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You’ve heard of the auto race, the 24 Hours Of Le Mans? This weekend I attempted something similar for another kind of race, the one to the Oscars. From mid day Saturday thru Sunday night at 9:30pm (with time off for sleep) I ran the awards track from the Shrine in Downtown L.A. for SAG, to the big tent on the beach in Santa Monica for the Indie Spirits, and then to the other side of town in Hollywood at the Ray Dolby Ballroom for Producers Guild Awards (the same location where the season will end in just two weeks at the Oscars Governors Ball). By my count that was 58 winners speeches I heard, and I can’t even begin to count the number of presenter patter intros. Oh and one very loud protester on Santa Monica Beach.

Every year we have a pile up of events leading to the Oscars, precursor ceremonies, festival galas, endless tributes, and adjacent activities, but this lost weekend down the rabbit hole of Hollywood’s Oscar season madness was unique, and uniquely urgent because for the first time three major bellwethers, influencers, however you want to label them, were all happening smack in the middle of the six day period of final Oscar voting. I am not sure how – or who – scheduled it this way, it likely had to do with the industry’s year of strikes, but somehow the often Oscar-prescient PGA and SAG awards were pushed late in season and suddenly were happening a few days after Oscar voting was already in progress (ballots are due tomorrow at 5pm PT). As for the Spirits they got tired of being the ceremony that took place the day before the Academy Awards and moved the show, they specifically told me at the time in 2019, to be more of a part of the Oscar conversation in terms of influence.

(Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Getty Images

So how was the horse race affected this all-important weekend – the last chance to make an impression on Oscar voters (or at least those who haven’t already cast their ballot)? With PGA naming it top film, and a big sweep of three out of five wins at SAG including the prescient Cast win, Oppenheimer adds those victories to its growing list that includes Golden Globes, Critics Choice, BAFTA, and DGA, about as clear an indication it is a runaway front runner, seemingly unstoppable. As one executive tied to a rival Best Picture nominee said upon arriving at PGA, “this is going probably going to be more like a coronation”. The indie Spirits did manage to keep themselves in the conversation with most of their key wins spread among three Oscar nominated Best Picture contenders, Past Lives which took Best Film and Director, American Fiction which took Screenplay and Lead Performance, and The Holdovers which won a leading three awards for Supporting Performance, Cinematography, and Breakthrough Performer. None of those films look likely to topple an Oppenheimer sweep at the Oscars but Universal execs are taking nothing for granted, and as one top level studio exec said walking into PGA, “we just take it all one day at a time”.

Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan onstage at the 35th Annual Producers Guild Awards at the Ray Dolby Theatre on Sunday, February 25, 2024.

Courtesy of the Producers Guild of America

For SAG, which has had an enviable track record of projecting eventual Oscar glory, Saturday night’s show was, according to many pundits, the one that could put it away for Poor Things’ Emma Stone, who after sharing Golden Globe victories with Killers Of The Flower Moon favorite Lily Gladstone (she won Drama, Stone won Comedy), has watched as Stone racked up wins at Critics Choice and then BAFTA (where Gladstone inexplicably did not even get nominated). Well, Jessica Chastain might as well have said ‘not so fast’ when she opened the envelope to reveal Gladstone, not Stone, as the winner for Lead Actress. This one is now back in play all the way until Oscar night. Searchlight’s Matthew Greenfield told me at the Spirits that he still has high hopes for an eventual Stone win. Gladstone, on the other hand, was genuinely surprised and moved by the SAG win when I caught up with her as she entered the after party about an hour and a half after the show ended, trophy in hand and getting lots of congratulations.

Lily Gladstone

Lily Gladstone

Steve Granitz/FilmMagic

SAG also could have foretold an Oscar victory for The Holdover’s Paul Giamatti who had shared Globes glory with Oppenheimer’s Cillian Murphy and then beat him at the prescient Critics Choice. But since then Murphy has won at BAFTA, and now SAG, plus was the only acting nominee to get a 60 Minutes spot shortly before Oscar voting began. As the title star, and playing a real life person, he has other proven Oscar advantages, so now in that race Giamatti, who has been charming and funny on the campaign trail, has lost some momentum. Never say never. It is a very strong category that also includes career-best work from Bradley Cooper, Colman Domingo, and Jeffrey Wright, the latter being the only other Best Actor nominee to score a major win this season by taking lead performance at the Spirits yesterday for American Fiction. He probably said it for a lot of the contenders at this point in the very long loooooong six and a half month official Oscar season, “you go to these awards shows. You get tired of them, and then you win and it kind of changes the vibe!”

