Anything Goes In This Year’s Oscar Race

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of AwardsLine.

With less than a month to go, the stage is set for one of the strangest Oscar showdowns in memory. Certainly the season started with some clear favorites emerging, like Argo at Telluride, Silver Linings Playbook at Toronto, then Lincoln just after the election, followed by Life Of Pi. I thought Paramount’s Flight also might emerge as a major best picture contender around this time, but when critics awards and early nominations for Globes and CCMAs started coming in, it was clear this was mainly just a play for Denzel Washington and John Gatins’ original screenplay. At Christmas time, we got Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, and the hotly anticipated Les Misérables to complete our seven-pack of best picture contenders. What many weren’t anticipating was that two small indie films that made a splash earlier in the year were also going to come in. Beasts Of The Southern Wild managed to hold on to all that momentum from its Sundance debut a year ago, and then Amour took Cannes by storm, winning the Palme d’Or and later travelling on the fall film circuit to Telluride and Toronto. That both were able to cash in that early 2012 awards goodwill and still make Oscar’s list was impressive, especially in the face of one of the most competitive and rich races for the ultimate prize in many years.

So what do we have? It’s as free-wheelin’ a race for Oscar as it can possibly be. Usually at this point, there are one or two strong contenders left in the hunt. Not this year. An argument can be made that, depending where the momentum shifts in the next month, it is almost anyone’s race, at least for best picture. But that also extends to some of the acting races (well, maybe not for you, Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway) and even director, which has been turned on its head by the directors branch, who went their own way in snubbing DGA nominees Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, and Tom Hooper in favor of smaller films from Michael Haneke, Benh Zeitlin, and David O. Russell. At the very least, the directors have upended the race and made it a lot more interesting and less conventional. It is entirely conceivable that the guilds, which most closely reflect the Academy’s sensibilities, will further upend the race. In a year when so many movies are top quality and have their own unique constituencies supporting them, a split vote could produce some very nervous moments on Oscar night and some very unexpected results. Could a popular movie like Argo actually emerge as the best picture champ without winning any other Oscars?

It’s possible—not likely, but possible. Will the directing and picture categories split? Possible. Could Argo win DGA, Life Of Pi win best director at the Oscars, and Lincoln take home best picture? Who knows? It is a year where anything, and I mean anything, can happen.

And then there is the question of the earlier nominating period and online voting. The Academy assured me, perhaps because of all the publicity about snafus in the new voting system, that more members voted this time around than ever before. Will that continue through to the finals, especially now that there is a longer period, six weeks instead of four, between nominations and the Oscar show? Will the method of voting continue to be the story and could it affect the outcome in a razor-thin margin race like this one promises to be?

It has indeed been a rollercoaster ride for Oscar in his 85th year, and I have a feeling he’s got a few more surprises in store for us before this is all over.

Q&A: Kathleen Kennedy On Lincoln

This article appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of AwardsLine.

Kathleen Kennedy has worked with Steven Spielberg for more than 30 years, producing boxoffice successes and critical hits in equal measure. But she says that in all that time, one biographical topic came up consistently in their development discussions: “The subject of Lincoln was something that always fascinated both of us,” she says, noting that their current release took 13 years and multiple iterations to make it to theaters. “We were both really surprised that there hadn’t been more done in cinema (on Lincoln) over the years.” With a script from Tony Kushner, their complex—and occasionally humorous—portrayal of the 16th president’s efforts to pass the 13th amendment in the months before his assassination has already hit $100 million domestically and earned seven Golden Globe nominations. Kennedy recently spoke with AwardsLine about Lincoln’s languid path to production and her new role as president of LucasFilm.

AWARDSLINE: Every film has its own set of rules, but what consistently surprises you or keeps you interested when you’re starting a new project?

KATHLEEN KENNEDY: My tastes tend to be eclectic, so if I’m working on something that’s a small budget where the challenge is in all the nuances of trying to literally get it made, that presents its own set of challenges; if I’m making a big effects-driven studio picture, then it’s really more of managing all the moving parts. For something like Lincoln, we knew that this was going to be a difficult movie to get made, even if Steven Spielberg was directing it. And as you can see on the screen, we had many different partners just in trying to get the movie financed.

AWARDSLINE: Can you explain how that all came together?

KENNEDY: In this day and age, you say that you’re doing a movie about Abraham Lincoln, and nobody necessarily sees the opportunity for making lots of money—it’s not like doing Jurassic Park. So that’s something we knew going in, and we began to explore the options of who might step in and share the risk of making the film. It ended up taking almost a year before we put together the necessary partners. Stacey Snider was very involved at DreamWorks in really pulling most of that together while we were making War Horse. And when we came back, we went immediately into prepping Lincoln. I had already had many conversations with everybody in Virginia about being able to use the government buildings in Richmond while they were out of session. That, I knew early on, was going to dictate our shooting schedule. That gave us a goal in terms of knowing when we had to have the financial partners in place.

AWARDSLINE: Was there ever any other actor during this 13-year process of getting Lincoln made that you considered for the title role?

KENNEDY: It’s been in the press that we had conversations with Liam Neeson—this is after Daniel (Day-Lewis) had turned the movie down the first time. And once Tony (Kushner) wrote the script, and Daniel had a chance to read that draft, that’s when he turned around and committed to the project. But the only serious conversation we had with any other actor was with Liam.

AWARDSLINE: A lot has been written about Steven’s almost Method approach to working with the actors on set. Can you talk a little bit about that aspect?

KENNEDY: What was really going on was that Steven recognized very early that this was going to be a movie where it was all about what was going on in front of the camera. It was a movie that was focused predominantly on performances. He didn’t want an environment where there was a lot of chit-chat and conversations going on about what was happening behind the camera or just the kind of socializing that tends to go on when you’ve got a lot of down time. And this was a movie where there was virtually no downtime. There was always focused discussion on what was going on within the scene and within the performances, and conversations with the actors because we have in excess of 149 speaking parts (with) fairly complicated wardrobe and hair and makeup. Steven wanted to know as soon as the actors were ready and on the set, (so) he would be ready to start shooting and take full advantage of the time he had. What’s really interesting about any movie I’ve done with Steven (is) we usually adopt a kind of attitude depending on what the movie is. The closest experience I’ve had was working with Clint Eastwood. I’ve made a couple of movies with Clint, and he runs a set in a similar way. In large part, that comes from the fact that he is an actor, and it’s always the most important thing to Clint that when the actor arrives on the set, things are immediately quiet, and the focus turns to those performances. And that’s exactly what Steven did on this set.

AWARDSLINE: You’re stepping into the role of president of LucasFilm at a time when it’s being acquired by Disney. How will that affect your producing duties? You have a lot of work on your plate.

KENNEDY: (Laughs.) Yeah, it’s a lot on my plate, but it’s been fantastic. I consider it such an honor that George (Lucas) came to me after all these years and asked me if I would take over the company and ensure that his legacy continued. There’s going to be a lot that looks really fun and interesting, and it will still utilize many of the skills that I use as a producer. I don’t envision that a lot will change that dramatically. Many of the movies that I did with Steven over the years involved carrying through a lot of other areas of the business of making movies, and that’s something that I’ll probably end up doing more of. But I’m finding out what the job is right now.

Q&A: Jeff Skoll And Jim Berk On Participant Media

Mike Fleming Jr. is Deadline’s film editor. This article appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of AwardsLine.

