AWARDS ACTION -- 12/12/16


Awards action: Say what you will about the quirky, wacky members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, but they've certainly managed to build themselves an enviable brand with the Golden Globes.

There's probably a fascinating book to be written about how the HFPA managed to overcome years of controversial awards giving and dubious judgment and turn the Globes into the highest profile televised awards show other than the Oscars.

Having been a close observer of Globes goings on for several decades – including sitting through 22 years worth of champagne driven telecasts at the Beverly Hilton Hotel – I can tell you that the HFPA benefited from having a string of skillful presidents (some with multiple terms) over those years. What they did then to rehabilitate the group's image made a huge difference and is reflected in how Hollywood perceives the Globes today.

The HFPA also got the message out to Hollywood that the Globes are fun to attend. That's an important point because anyone who's ever attended the Oscars knows it's no fun at all other than the first time you do it. But the notion of a long boozy night of table hopping at the Beverly Hilton and running into all sorts of Hollywood buyers and sellers caught on.

It also helps that there's a well orchestrated red carpet arrivals telecast for celebs prior to the high gloss telecast by Dick Clark Productions and NBC that draws big ratings and huge global media coverage. Awards marketers understand that this televised package impacts on Oscar voters, who either are partying hard at the Beverly Hilton or watching in comfort at home (and avoiding the ultra stringent security checks that now go hand-in-hand with attending the Globes).

Another key factor in building up the Gobes was adjusting their timing so that the noms are announced exactly when they can help promote movies during the holiday season. Marketers can trumpet in their ads how many GG noms their movies received and this helps sell tickets while also influencing Academy voters. It's a particularly valuable strategy for Oscar hopefuls that are entering the late December marketplace and are eager to generate some attention.

There's no shortage of attention-getting opportunities with the Globes. The HFPA allows for five best picture-drama noms and five more best picture-musical or comedy noms. There also are five best actress and five best actor noms in both the drama and musical or comedy categories. Having plenty of nominees means there will be plenty of famous faces at those tables in the Beverly Hilton ballroom  trying to look happy when somebody else winds up winning.

Where the HFPA's 90-odd members sometimes stumble is in defining just who fits into which of its multiple categories. For instance, last year when competition among worthy dramas was really intense, 20th Century Fox pushed hard to get its sci-fi adventure "The Martian" into the Globes' comedy or musical category. Fox was smart to try. It worked – and "Martian" won!

It's unlikely that "Martian" would have landed in the winner's spotlight had it been competing in the drama category against heavy dramas like "The Revenant," which won, or "Spotlight," which lost but went on to win the best picture Oscar.

This time around, however, there was no inducement for any quasi-dramas to fight to get into the Globes' comedy or musical category since that race already had a presumptive winner in Lionsgate's "La La Land."

Understandably, Hollywood marketers were up at the crack of dawn Monday (Dec. 12) to watch the televised noms for the 74th annual Globes to find out what they have to work with this awards season.

On its two best picture fronts, the HFPA applauded 10 films, which have mostly been on awards radar screens for months after having generated the right kind of buzz at key film festivals earlier in the year.

The best picture-drama noms went to: "Hacksaw Ridge" (Lionsgate/Summit); "Hell or High Water" (Lionsgate/CBS Films); "Lion" (The Weinstein Company/See-Saw Films); "Manchester by the Sea" (Amazon Studios/Pearl Street Films); and "Moonlight" (A24/Plan B).

There were directing noms for three of the best drama nominees – "Hacksaw" (Mel Gibson), "Manchester" (Kenneth Loneergan) and "Moonlight" (Barry Jenkins). Best picture Oscar winners tend to also have directing noms, so these three nominees are off to a better start than the two titles that aren't in the directing race.

Two high profile dramas that many Oscar bloggers expected to see nominated in multiple categories including best picture and director were totally ignored by the HFPA – Paramount's "Silence" from director Martin Scorsese and Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures' "Sully" from director Clint Eastwood.

There also was no best picture-drama or directing nod for Paramount and Scott Rudin Productions' "Fences" from director Denzel Washington. However, Washington did get nominated for best actor-drama and Viola Davis was nominated for best supporting actress.

That doesn't necessarily mean that Academy members will follow suit. Considerable marketing money is likely to be spent in the coming weeks by those studios to try to get their Globes snubbed films into the Oscar race.

In the best picture-comedy or musical race, the nominees were: "20th Century Women" (Annapurna/A24); "Deadpool" (20th Century Fox/Marvel); "Florence Foster Jenkins" (Paramount/ Pathe/BBC Films); "La La Land" (Lionsgate/Marc Platt Productions); and "Sing Street" (The Weinstein Company/Cosmo Films).

