GUILD GOLD -- 12/19/16


Guild gold: What Hollywood calls the "awards season" is actually an all-year pursuit of Oscar gold starting in mid-January at the Sundance Film Festival and ending in late February the following year at the Academy Awards.

The exhaustive and expensive system of campaigning to influence Oscar voters that's evolved in recent years has three distinct phases -- driven initially by film festival buzz, then by critics and media group honors and, finally, by guild and industry awards.

Sundance is where studios compete to acquire films they believe can be driven at the boxoffice by awards. They don't always guess right – as Fox Searchlight learned after paying a record setting $17.5 million last January for worldwide rights to Nate Parker's slavery drama "Birth of a Nation." The buzz at Sundance was that "Birth" was a slam dunk best picture Oscar winner given the Academy's overwhelming lack of diversity over the previous two years.

When Parker's apparently unknown past – a rape accusation he was acquitted of as a college student many years earlier – caught up with him in the media spotlight, "Birth" died a quick death at the boxoffice and on the awards front.

On the other hand, Amazon Studios hit the Sundance nail on the head last January by picking up domestic rights to Kenneth Lonergan's "Manchester by the Sea" for about $10 million. It's since turned into one of the Oscar race's critically acclaimed frontrunners. "Manchester" was the first big deal done at Sundance 2016, but a few days later it was dwarfed by Searchlight's acquisition of "Birth."

After Sundance, awards marketers move on to prime film festivals in places like Cannes, Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York to kick start an Oscar buzz to put their films into the developing awards conversation. Standing ovations, glowing reviews, red carpet media coverage and prizes are what it takes to emerge as part of the best picture hopefuls pack.

That moves things along until late November when awards groups start proclaiming their wins or noms. The first group out of the box most years is the National Board of Review, which this time around chose the R rated drama "Manchester" as its best film. A few days later, the New York Film Critics Circle applauded Damien Chazelle's PG-13 rated musical comedy drama "La La Land" as its best film and the Broadcast Film Critics Association handed it a hefty 12 Critics Choice Awards noms.

Soon thereafter, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association picked Barry Jenkins' R rated drama "Moonlight" as its best picture. Then the American Film Institute surfaced with its AFI Awards, honoring the year's 10 best films -- including "LLL," "Manchester" and "Moonlight," which by then had emerged as frontrunners. Of that trio, only "Moonlight" has the advantage of diversity at a time when the Academy is desperate to avoid another year of #OscarsSoWhite controversy and criticism.

On the AFI's heels came the BFCA's awards telecast with "LLL" winning eight Critics Choice Awards, including best picture and director -- but not best actor or actress. It usually takes lead acting noms to help drive a film to best picture success, so for the moment that wasn't entirely great news for "LLL."

Last and certainly not least in this middle phase of the awards season were the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globes noms with more than enough categories to make everyone happy.

"LLL" prevailed with seven GG noms, including best film-comedy or musical, best director, best actress-comedy or musical (Emma Stone) and best actor-comedy or musical (Ryan Gosling). Both "Moonlight" (six noms) and "Manchester" (five noms) made it into the best film-drama race and also received best director noms.

Last week's Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nominations marked the shifting of gears from the awards groups/critics phase to the more meaningful industry awards phase. Because some guild members are also members of the Academy, how they vote carries considerably more weight than how non-Academy members like foreign journalists (Golden Globes) or broadcast film critics (Critics Choice Awards) vote.

In particular, SAG's noms are an important bellwether for the Oscars because actors make up the Academy's largest voting branch. In 2015 there were 1,138 members of the actors branch and 6,261 voting members of the Academy. In 2016, hoping to boost diversity, the Academy issued 683 membership invitations, 69 of which went to actors. If every one of those invitees accepted – and insiders believe that all but a handful of invitees said yes – there would now be 1,207 members of the actors branch and a total of 6,944 voting members.

Those numbers are tiny compared to SAG's membership of about 150,000. When SAG merged in 2012 with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (AFTRA) there were about  100,000 SAG members. In some ways, the dynamics of SAG Awards voting are thought to have changed because voting members now include non-screen actors via AFTRA like television staff announcers, TV news reporters and radio disc jockeys.

With so many members, each year's SAG Awards nominations voting is actually done by two randomly selected committees of about 2,500 members each – one for movie noms and the other for TV noms. No one knows how many of them, if any, also happen to be Academy members.

In any event, last week's SAG noms set the stage in a big way for what to expect when Academy members finally vote for Oscar noms – from Th., Jan. 5 through Fri., Jan. 13 either online or with old fashioned paper ballots.

SAG's best ensemble cast award is widely regarded as the guild's equivalent of best picture. The five nominees (alphabetically) were:

  •       Bleecker Street Media's R rated romantic comedy drama "Captain Fantastic." Directed by Matt Ross ("28 Hotel Rooms"), it stars Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay and Samantha Isler. Mortensen got a best male lead actor nom.
  •       Paramount and Scott Rudin Productions' PG-13 rated drama "Fences" from director Denzel Washington ("Antwone Fisher"). Starring are: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and Mykelti Williamson. Washington got a best male lead actor nom and Davis received a best female actor in a supporting role nod.
  •       20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment's PG rated drama "Hidden Figures." Directed by Theodore Melfi ("St. Vincent"), it stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe. Spencer received a best female actor in a supporting role nom.
  •       Amazon Studios and Pearl Street Films' R rated drama "Manchester by the Sea." Directed by Kenneth Lonergan ("Margaret"), it stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges. Affleck received a best male actor nod and Williams got a best female actor in a supporting role nom. Hedges received a best male actor in a supporting role nom.
  •       A24 and Plan B Entertainment's R rated drama  "Moonlight" from director Barry Jenkins ("Medicine for Melancholy"). Starring are: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson and Naomie Harris. Ali got a best male actor in a supporting role nom and Harris received a best female actor in a supporting role nom.