While it’s typical for film directors to build their careers on their mastery of particular genres and themes, few producers approach their work with a specific angle. But Participant Media’s founder and chairman Jeff Skoll and CEO Jim Berk are taking the road not taken by many studios when it comes to shepherding great cinema: Financing and developing socially conscious films geared toward adults, titles that are bolstered by their advocacy campaigns. Following Skoll’s success as eBay’s first president and full-time employee, Participant enabled his dream to create stories that would enlighten viewers to the globe’s most daunting issues. Berk, the former CEO and president of Hard Rock Café, continues to extend Participant’s financial arm and its brand with, a social-action website. Skoll has served as executive producer on 41 films that have collectively received a total of five Oscars and 22 noms, and this year Participant is back in the awards conversation with three contenders: Lincoln, Promised Land, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

AWARDSLINE: When Participant gets involved in a movie, what sort of input do you seek out? Do you consider yourselves to be creative producers?

JEFF SKOLL: It depends on the film. In some cases, it’s our idea, it’s our development. In a film like Contagion or Waiting for Superman, they all started with an idea on the blackboard, and at that point you bring in the people. And then there’s some like Lincoln where you really defer to the creative.

JIM BERK: And then there are others like Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or The Help. We were involved in the early days of investing, when the script was in early form, and so we were part of that process all the way through. Where we were able to really play an active role in Lincoln was in positioning the marketplace around ingenious folks that would be useful in putting this film into the zeitgeist.

AWARDSLINE: Jeff, you made your fortune when eBay went public, and then you devoted yourself to using your money as a force for change and exposing global issues. What initially led you to see Hollywood as an effective outlet for something like this?

SKOLL: Well, it started as a kid. I read a lot of books that made the future world seem like a scary place with terrible weapons, diseases, and wars. I wanted to be a writer to tell stories that would get people interested in the issues that affect us all, but I didn’t want to make a living as one, so I decided to get to a point where I could afford to write these stories, so I became an entrepreneur. And lo and behold with eBay, all of a sudden I had far more resources than I ever would have dreamed of, and a light bulb went off that I didn’t necessarily have to write the stories myself—I could find writers to do that, and I could get those stories in film and TV and other forms of media. That’s how Participant was born. And in 2003, I went around L.A. with the idea, trying to understand if anybody had done this before, and if so, how? Most people were pretty skeptical about an outsider coming in to tell stories and make movies in Hollywood. But I would ask everybody that I was talking to, whether it was a writer or a director or an agent or a banker in the film industry, what they were proud of over the course of their career, and invariably, it turned out to be a project about an issue that they cared about.

Alan Horn, who was president of Warner Bros. at the time, understood the concept immediately. We made our first three movies with them: Good Night and Good Luck, Syriana, and North Country. Those films broke through with the idea of what we were trying to do and the fact that I wasn’t just trying to write checks but was trying to make a difference with the films.

AWARDSLINE: Let’s look at the Participant films that are in the Oscar conversation. What swayed you in each case to want to be involved? We’ll start with Promised Land.

BERK: When Matt (Damon) and John (Krasinki’s) draft came into us midway through the process, the setting was about a few issues that were the primary focus of the company. We’ve done four films with Matt—he’s a partner that we really are attracted to. We looked for three things: Commercial reliability, social relevance, and quality. Given the cast and the distributor in place as part of the whole package—and the issues looked impactful to small towns—it became a perfect film for us to be involved in. The issue comes first. There has to be a tangible issue that affects millions today where the film can make a difference for those people. It’s not our role to tell people what to think, but it’s to put these issues into the zeitgeist and give them information to think about it. So when we look at material, the purpose is ultimately a role of peace and sustainability, but it has to be done around empowering people with information and ways to get involved. Whether they choose the left or the right or somewhere in between, we have to trust that they’re fully empowered, and they’ll make the right decisions.

AWARDSLINE: From that same vantage point, what about Lincoln? You’re looking back at a period in history. How did this fit into your criteria to get involved in this?

SKOLL: It’s really about a divided country and leadership to get through it: Civic engagements, dealing with complex issues, and getting to a point where you can actually move things forward. (When) I read the script, and the book beforehand, it made it seem, even a few years ago, (like) such a resonant issue in this country.

BERK: When we had the opportunity to become involved with this, the election and these surrounding issues were really setting this particular story’s tone. It’s pretty unique when you think about how we’re having this conversation today with a lame-duck congress that’s struggling with a very large issue and the president needing to reach out across his own party in order to carve out a deal that would allow the country to move forward. Obviously, it’s not at the same impact in terms of the specific task at hand as maybe President Lincoln saw, but, nevertheless, it’s pretty weird how it’s actually duplicating something that exists today.

Q&A: Tony Kushner on Lincoln

Mike Fleming Jr. is Deadline’s film editor. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Whittling down the 56-year life of a landmark U.S. president to a feature-length screenplay is a daunting task, and playwright Tony Kushner initially turned down the offer to adapt Abraham Lincoln’s story for the big screen for Steven Spielberg, even after their Oscar-lauded collaboration on 2005’s Munich. But if there’s one writer who can effectively generate emotional drama against a political venue, it’s Kushner, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning seven-hour-long Angels in America play dramatized the AIDS crisis amidst the complex attitudes of Reagan-era times. While length worked in Kushner’s favor during Angels, on Lincoln it was the rock that he pushed up a hill. But after conferring with Spielberg, Kushner soon found the cornerstone that would condense his first 500-page draft down to a 150-minute film: Lincoln’s political fight to get the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution pushed through Congress while the Civil War lingered.

AWARDSLINE: What was the biggest challenge you had in terms of focusing on a part of Lincoln’s life and keeping this feature length?

TONY KUSHNER: It very easily could have been a miniseries. There were a lot of challenges in that regard. It was just an astonishing amount of really incredibly dramatic historical material. By the time I finished doing my research, I could pretty much make a miniseries out of any weekend Lincoln was in the White House. And I know that is not in any way an exaggeration. More than any other moment in American history, (the Civil War) is a gathering of all our country’s central themes. My goal from the beginning was to not make a bare-bones outline of life in his administration. I wanted it to be a drama dictated by the working out of contradictions and conflict rather than a faithful recounting of all the high points in Lincoln’s life. It was very important that we not try to cover too much terrain, rather dramatize it in a small moment. The expanse of time itself defuses a certain amount of dramatic tension.

AWARDSLINE: Why didn’t you say yes to Lincoln right away? Was Munich a tough one to crack as well?

KUSHNER: Not at all. I really loved working with Steven on Munich, and it was hard in certain ways, but I just thought, “How do you write a character named Abraham Lincoln with anything other than an immortalization that you know? And who’s going to play him? And is Daniel Day-Lewis available?” I was told that he wasn’t interested in playing Abraham Lincoln at that point, and it just seemed like it was fraught with sandtraps and pitfalls and improbabilities. I feel even more strongly now than I did six years ago that Lincoln is one of the personalities like Mozart or Shakespeare—real genius is a word that I don’t use loosely or lightly—somebody who is capable of things that are actually beyond great. If you set your goal as explaining what they did and how they did it, the minute you’ve succeeded in doing that you’ve failed because you couldn’t possibly have gotten it right. You can’t explain how Mozart wrote Don Giovanni or how Keats wrote To a Nightingale or how Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity. If we could figure it out, we could do it. Lincoln is, without any question, the greatest political leader this country has ever had but also one of its greatest writers. And, according to pretty much all accounts, a rather astonishing human being.