Of the comedy or musical nominees, only "LLL" also received a directing nod (Damien Chazelle). It seems a safe bet to win in its category. "LLL's" seven noms were the most for any of the current Globes nominees. Among its other nods were best actor (Ryan Gosling) and best actress (Emma Stone) in a comedy or musical.       That's a significant benefit to "LLL" going forward because it clearly puts the film on the radar screen for the Academy's actors branch, the largest of the organization's voting branches. Stone and Gosling are widely expected to receive Screen Actors Guild noms when the group announces them Wednesday (Dec. 14).

A good indication of "LLL's" frontrunner strength as the best picture Oscar race takes shape is that it opened last weekend to a glittering $855,000 at just five theatres. That's an average of $171,000 per theatre. It's off to the kind of impressive boxoffice start that Academy members like to see from best picture contenders.

Lionsgate said Sunday that "LLL" set several records, including the "highest per location average of all time for a 5-theater release, second-highest per location average ever, highest per location average of 2016 (and the) highest weekend gross ever for a live-action movie at 8 or less locations."

Its audience, per Lionsgate, "was 48% male and 52% female. In addition, 53% were 30-years old and over."

 "LLL" will expand to 200 locations and 40 markets December 16 and go wider December 25.

         For many years, the Globes was the awards season's first big televised show, but that distinction evaporated this year when the Broadcast Film Critics Association opted to be first with its 22nd annual Critics Choice Awards. The 21st CCA took place last Jan. 15 on the heels of the Jan. 10 telecast of the 73rd annual Globes.

         Sunday's (Dec. 11) CCA telecast on A&E didn't have the huge broadcast TV reach that the Globes will have via NBC on Sun., Jan. 8, but it did have bragging rights for being this season's first televised awards gala.

         The show needed a long three hours and fifteen minutes to bestow all the awards the BFCA deems worthy of making. Included were such specialized categories as: best action movie ("Hacksaw Ridge"), best actor in an action movie (Andrew Garfield for "Hacksaw") and best actress in an action movie (Margot Robbie for "Suicide Squad") as well as the same winning options for comedies ("Deadpool," Ryan Reynolds for "Deadpool" and Meryl Streep for "Florence Foster Jenkins").

         On the other hand, the BFCA's sci-fi/horror category had a best picture winner ("Arrival"), but no acting wins were voted on. There also weren't any directing awards in the BFCA's specialized races, but a few other kudos were handed out -- for best young actor/actress (Lucas Hedges for "Manchester") and for best acting ensemble ("Moonlight").

         Having given a hefty 12 noms to "La La Land," it's not surprising that the BFCA voted it eight wins (or, maybe, seven-and-a-half wins, if you count  "LLL's" original screenplay race tie with "Manchester" as a half-win) – including best picture, director, original screenplay, cinematography, production design, editing, song and score.

         Nonetheless, the BFCA did manage to spread its love around. It didn't vote "LLL" any acting wins – giving best actor to Casey Affleck ("Manchester") rather than to Ryan Gosling and best actress to Natalie Portman ("Jackie") rather than to Emma Stone. "LLL" did not have any supporting actor or actress nominees to vote on.

         Best picture Oscar winners tend to have some acting noms in their overall package as a magnet for actors' votes.

         The CCA's aren't nearly as meaningful as the Screen Actors Guild noms are when it comes to reading the tea leaves about how the Academy's actors branch is likely to vote.

         "Moonlight" received 10 CCA noms, but only took home two wins – for best supporting actor (Mahershala Ali) and best acting ensemble.

         "Moonlight," directed and written by Barry Jenkins ("Medicine for Melancholy"), stars Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp and Duan Sanderson.  It's based on an unproduced play, "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue," by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who has story credit on the film.

         "Manchester," which had eight noms, won in only three races – best actor (Casey Affleck), best original screenplay (tied with "LLL") and best young actor/actress (Lucas Hedges).

         Directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan ("Margaret"), "Manchester" stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler. Lonergan is a two time original screenplay Oscar nominee – in 2001 for "You Can Count on Me" and in 2003 for "Gangs of New York."

         Bottom line: After winning the CCA and dominating the Globes noms, "La La Land" is clearly the Oscar race frontrunner. But that doesn't mean it's necessarily clear sailing ahead for the musical comedy drama.

         Academy members tend to look down their best picture noses at comedies and musicals. They generally favor serious dramas about socially relevant issues as their best picture winners.

         Moreover, this is a year in which celebrating diversity will be a major concern for Oscar voters. Having so many awards worthy diversity driven dramas in the mix this time around won't help "LLL's" best picture Oscar prospects. But there always are surprises when it comes to how Academy members vote. At this point, it's way too early to jump to any conclusions other than that "LLL" is the frontrunner to beat as of today.