Colman Domingo (L) presents Jeffrey Wright Lead Performance at Spirit Awards. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Indeed it does, but I noticed more than ever that “vibe” has been so great this year, so many actors and filmmakers thrilled their strikes are behind them, and as Cooper told me on nomination day that it is a community happy just to see each other and celebrate the work. Certainly that was the vibe I picked up at all these shows this weekend. There was relief there was only a few days to go, and genuine warmth among all those invited to the party. There should be. I had more than one conversation about how great the movies are this year, and I really believe, win or lose, it doesn’t matter because out of a pandemic and the strikes some real sense of nomality has returned.

Sure there is the horse race, always. Who wins, who loses. So what. Saturday night we got to also celebrate Barbra Streisand who received SAG’s Life Achievement Award and gave a rousing speech. Shots to some like Anne Hathaway in the audience showed them full of tears. At the Spirits I ran into Chastain (nominated for Memory) but all she could talk about with a gravelly voice (she wasn’t sure how she lost it) was Streisand and that “vibe” in the room. Memories.

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand accepting the Life Achievement Award at the 30th Screen Actors Guild Awards

Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

And then Sunday night the same “vibe” when Guillermo del Toro so movingly and brilliantly introduced Martin Scorsese who got the PGA’s Life Achievement Award and summed up what being a filmmaker and film lover was really all about, especially as he told how he kissed Elke Sommer, when he found himself a student PGA award winner in 1965, sitting next to her on the dais. You had to be there. I am glad I was. Gail Berman’s impassioned acceptance of the Norman Lear Achievement Award gets a ‘yes’ from me too.

I caught up with Christopher Nolan and his Oppenheimer and Dunkirk star Kenneth Branagh there at PGA, just as Nolan was trying to finish the Chicken Pot Pie. “I guess people don’t really eat at these things,” he laughed. He was in a good mood having returned from Europe where he won the Fellowship honor in London, had a big night at the BAFTAs, and on Friday was in Paris being honored at the Cesar Awards. ‘Tis his season – and well deserved.

British film producer and director Christopher Nolan poses with his trophy after receiving the Honour Cesar award during the 49th edition of the Cesar Film Awards ceremony at the Olympia venue in Paris on February 23, 2024. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP via Getty Images)

Getty Images

I wasn’t the only one doing the weekend’s triumverate. Among others, Beef’s Steven Yeun and Ali Wong were one step ahead but they managed to be the only people to actually win at all three ceremonies, completing a complete sweep of TV awards for the show (and that included as producers at PGA). I was happy to be sitting at the Beef table at Spirits. It was a great seat (usually I am stuck somewhere in the back close to the parking lot). My favorite moment there though was watching Da’Vine Joy Randolph seated at The Holdovers table just behind ours. She had already won Best Supporting Spirit, just as she has done at every single ceremony this year, but it was quite a sight to see complete total joy on her face when young co-star Dominic Sessa won for Breakthrough Performance. Her sheer happiness for him was palpable. Even that lone protester outside the tent with a very loud megaphone couldn’t destroy moments like that.

It was also great at the PGA pre-reception to catch up with Irwin Winkler who told me he was there to “support Marty”. He came for me when I got my award. Of course he has a long history producing for Scorsese, and has total recall of everything. I told he should write another book, but at 92 he says he is too busy, especially in working with Amazon and MGM now that they are joined. He won his Oscar for Rocky in 1976 and recounted all the other nominees just like it was yesterday. He is going to the Oscars this year, but says it will be probably his last time (“unless they give me another one”, he laughed). It turns out he had promised each of his five grandchildren he would take them to the Oscars. He has met the promise for four of them, and now the 15 year old granddaughter is flying in to be his date at the 96th Academy Awards.

Jason Reitman and other directors behind acquisition of Westwood's Village Theater

Jason Reitman and other directors behind acquisition of Westwood’s Village Theater

Alex Berliner

And finally at PGA, I got to congratulate Phil Lord, who with partner Chris Miller, is among the many filmmakers Jason Reitman put together in order to buy the Village Westwood Theatre. He and Miller won Best Animated Film for Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse, but I was happy to see him bonding with Alexander Payne near the Holdovers table there. Payne has said their movie was one of this two favorites this whole year, and then they took a selfie. Payne is also one of the owners of the Village. I don’t there there was a greater moment this season than seeing that photo of all these incredible directors standing in front of the theatre, having saved it (word is one of the bidders wanted to keep the facade of the historical monument but turn it into an office building inside. Yuck). It was an important symbol for the future of movie theatres that really made a strong statement. It also happens to be the theatre where I saw my first movie and got hooked. My mother always said I even learned to read by looking at the marquees of the Village and the Bruin theatre just across the street.

As Lord and I were talking after the show, Nolan and Emma Thomas walked up having just won the evening’s final award. “Hey, there’s my fellow owner, ” he said to Lord, and explained he was so happy to be part of that new Board of Directors that will give this theatre a whole new life.

And with that It was down to the parking garage, the weekend whirlwind over, the race to be continued.

#celeb #celebrity

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