AWARDSLINE: What was the most frustrating part of the six years you worked on the Lincoln script?

KUSHNER: The first two years were spent around the fall of 1863, which is when Salmon Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, began to really openly campaign for the Republican nomination again with Lincoln. I was going to start there and go through the end of April of ’65. I wrote about 100 pages and got as far as Dec. 25, 1863. I thought, “OK, there has to be some way to condense this material.” Every time I tried, I wound up pretty much around the same thing. I don’t think I ever got into 1864. And there’s a vast amount of stuff that happened in 1864 that you just couldn’t skip over. Steven was waiting and I said to him, “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t how to make this a feature-length film.” I was hoping he would say “Well, let’s do it as a miniseries,” but he wanted to do it as a feature-length film. So during the writers’ strike when I wasn’t writing, I put it away, and I had my suspicion that something happened because as soon as our strike was over, I called Steven and asked, “What are we going to do? Shall we just drop this?” And he said, “Why don’t you come up and talk about it? We’ll talk through all of the material and see if we can figure something out.” Two days before I was to go see him, I had a little eureka moment and thought in the last four months of Lincoln’s life there were several immensely dramatic incidents. I went to L.A. with the outline, which Steven thought was still long. I started condensing it and didn’t get very far, so I just took a deep breath and started writing in May of that year, then worked for about eight weeks and produced a 500-page first draft. At some point we eliminated a couple of months and started focusing on the beginning of the end. What Steven was caught up in from the very beginning was the battle behind the scenes for the 13th Amendment. And the more I worked on it, the more I realized that in a way, without any stretching of history, it is a kind of perfect microcosm of what Lincoln contended with during the entirety of the war.

AWARDSLINE:When you turned Angels in America into this big HBO project, was that 500 pages, more or less?

KUSHNER: Angels was probably less than that because it’s seven or eight 60-page scripts. I don’t remember. But I think that we figured out that if Lincoln was a miniseries, it would have been about 10 hours.

AWARDSLINE: What quality allows you to spend six years on a project like this?

KUSHNER: It takes me a very long time to get ready to write and feel ready to write, after which I’m pretty fast. One of the things I love about my job as a playwright or as a screenwriter is that I get to do a lot of research and a lot of thinking and taking a lot of notes before I turn it in. It is a long time to spend on a screenplay. I certainly spent at least that much time on Angels. Most of my plays have taken two or three or four years. But it sort of takes the time it takes. I had never intended to write anything about Abraham Lincoln, so this kind of came out of nowhere for me. I knew that I was going to be handing over a good portion of my adult life to this and that it was going to be tricky.

AWARDSLINE: Was there anything you learned from working with Spielberg on Munich that prepared you to take on something like this?

KUSHNER: Certainly. When I did Angels in America with Mike Nichols, I’d never written a screenplay, I’d never been on a film set before. Mike gave me some incredibly valuable lessons in how to work on a screenplay, and I learned an enormous amount from Steven in terms of screenwriting. I sat behind him the entire time we did Munich, so by the time we were done, I felt I had really learned a lot. I think there’s a certain way in which Munich and Lincoln are connected in that both are sort of about due process and legal versus nonlegal means of getting what you want. Munich asks some questions that needed to be asked and always need to be asked about a policy of targeted assassination for the national and international context. And Lincoln is an investigation. It seemed to me that in a couple of ways the story of his battle for the 13th Amendment in January of 1865, there was a story about legal and quasi-legal manipulations that he felt were necessary to get what he needed. I see no evidence that Lincoln really strayed over the line into illegality. There are a lot of people who criticize him for martial law and for suspending habeus corpus and closing down newspapers. He made some tough decisions, and there was certainly no question that had he lived, the courts would have had a field day. But he struggled a lot because the Constitution doesn’t define war powers: You have them but (it) doesn’t say what they are.


Q&A: Steven Spielberg on Lincoln

Mike Fleming Jr. is Deadline’s film editor. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Steven Spielberg would like to dispel a few rumors about the kind of set he ran for his latest film, Lincoln. Yes, it’s true that star Daniel Day-Lewis remained in character even when the cameras weren’t rolling, and his sole contact on the set was the director. However, Spielberg himself did not have his costume designer dress him in period-appropriate attire every day—he simply wore a jacket and tie. And although the director admits that there weren’t many visitors to the set, perhaps helping to create the perceived mystique, the intimate nature of the production stemmed more from a sense of pride and respect over its main character than anything else. “Lincoln has not been honored in a dramatic motion picture for 72 years,” says Spielberg, adding that Raymond Massey was the last actor to play the 16th president on the big screen. That attention to detail and reverence for his subject matter has paid off in boxoffice, earning more than $86 million domestically at press time, as well as plenty of Oscar talk. Spielberg recently took time to discuss how he got his first choice of actor for every part and how he and screenwriter Tony Kushner found the right angle to tell the story properly.

AWARDSLINE: It seems unusual that the most successful director in Hollywood would require as long a courtship as you waged to get Daniel Day-Lewis to play Lincoln. How did you finally convince him?

STEVEN SPIELBERG: Daniel had about six years to think about it from the first time I offered him not this Lincoln, not the Tony Kushner-written Lincoln, and not the Lincoln written from Doris (Kearns Goodwin’s) book, but an original Lincoln script that I developed. After turning me down to play the character, I don’t think he ever forgot our encounter. What really did the trick was when he read the Tony Kushner script, and I was able to get a take two, because my good buddy Leo DiCaprio simply called him up one day and said, “You need to reconsider this. Steven really wants you for this, and he’s not willing to make the movie without you.” So Daniel, based on Leo’s phone call to him, offered to read the Tony Kushner script, which he had never read, and also the Doris Kearns Goodwin script, which he had never read. That was the beginning, and I think that’s when the courtship was over. Once he read the script, then he really had to come to terms with the big decision he would eventually have to make, which was, “Can I, with honor, equip this character in a way I’ll be able to live with the rest of my life?”

AWARDSLINE: Have you ever put in as much time convincing an actor to make one of your movies?

SPIELBERG: Never. I’ve never gone on a campaign to get (an actor). I pretty much took no for an answer. It’s one of the few times in my entire life where I was not willing to accept that answer. When he eventually said he would play Abraham Lincoln, the only caveat was he asked me to wait a year. Some of that was because he was sorting out his physical location, where he was living, between Ireland and then eventually he was going to move back to New York, but a lot of it was I think he wanted to really go deep into his own research. And I needed that year too, even though I was ambitious enough to jump into the picture four months after he said yes. We spent a lot of time on the script, and it gave me a year to cast the picture, which means I got all of my first choices. No filmmaker ever gets their first choices consistently, but by waiting a year, I was able to wait for actors to free themselves up for this one.

AWARDSLINE: Describe that eureka moment, if you remember it, where you found that kernel that became this terrific movie?