Missing from SAG's ensemble cast list was Lionsgate's "La La Land" as well as three very high profile dramas -- Mel Gibson's "Hacksaw Ridge" (Lionsgate/Summit); Clint Eastwood's "Sully" (Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures); and Martin Scorsese's "Silence" (Paramount).

There were, however, lead male and female actor SAG noms for "LLL's" Gosling and Stone and a lead male actor nod for "Hacksaw's" Andrew Garfield. "Sully's" Tom Hanks, who had just been snubbed by the Globes, also failed to get a SAG nom. That doesn't help "Sully's" Oscar prospects. But there always are Academy surprises, so "Sully" could still wind up flying in the Oscar noms skies.

Last year, SAG's five movie awards matched up with four of the parallel Oscar votes. SAG's ensemble cast award went to "Spotlight," which won the best picture Oscar. SAG's best male lead actor was Leonardo DiCaprio for "The Revenant," who also won the best actor Oscar.

SAG's best female lead actor winner was Brie Larson for "Room," who also won the best actress Oscar. SAG's best female supporting actor award went to Alicia Vikander for "The Danish Girl," who also won the best supporting actress Oscar.

SAG's best male supporting actor winner was Idris Elba for "Beasts of No Nation." Elba couldn't win in Oscar's best supporting actor race since he wasn't nominated. The winner was Mark Rylance for "Bridge of Spies."

The 23rd annual SAG Awards will be televised Sun., Jan. 29. So the SAG wins will come out after the Oscar noms are announced Tue., Jan. 24. However, the SAG wins will have plenty of time in which to influence Academy voters since final Oscar voting doesn't begin until Mon, Feb. 13. The polls close Tue., Feb. 21 and the sealed envelopes will be ripped open Sun., Feb. 26 at the 89th annual Academy Awards.

Other guild noms that will be making headlines and helping to shape the Oscar race early in the New Year, include the: Writers Guild of America (Jan. 4), Art Directors Guild (Jan. 5) and Producers Guild of America (Jan. 10).  More guilds will weigh in with their noms a little later.

The British Academy's BAFTA noms will be announced Sun., Jan. 8, the same day we find who's won Golden Globes. The British Academy is another group with some Academy crossover membership, so its noms are also an indicator of how things may go on the Oscar front.

         Bottom line: Hollywood loves awards, but what it really loves most is money. As the year winds down, there continue to be high hopes for setting a new annual domestic boxoffice record.

         Disney and Lucasfilm's PG-13 rated "Star Wars" spin-off  "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" opened domestically to an enviable $155 million last weekend, but faced inevitable comparisons to last year's $248 million domestic launch of the franchise's last real episode, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

         Disney said Sunday that "Rogue" opened globally "to an impressive $290.5 million, opening at #1 in all markets across the globe. The domestic estimated opening weekend of $155 million is the second highest December opening (behind only 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens') by a wide margin. 

         "Internationally, 'Rogue One' posted the fourth highest December opening of all-time. It posted the highest opening weekend of 2016 in many European markets, including France, Germany, Spain and the UK/Ireland. Market shares were strong across all regions, but especially so in Asia-Pacific and the UK. It has yet to open in Korea and China.

         "With the strong reviews (CinemaScore: A and Rotten Tomatoes: 84%) and positive word-of-mouth, 'Rogue One' is now well positioned to play into the lucrative holiday period around the globe."

         All three best picture front runners were in theatres last weekend. "Manchester" went wide and came in fifth with $4.2 million at 1,208 theatres. It has a five week cume of $14 million.

         "LLL" placed seventh with $4 million at just 200 theatres, averaging a very strong $20,100 per theatre. Its cume is $5.3 million after two weeks in limited release.

         "Moonlight" was 17th with $400,000 at 305 theatres. Its cume after nine weeks is $11.5 million.

         The year to date domestic boxoffice, per comScore, is $10.64 billion vs. $10.23 billion this time last year and 4.0 percent ahead of 2015. That's up slightly from the previous weekend's 3.9 percent lead over last year.

         "Rogue" is holding up its end very well, but how the year turns out will also hinge on how well other new films perform. This week will see four wide openings that could help Hollywood maintain its slim lead over last year:

         Universal and Illumination Entertainment's PG rated 3D animated comedy drama "Sing" is from the creators of "Despicable Me" and "The Secret Life of Pets." It opens Dec. 21 at about 4,000 theatres and should play best to families, a great core audience any time of the year and especially during the holiday season.

         20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises' PG-13 rated fantasy action adventure "Assassin's Creed" opens Dec. 21 at about 3,000 theatres and should play best to adult men.

          Columbia and Village Roadshow Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic sci-fi adventure drama "Passengers" opens Dec. 21 at about 3,300 theatres and should play best to adult men, who are usually the core audience for sci-fi.

         20th Century Fox and TSG Entertainment's R rated comedy "Why Him?" opens Dec. 23 at about 2,800 theatres and should play best to adult men.

         Paramount and Scott Rudin Productions' PG-13 rated drama "Fences," a likely contender for best picture and other prime Oscar races, opened last weekend to $128,000 at 4 theatres, averaging $32,00 per theatre. It goes wider Dec. 25 and should play best to adult men and women.