for a better life. And I found that from the first moment of watching this movie, that is a universal experience that is not, the Irish don’t own that.”

It is interesting to note that Belfast was written, shot, and released during a pandemic when family connection became something we could no longer take for granted. It seemed timely then. It seems even more timely now. Sometimes films hit the zeitgeist and collide with real life events. For those just now watching Belfast it may, like it did for O’Donnell, strike a very different chord than it did when we first saw it all those months ago in Telluride at the beginning of this very long season. Below is the video of that part of the conversation.


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