SPIELBERG: We were trying to tackle the last three years of the president’s life, which is the experience that the senators and representatives had, and that the president and his cabinet had. They didn’t see the action; they weren’t in the battlefields. Lincoln visited the troops, but he didn’t do it with the frontline, except once, and we depict that at the end of our picture. This was going to be a story of his last three years, but the script was 550 pages long. For me, the most compelling part of that screenplay was a 65-page section, which was the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. That section is where I stood up and said, “That’s it, that’s our story, that’s our film.” There were so many bullet points in Lincoln’s life that actually the more we spread that out over 550 pages, the (more) superficial his character seemed to feel. Once we focused everything on two great issues—the passage of the 13th Amendment and the Civil War—everything got a lot more concentrated and a lot more focused.

AWARDSLINE: When you have a great actor like Daniel Day-Lewis, how hands-on do you get?

SPIELBERG: Very hands-on, which is what I do, and it’s also what Daniel requires. He is very collaborative. You talk to the directors who have directed him before, from Scorsese to P.T. Anderson—he is an extremely collaborative actor, and the director is his only point of contact on an entire production. We were there for each other from the very beginning, and we spent three and a half months in active conversation, from the smallest moments to large pieces of history.

AWARDSLINE: What was most important to you and Sally Field about the way Mary Todd Lincoln was conveyed?

SPIELBERG: We wanted to be fair. We’ve all read different accounts of Mary and what her condition might be defined as in modern medicine. We knew one thing that everyone could agree to, and that is that Mary was the engine of Lincoln’s ambition. Without Mary, Lincoln would have probably taken his losses. When he lost the senate to Stephen Douglas, he probably would never have imagined that he could go for the highest office in the land. It was Mary that supplied the motor that put Lincoln in a direction with his own destiny. He looked to her as a guiding force, a light, also as damaged goods. He knew when she was being rational and politically savvy, and when she was being emotionally irrational. He would just sit with her for hours and let her vent until she came out of a fog. In that sense, he had so many burdens during his presidency.

AWARDSLINE: I read that you addressed your actors by their character names throughout and retained a feeling of period all the way through. It almost sounds like a Method set. How and who did this help?

SPIELBERG: It helped me, principally, because I took this very seriously. We were playing with one of the most beloved—and mysterious—characters in American history. It doesn’t have anything to do with Method, it has to do with authenticity and having the actors come to work in the morning and feeling a bit like stepping back into time.

AWARDSLINE: You worked on this film for so long—have you ever had a project that’s taken this long for the pieces to fall into place the way they have here?

SPIELBERG: Schindler’s List took 12 years between the time Sid Sheinberg purchased the film rights to the book by Thomas Keneally in 1982, and I began shooting the film ’93, so that was 11 years. I bought the film rights to Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in 1999, which Doris was just beginning to write. So to answer your question, you’re right. This is the longest.

AWARDSLINE: You skipped releasing this movie during the election because you said you didn’t want this to be a political football. Now it comes out amidst these contentious partisan battles to stave off the debt cliff. What qualities about Lincoln would you most hope to convey to these folks who find it so hard to agree on anything?

SPIELBERG: Lincoln’s leadership is based on a number of precepts, but my favorite one is that he acted in the name—and for the good—of the people. In that sense, the two great things he did at the end of his life—to end slavery, peace for the Civil War—was for the good and in the name of the people. And he put people ahead of politics, although he was artful in using politics to be able to accomplish his task.

Q&A: Tommy Lee Jones On Lincoln

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of AwardsLine.

This year’s most anticipated Tommy Lee Jones performance was expected to be in his long-awaited return to the Men in Black franchise, but that actually turned out to be his least interesting part. The reliable veteran star, who won his one and only Oscar nearly two decades ago for chasing Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, has enjoyed a year full of unexpected acting pleasures. After MIB3, he starred in a rare summer adult comedy opposite Meryl Streep and won praise in Hope Springs as a long-married man whose wife wants to add sexual sparks to their relationship. He could earn a Golden Globe nom for best actor in a comedy or musical for that film, plus a second supporting actor nom for his sensationally entertaining turn as Senator Thaddeus Stevens in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. That one has also brought him back as a frontrunner in the Oscar race, too. These are good times for Jones, who as usual is focused on the work and rather blasé about all the awards buzz.

AWARDSLINE: What appealed to you about playing Thaddeus Stevens?

TOMMY LEE JONES: Steven (Spielberg) sent me the screenplay, asked if I would read it and consider the part of Thaddeus Stevens. I read the screenplay, loved it, and was fascinated with Stevens. I called him back and said, “This is a very fine undertaking, and it would be my good luck if I had a chance to work on it.”

AWARDSLINE: Were you aware of Stevens in any way before you started researching the role?

JONES: I knew that there was a radical abolitionist in Congress in 1865 named Thaddeus Stevens—that’s about all I knew. But I was fascinated to learn the details of his life and become more aware of what it took to pass that amendment.

AWARDSLINE: What surprised you about Stevens when you got deeper into the research?

JONES: There were a lot of surprises about Thaddeus Stevens that are not in this movie. I wasn’t so much surprised but very interested to learn that he was to some degree a professional radical. His early years in Congress were dedicated to defeating the Masons. His idea was that they shouldn’t be in government because their loyalty would be divided, that they would be more loyal to their cult. And that leaves George Washington right out, buddy. (Laughs.) But he made a lot of political hay, battling this specter of Masonry. He worked very hard to run a railroad through western Pennsylvania, a place where you wouldn’t put a railroad, unless you owned an iron mill, and thought you could make some money if you no longer had to haul your product out with wagons and mules. So he had some pork-belly campaigns on his own behalf. I learned that he was an inveterate gambler. He loved to bet on horses. He even bet on his own elections! He bet on himself to win his own elections and made money doing it! (Laughs.) And that housekeeper wasn’t the only woman in his life. There are a lot of fascinating things about Stevens that aren’t necessarily relevant to the movie, but help you make decisions when you’re deciding what to do as you play a character. This makes the character fuller.

AWARDSLINE: How did you prepare to play him? The wig was interesting.

JONES: Preposterous wig! We hired a wig maker and told him not to do too good a job. If you look at pictures of Stevens, it is a ridiculous wig.

AWARDSLINE: Was there a rehearsal process?

JONES: The first thing you do is rehearse the blocking. When you know where you’re going to be, then you can go back to a trailer or a dressing room and adjust your prep to the physical reality. The actors I was working with didn’t really require a lot of rehearsal. They were thoroughly prepared and knew what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. All we had to do was just adjust to where we were going to do it. And these kinds of actors are adjustable.

AWARDSLINE: What is it like working opposite Daniel Day-Lewis when he just becomes Lincoln?

JONES: His Lincoln is believable and embodies all the characteristics that we admire about Lincoln. I was relieved—gratified, is the only word—to see Lincoln as a real country boy. Not just a bumpkin, but a guy from the country. He’s not real comfortable in town. A brilliant lawyer, self-educated, (an) insightful poet—a man capable of unthinkable self-sacrifice. To see all that rendered real, as opposed to the Lincoln on the penny or the Lincoln on the monument—none of those Lincolns. We’re talking about a real man here.

AWARDSLINE: What was it like to work with Steven Spielberg?

JONES: He’s been part of movies that I’ve worked on. I’ve never been one of his actors, in a movie that he directed. I was very pleased to see him have so much fun. He was very happy on that set. All of the tasks that arise in the course of making a film were a joy to him. None of it was confusing to him or frustrating. You always worry, but he was always, from where I stood, having fun, and that’s so important.

AWARDSLINE: Do you learn from the directors that you work with, things that you want to do on your own movies?

JONES: Every one of them. You are either learning what to do or what not to do. You’re either learning how to do it or how not to do it. And that’s all good.

AWARDSLINE: You’re directing a new film, aren’t you?

JONES: Homesmen. It’s about events that surround the Homestead Act, the middle of the 19th century, and in the Nebraska Territory. Right now, we are scheduled to start shooting on March 17. That might be adjusted a little bit, one way or the other. I need some partially melted snow, and I need some grass. So you have to pick just the right window and get lucky.

AWARDSLINE: What makes you want to take on a role these days?
What’s the key ingredient?

JONES: You look for a good screenplay, a good director—you’re pretty well assured he’ll be prepared—a good cast. Personally, I look for an exotic, happy, wonderful location that my wife and daughter and son will want to visit, so they’ll want to come see me. And you look for a good business deal. There’s a lot of factors that come into play.

Q&A: Sally Field On Lincoln

David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of AwardsLine.

No actress has matured before our eyes the way Sally Field has. Appearing on the scene first as a perky ingénue in two 1960s TV series—Gidget and The Flying Nun—she made an unexpected dramatic breakthrough in Sybil (1976), a made-for-TV movie that brought the genre newfound respect. From there it was a relatively short hop to her first Oscar, as an unlikely union leader in Norma Rae (1979). Then—for a good decade and a half—Field appeared in consistently solid material, including playing a single-minded reporter opposite Paul Newman in Absence of Malice (1981) and Tom Hanks’ redoubtable mama in Forrest Gump (1994). Then, after a period out of the limelight, she reemerged on TV in 2006 to lead the Walker clan for five seasons on Brothers & Sisters. Earlier this year she played Aunt May in The Amazing Spider-Man, Sony’s reboot of its lucrative franchise. And now she claims her biggest—and most important—role in at least 20 years, as the mentally unstable wife of our 16th president in Steven Spielberg’s epic Lincoln, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the great man.

AWARDSLINE: What appealed to you about playing Mrs. Lincoln?

SALLY FIELD: What doesn’t? I’d been looking out for her for a long time. She is one of the most underexamined, misunderstood, maligned, yet important women in American history. Had there not been a Mary Todd, there would not have been an Abraham Lincoln. She found him early on, and she was ambitious. She always said she was going to marry the president. She recognized his genius and said, “He’s the one. I will marry him, and he will be president.” She honed him. She was always his closet confidant—until they got to the White House. She was highly complicated but a very necessary and important part of his life. So, yes, she was someone I wanted to play.

AWARDSLINE: You had to fight to land this role. Why?

FIELD: It was the way things needed to happen. Steven was interested in me doing it long ago. Writers came and went, until we got Tony Kushner’s exquisite script, which is poetry, really. Finally, Daniel was on board. But Steven didn’t feel I was right any longer. He tested me, which I asked for, and that didn’t seem to go too well. Yet (even) though he didn’t think I was right, he couldn’t let go of me. I suspect it was Daniel who insisted Steven had to see us on film together to know for sure. So Daniel, being the generous person that he is, flew in from Ireland to L.A., just for the day. And Steven, Daniel, and I had a magical afternoon in which we did some improv in the roles. Then, when I was on my way home, Daniel and Steven together called me, asking me to be their Molly (Lincoln’s nickname for his wife).

AWARDSLINE: How did you arrive at your conception of Mrs. Lincoln?

FIELD: I did all the research I could. I read five credible biographies. One, Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton, became my bible. I took it all in, all her documented actions—what she had done and said and her childhood—so I could piece together a psychology. I even visited her home. I tried to see the authentic collections of Mary Todd memorabilia. Then I began to create the exterior, with costumes. To match her measurements, I put on 25 pounds, because we know Mary’s waist size. The costumes were absolutely authentic. You do your work. I worked almost 50 years to be able to do this. Having those pieces of her life and your own life, you put it together. And then you walk on the set and do it.

AWARDSLINE: What was it like working with Steven Spielberg, and what kind of direction did he give?

FIELD: He set up an environment that was the most divine way to work. He allowed us this space. He allowed the crew to understand the actor’s process. I am a Method actor. I try to keep this world going as much as I can. We weren’t called in early to the set. We were called in just as they were ready to shoot. I never had a sense of the crew, and Steven never left the set. And he would let us move around. We wouldn’t even say the dialogue. It was what we did, walking this way and that. And then we shot it. Steven was very much a part of the scene. He would shepherd it, whispering provocative things in my ear. There were not a lot of takes. He would say hugely interesting things. Even if I could remember what he said, I wouldn’t tell you. It’s mine to keep. It was intensely intimate with the three of us.

AWARDSLINE: You’ve got some wonderful scenes opposite Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones. How did they unfold?

FIELD: We just did them. Obviously, some scenes are more challenging because they are so deeply emotional. But we rehearsed those the least. We rehearsed practically nothing. It was all challenging and not challenging at all. I don’t know. The carriage scene, which is one of my favorites, we only shot that twice—maybe three times. I wanted to do it more just because I loved it so much. I wanted to do it till the day I died. But we did it very few times, because we lost the light.

AWARDSLINE: You’ve been twice nominated for Oscars and won both times, so you’re batting .1000. Are you getting your hopes up about another victory?

FIELD: Well, that’s very generous—I’m incredibly flattered—but, no. I’ve been around long enough to know what really matters to me. I want to do that carriage ride again and again. The kind of text that Tony Kushner wrote, the kind of talent both in front of and behind the camera, to have the stewardship of a master like Steven Spielberg—if I could have that ever again, that’s what I want.

AWARDSLINE: How did your previous Oscars change your life?

FIELD: I don’t think about that. I’m sure they affected my career in some way, but I don’t know how. My whole life has affected my career, because that’s what actors do: Your whole life informs your work. What you do and how you live—all that goes into your performances. Louis Armstrong said you have to live a life. And that’s right. If you don’t live a life, you don’t got nothin’ to come out your horn. Your accumulated life is what you bring to these roles.

Veteran Supporting Actresses Could Dominate The Newcomers

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of AwardsLine.

A strong set of previous Oscar winners could annihilate the chances for a promising group of newcomers who are hoping for their first nomination in the supporting actress category. Sally Field, Helen Hunt, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Nicole Kidman, Frances McDormand, Shirley MacLaine, and Susan Sarandon—not to mention three-time nominee Amy Adams—all shine brightly in their respective films. So will the veterans, who have successfully played this game before, dominate the field (as they are threatening to do in the corresponding male supporting category) or can a new class break through and triumph? And then there is the case of Les Misérables:Universal started screening the film Thanksgiving weekend and will continue through its Christmas Day release. It offers strong female roles to at least four actresses who could fill a category all by themselves. Can Les Mis be the first movie since Tom Jones in 1963 to nab three supporting actress nominations all for itself? It’s the stuff that makes the Oscars so damned interesting. Here are the contenders.


The two-time best actress winner (Norma Rae, Places in the Heart) and three-time Emmy winneris now 66 and actually insisted on being tested for the role of Mary Todd Lincoln, which she says she knew would be hers even though Steven Spielberg said it wasn’t to be. She proved him wrong, and voters might really respond to Field’s pluck in landing the role and bringing it on in a series of emotional scenes opposite Daniel Day-Lewis. Will Oscar like her, really like her, a third time?

Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Les Misérables.
Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Les Misérables.


As Fantine, Hathaway has been out front ever since Universal began releasing snippets of her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” one of the signature songs in the Les Mis score. The role just has the smell of Oscar all over it, plus she’s got that deglammed down-and-dirty look, but will competition from three other women in the cast lessen her chances or can she rise to the top?


Hunt reveals all physically and emotionally as the sex surrogate who offers her professional services to a man in an iron lung who longs to be deflowered at the age of 38. Hunt nails every aspect of this real-life surrogate and should easily earn a spot in her first Oscar race since winning the best actress statuette for 1997’s As Good as It Gets.

Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as a cult power couple in The Master.
Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as a cult power couple in The Master.


With nominations in this category three previous times for Junebug, Doubt,and The Fighter,Adams seems to be primed to actually win one. Will playing the strong wife of a religious cult leader in The Master give her that opportunity? A fourth nomination seems like it is in the stars, but polarized response to the movie could dampen her chances for an actual win. Whether it is this year or not, her destiny is with Oscar.

Nicole Kidman plays white-trash-fabulous in Lee Daniels' The Paperboy.
Nicole Kidman plays white-trash-fabulous in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy.


Oscar voters love to see actors take risks, and no one does it better than Kidman playing a Southern tart and giving it her all in one edgy scene after another. The movie and her peeing scene were the talk of Cannes Twitter feeds, but it came and went quickly upon its release this fall. Still, actors might sit up and take notice anyway for this past winner’s impressive ability to take a shot and deliver the goods.


As the meanest woman in a small Texas town who strikes up an unlikely relationship with funeral director Bernie (Jack Black), MacLaine creates another indelible character in a career that has provided more than a half-century of them. The question is, will enough voters see the indie hit or even remember it came out this year? A Golden Globe nomination could help her chances here.


As a fellow addict who befriends Denzel Washington’s alcoholic pilot, the British-born Reilly makes a strong impression and holds her own in a few riveting scenes with the star. It seems the stuff of which Oscar nominations are made.


McDormand and Matt Damon are business associates who represent a big corporate entity trying to win oil-drilling rights from the economically challenged citizens of a small town, and as usual this reliable Oscar winner turns the role into a living, breathing human being. The late release date of the film, though, could prove a problem in getting the film widely seen by the time voting starts. She also gets bonus points for her turn in May’s specialty hit, Moonrise Kingdom.

Scarlett Johansson plays Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock.
Scarlett Johansson, center, plays Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock.


As Janet Leigh during the making of Psycho,she hits all the right notes, deftly capturing the warmth of the bright movie star and the insecurity of an actress taking on a daring role for Alfred Hitchcock. Leigh won her only Oscar nomination in this category for the 1960 film but lost, so wouldn’t it be ironic if Johansson managed to do the same thing playing Leigh playing Marion Crane?


If it’s not going to be Javier Bardem, could Dench be the first actor in a James Bond film to be nominated for an acting Oscar? Dench’s role as M is larger in this 23rd Bond adventure, and it provides an emotional wallop. A nom would be especially sweet, considering no actor in Oscar history has ever been first-time nominated for a role they have already played in six previous films. Got all that?

Also in the mix


As Éponine, this British relatively unknown actress has perhaps the meatiest of the supporting roles to play and could be the most likely to join Hathaway on the nomination list.


As the colorful Madame Thenardier, Bonham Carter gets a larger-than-life role and is working again
with director Tom Hooper, who directed her to a nomination in this category two years ago for
The King’s Speech.


As sweet Cosette, Seyfried might not have the killer scenes of the others in Les Mis and thus could be the odd supporting actress out in this competition.


As Bradley Cooper’s mother and Robert De Niro’s wife, Weaver—nominated in the category two years ago for her extraordinary role in Animal Kingdom—has the least showy part of all the main players, but could get swept in here with the Silver Linings tide.


As the seamstress who becomes Mary Todd Lincoln’s confidante, the former ER star is quietly touching, but Field’s showier role is far more likely to prevail here.


As the bitter, racist one in the ensemble cast, Smith is terrific as usual, but voters might actually prefer her lead role in the similar Quartet and leave this increasingly crowded category to others.


Tarantino’s western is a late-breaking entry, but Washington has a meaty role in it, so don’t discount her chances of finding her way into the race once voters get a look at the film.


Sarandon’s killer scene, in which she puts her cheating hubby Richard Gere right in his place, could be just enough to do the trick, but Roadside has to make sure voters see the movie.


Here’s a shoutout for the great never-nominated Danner, who shines as the mother of a divorced woman who moves back in with her parents. But did anyone actually see the movie?


Sensing a lack of heat in the best actress race, Focus has made a last-minute switch and moved Linney from lead to supporting for her low-key work in Hyde Park. However, the role she really deserves recognition for in this category is her wildly amusing turn as the over-sexed, needy neighbor in The Details,but the Weinstein Co. isn’t even bothering to campaign the film and sent it almost directly to VOD. Too bad. Linney’s great in it.


With Jessica Chastain in lead and Ehle in supporting, it could ironically be the women that really shine in Kathryn Bigelow’s testosterone-driven military film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.


Blunt is always good and again makes her mark as a mother living with her son on a farm in this scifi quasi hit, but it’s not a genre close to the hearts of Academy voters.


With this long-gestating film based on the Jack Kerouac book, Stewart breaks out of Bella hell and shows off some real grownup acting skills, but it likely won’t be enough to move her into real contention in this race.


As the fast-food restaurant manager facing off against a man who says he is a police officer, character-actor Dowd earned raves, but the film was not widely seen. The real potential, though, of critics awards for her riveting performance could bring it back into the conversation and force voters to take notice.

Hair & Makeup Artists Are Key To Believable Characters

Monica Corcoran Harel is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Nov. 28 issue of AwardsLine.

Publicists, producers, personal trainers? Ha. Let’s face it: When it comes to nailing a role, a fantastic hairstylist and extraordinary makeup artist are an actor’s best friends. Where would Nicole Kidman be without her exuberant Virginia Woolf prosthetic nose? Oscarless. Ditto for Meryl Streep, who even name-checked her loyal hairstylist J. Roy Helland of 37 years at last year’s Academy Awards for her The Iron Lady victory. “I want to thank my other partner,” said the actress.

This year, the Academy tweaked the categories to include hairstyling in the makeup award for the 86th annual ceremony. It’s a smart inclusion, considering the two departments work incredibly closely, and the right period hair is essential to any film—even a post-apocalyptic one. Case in point: Hunger Games hairstylist Linda Flowers bleached 500 people’s eyebrows for the film and dyed the hair of 75 extras. With a team of 45 stylists, she also created 450 original wigs and hairpieces.

This year’s likely contenders for hair and makeup run the gamut in scope, from doctoring huge ensemble casts to refashioning lead actors into famous characters. For Hitchcock, hairstylist Martin Samuel had to recede Anthony Hopkins’ thick snowy mane with a partial shave and dye it brown at the sideburns. He also had a very sparse toupee made for the actor’s crown to simulate a balding man’s pate. “We kept it up every day for the 40 or so days of shooting, and Anthony was very patient,” says Samuel, who collaborated with Howard Berger on the prosthetics and makeup. It took 2½ hours each morning to turn handsome Hopkins into the homely, weak-chinned director.

Of course, it’s a tricky negotiation to conceal an actor’s most important means of expressing himself. Daniel Day-Lewis, in Lincoln, underwent just a scant hour and 15 minutes of cosmetic overhaul each morning to play the stately but physically craven 16th president of the United States. Instead of relying on prosthetics—which could easily encumber emoting—makeup artist and longtime Steven Spielberg collaborator Lois Burwell studied photos and casts of the president and then used a method called “stretch and stipple” to age the actor 10 years. She also dyed Day-Lewis’ natural beard darker and thinned it out.

“Lincoln had a soft chin and Daniel doesn’t, so we structured the beard to give that impression,” she says, adding that the Oscar-winning actor was new to the extreme makeup process. “You can’t just put one face on another. It’s not like you are working on a mannequin.”

The team working on the science-fiction epic Cloud Atlas, which wildly spans generations, had a Herculean undertaking in that they had to metamorphose dozens of actors into myriad characters. Consider Halle Berry as an elderly Korean man or Hugo Weaving playing a blonde, female nurse and you quickly get the idea. The film’s six storylines are directed by Tom Tykwer or the Wachowskis, and makeup artists Daniel Parker and Jeremy Woodhead worked with the directors, respectively. At the same time, the two had to constantly compare their sketches and visions to be sure that they weren’t repeating looks.

To transform Berry into an Asian elder, Woodhead used a wig, implants, contact lens, facial hair, and prosthetic teeth. “There was the added complication of an implanted eyepiece that covered the whole of one of Halle’s eyes and had to look like it was embedded in her skin,” says Woodhead. “Halle just sat there and laughed with delight as each layer went on and the character gelled together.”

Parker, who delighted in re-creating Weaving as the brutish, voluptuous Nurse Noakes, adds that last-minute directorial decisions to have an actor join another sequence as a different gender, age, or ethnicity intensified the workload. Still, he insists “this was a dream project for an artist.” He adds that the actors embraced the process and didn’t grouse about the marathon makeup sessions that took as much as four hours.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Bill Murray’s portrayal of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson. In this case, the director Roger Michell instructed Morag Ross to employ a subtle touch in physically refashioning the actor as the jovial president. “The M.O. for the whole look was less is more. Nothing heavy-handed,” says makeup artist Ross, who added a mole to Murray’s right cheek and a swath of melanoma above his left eyebrow.

A 1939 Life magazine photo of FDR became the inspiration for Murray’s hairstyle. Norma Webb made an educated guess on the hair color, as her historical references were all in black and white. “I proceeded to cut the hair as for the period,” she says. “But the cut needed to reflect Roosevelt’s seeming disinterest in ‘conservative’ behavior and image.” The translucent actress Olivia Williams also plays Eleanor Roosevelt with a soft wink. She’s not nearly as equine-looking as the First Lady in the end, but Ross added prosthetic teeth that altered both her profile and the shape of her face. Webb added hair wefts and colored Williams’ mane to reflect the First Lady’s unruly tresses and disdain for vanity.

Channeling Russian high society of the 1800s for Anna Karenina required some artistic license. Back then, women didn’t wear makeup but relied on creams to enhance their looks, notes makeup artist Ivana Primorac. Still, she and director Joe Wright wanted “to appeal to the modern audience without looking wrong for the period.” Actress Keira Knightley underwent a minimal change with a slight darkening of her fair coloring and hair. Jude Law, however, needed to be aged and refashioned as a bit of an “egg head.” To do that, Primorac altered the shape of his temples, receded his hairline and lengthened his jaw with a beard.

The near 40-artist team that tackled the hair, makeup and prosthetics on The Hobbit probably needs a long vacation. With 13 lead characters and stunt and scale doubles often needed, the crew helmed by lead makeup and hair artist Peter King had to oversee the transformation of no less than 36 actors. Even more challenging was the need to distinguish characters of the same race—such as dwarves—in appearance as well as silhouette. “Audiences must be able to recognize them by the head and body shape as they’re walking up a mountain,” says Richard Taylor, cofounder of special effects company Weta Workshop.

Realizing the vision of director Peter Jackson before filming even began required about 800 illustrations and 1,000 sculptures. New characters like goblins required their own physical evolution, but it was the high-resolution camera that made fabrication and application an arduous endeavor. “It’s exponential how much more challenging prosthetics and makeup have become because of the clarity of this camera,” says Taylor. “It sees everything. Everything!”

Awards Season At A Studio-By-Studio Glance

With the awards season is dissected and examined these days, it might appear as though creating a successful campaign is simply a matter of shrewd marketing and a key release date. But even the most cynical strategist will admit that luck is still as much a part of earning an Oscar nomination as anything else. When asked about the plan for a particular film in the awards race, a veteran campaigner said simply, “Light candles, pray.”

Whether they’re already on pundits’ lists or just looking for a little good juju, here’s a look at the films that are in the conversation, not including animation, documentaries, or foreign-language (with a few notable exceptions):

The Majors:


Last year, Disney’s partnership with DreamWorks yielded two best picture nominees, War Horse and The Help, the latter of which also earned supporting actor Octavia Spencer her first statuette. This year, Steven Spielberg’s followup to War Horse, Lincoln, is considered an all-category heavyweight, from director to Tony Kushner’s adapted screenplay to costumes to production design. And Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as the 16th president of the United States already has prognosticators declaring best actor in advance of its Nov. 9 theatrical release. Disney also has this summer’s hit from Marvel, The Avengers, which earned $1.5 billion at the worldwide boxoffice and is likely to factor into the below-the-line race.


It’s going to be hard to top last year’s success with Martin Scorsese’s 3-D love letter to film, Hugo, which ultimately earned five Oscars. But having a Denzel Washington-Robert Zemeckis project nestled in prime awards territory certainly won’t hurt. Flight, which marks Zemeckis’ first live-action effort in more than a decade, stars Oscar winner Washington as a commercial pilot with a substance-abuse problem. The film could be considered a dark horse for best picture, and is getting buzz for screenplay and supporting actor John Goodman. Paramount Vantage also has David Chase’s first post-Sopranos film, Not Fade Away, which follows a group of friends who start a band and features a supporting role from Tony himself, James Gandolfini.

Sony Pictures

Sony’s big awards-season hopeful is a film with an enviable pedigree: Zero Dark Thirty, which details the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, is the followup effort of director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, both of whom won Oscars for their work on The Hurt Locker in 2010. The film is likely to factor into all major categories including lead actress Jessica Chastain, supporting players Jason Clarke and Jennifer Ehle, as well as below-the-line slots. Among Sony’s other films are the new Bond film Skyfall, which has a cast including Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, and Javier Bardem—none of whom are strangers to Oscar—plus an original song from Adele; Rian Johnson’s Looper, which has drummed up small but ardent Internet support; and the August release, Hope Springs, which features Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.

Twentieth Century Fox

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, which drew early raves when it opened the New York Film Festival, is a visually stunning story about a young man (Suraj Sharma) who’s adrift on the ocean, sharing his vessel with a tiger. Having an unknown in the lead will make it tough to break into the acting category, but it has all the other indicators of a serious all-category contender. Two other potential candidates from Fox’s slate are Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, which could get recognized below the line, and Won’t Back Down, which stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis.


All eyes will be on Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables when it starts screening in November, ahead of its Christmas release. Not only are voters eager to see the big-screen adaptation of the musical—which stars Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman and has a supporting performance from Anne Hathaway—but its unveiling will bring further clarity to the race. It’s likely to factor into all categories (except original score, of course), including for the song “Suddenly,” which was written specifically for Jackman. The studio also has hopes for Judd Apatow’s followup to Knocked Up, This Is 40, which will qualify as an adapted screenplay because it picks up some of the same characters; Snow White and the Huntsman for below the line and original song; and Oscar host Seth MacFarlane’s summer hit Ted, in the visual-effects category; and Oliver Stone’s Savages.

Warner Bros.

Even with Gangster Squad and The Great Gatsby moving off of Warner’s 2012 slate this summer, the studio boasts a formidable group of films. Leading the pack is Ben Affleck’s Argo, which has been garnering plenty of Oscar talk since its debut at the Toronto Film Festival. Based on a true story, the film will factor into all the major categories, as well as editing, production design, costumes, and music. Not only will The Dark Knight Rises get an all-category push to mark the end of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, but Oscar winner Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit will be in all of those same categories and hail the start of a new three-film franchise. Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski’s time-bending Cloud Atlas is also being considered an all-category film, with an emphasis on the Wachowski Starship’s adapted screenplay and the crafts categories. Plus, it helps to have a cast of previous Oscar winners: Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in lead, Jim Broadbent in supporting. Trouble With the Curve will get support for Clint Eastwood’s lead role and Amy Adams’ supporting. And finally, for the ladies, Matthew McConaughey will get a boost for his supporting role in Magic Mike.

The Indies:


Shortly before this year’s Toronto Film Fest got underway, former Oscilloscope Laboratories cofounder and president David Fenkel announced his new distribution company, A24. Barely off the ground, the fledgling company is pushing to get into the awards game with Ginger & Rosa, starring Elle Fanning as a teenager in 1960s London dealing with family issues amidst the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s one of the few films this season directed by a woman, Sally Potter.

Focus Features

Focus’ 2011 awards push earned Gary Oldman his first best actor Oscar nomination for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, plus two others for adapted screenplay and score. And this year, Focus has four films that are a part of the conversation, including Wes Anderson’s Gotham Award-nominated Moonrise Kingdom, which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is a likely original screenplay contender. In addition, Joe Wright’s lush, highly stylized adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic, Anna Karenina, which is an all-category contender, hits theaters Nov. 16. Keira Knightley is getting attention for her role as the doomed Anna, and the film’s costumes and production design have craftspeople swooning. Focus earned some festival-circuit attention for also Hyde Park on Hudson, which features Bill Murray as President Franklin D. Roosevelt who strikes up an affair with his distant cousin Margaret, played by Laura Linney; as well as Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, a relatively late addition to the Oscar schedule that stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, both of whom also cowrote the original screenplay.

Fox Searchlight

With two best picture nominees last year—The Descendants and The Tree of Life—Fox Searchlight is firmly entrenched in the awards game. The specialty division made two key purchases at January’s Sundance Film Festival, both of which have prognosticators buzzing about Searchlight’s prospects for this year. First, Beasts of the Southern Wild, the feature-film debut of director Benh Zeitlin and starring two first-time actors, has earned just over $11 million at the boxoffice since June. Second, The Sessions, is a bittersweet story that stars John Hawkes as a paralyzed man who consults a sex therapist, played by Helen Hunt, which had a solid limited opening in late October. Searchlight’s big hit of the year, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, has grossed $134.4 million worldwide since its May release and features a top-notch cast including Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. And when the November release Hitchcock, directed by Sacha Gervasi, was announced last month as the opening-night film of the AFI Fest, it was instantly clear that the Helen Mirren-Anthony Hopkins picture would be a big part of awards chatter heading into a crucial balloting period.

Indomina Films

This relatively new indie distributor bought LUV, a drama about a boy and his troubled uncle starring Common and Michael Rainey Jr., at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.


Earning just over $400 million, The Hunger Games took the summer’s boxoffice by storm. Lionsgate is hoping the Academy will recognize the Jennifer Lawrence-starrer for its crafts achievements.


Screeners went out early for Millennium Entertainment’s dark comedy Bernie, which premiered at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival. The film, which stars Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey, is gaining momentum after earning Gotham Award nominations for feature and ensemble. Millennium also has Lee Daniels’ Florida noir The Paperboy, which drew decidedly mixed reviews at Cannes but stars Oscar winner Nicole Kidman.

Magnolia Pictures

The ripped-from-the headlines story in Compliance stars Ann Dowd as a fast-food-store manager who’s manipulated by a caller pretending to be a police officer. Magnolia also has Sarah Polley’s latest directorial effort, Take This Waltz, as well as Denmark’s official foreign-language entry, A Royal Affair, which has an attention-grabbing performance from Mads Mikkelsen.

Open Road

Liam Neeson’s emotional performance in the survival drama The Grey received a lot of attention when the film was released in January, but the actor race is particularly crowded this year, perhaps making it tough for him to break through. Open Road also has the well-received cop drama End of Watch, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, which could get attention for screenplay, crafts, and acting, particularly Michael Pena’s supporting performance.


There will be a very targeted effort from Relativity this year for the costumes of Mirror Mirror and Keith Urban’s original song, “For You,” from Act of Valor.

Sony Pictures Classics

It’s rare for a foreign-language film to break into major categories, but Sony Pictures Classics has two that are a topic of conversation. Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning Amour is appealing to older audiences through its emotional lead performers, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both of whom could earn acting noms. Rust and Bone, a Palme d’Or nominee, stars Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard as a whale trainer who loses her legs, for which the visual effects alone are worth Academy attention. On the English-language side is To Rome With Love, Woody Allen’s followup to last year’s Oscar-winning original screenplay, Midnight in Paris; Celeste & Jesse Forever, starring Rashida Jones—who also cowrote the original screenplay—and Andy Samberg; and Smashed, featuring a performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead that’s getting some attention.

Roadside Attractions

Richard Gere has been well-reviewed in Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage, giving many awards watchers reason to start talking about the actor getting a career-first Oscar nomination. The indie label has hopes in all categories, particularly for Jarecki’s original screenplay. Stand Up Guys, which stars Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, is getting an actor push, as well as one for the Jon Bon Jovi original song, “Not Running Anymore.”


Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible, which stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, tells the real-life story of a family separated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. It’s an all-category contender, particularly for screenplay and its detailed re-creation of the devastating wave. Summit also has The Perks of Being a Wallflower, adapted from Stephen Chbosky’s novel and starring Emma Watson.

Sundance Selects/IFC Films

The long-in-the-making adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s seminal On the Road had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, more than 50 years after its publication. The film, starring Garrett Hedlund and Kristin Stewart, could be a dark horse for adapted screenplay and below-the-line categories.

The Weinstein Co.

Master campaigner Harvey Weinstein is following his best picture win for The Artist with an awards-season slate that includes some of the most renowned directors working today. Although the Gotham Award-nominated September release The Master has divided audiences, there’s no argument that the all-category Paul Thomas Anderson film is visually stunning and has great performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, which stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, was a crowd-pleaser at the Toronto Film Festival and recently earned an ensemble Gotham Award nom. Quentin Tarantino’s December release Django Unchained, still yet to be screened, is a third all-category film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx. In addition, multiple Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut with Quartet, about a group of aging musicians in a retirement home that stars Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, and Billy Connolly; and Brad Pitt has a lead role and James Gandolfini supporting in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly. The company also has France’s official foreign-language submission The Intouchables, which is being pushed for best picture.