NEW NOMS -- 1/16/16


 New noms: The nice thing about January is that every week brings its own set of new nominations so just about any awards contender can find something to shout about.

Last week delivered a triple treat for Hollywood with Tuesday's British Academy BAFTA noms and Producers Guild of America Awards noms and Thursday's Directors Guild of America Awards nods.

It's always fun to slice and dice these noms every which way to try to predict how Oscar voters will vote, but as with the Golden Globes there are so many differences between these groups and the Academy (AMPAS) that anything's possible.

What's clear, at this point, is that there continue to be three front runners for Oscar's best picture race (alphabetically) – "La La Land," "Manchester by the Sea" and "Moonlight" – all of which raked in new noms last week.

After winning all seven of the Globes races in which it was nominated, "LLL" picked up 11 BAFTA nods (including best film), a PGA best picture nom and a DGA nom for Damien Chazelle.

Having struck out at the Globes in the best film-drama and directing races, but winning best actor-drama (Casey Affleck), "Manchester" came back to life with six BAFTA nods (including best film and director for Kenneth Lonergan), a PGA best picture nom and a DGA nom for Lonergan.

On the heels of its best picture-drama Globes win, "Moonlight" received four BAFTA nods (including best film, but not best director for Barry Jenkins), a PGA best picture nom and a DGA nom for Jenkins.

With all three front runners' directors landing DGA noms, they're now all in line to get Oscar directors branch noms to maintain their edge over other contenders.

BAFTA's other best picture nominees (alphabetically) were: the sci-fi drama "Arrival" and the small British drama "I, Daniel Blake," which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival last May. Both "Arrival" director Denis Villeneuve and "Blake" director Ken Loach also received BAFTA nods for directing, adding to their films' potential strength in the British Academy race. But neither Blake nor Loach received DGA noms. "Arrival" got a DGA nod for Villeneuve. The  PGA gave a best picture nom to "Arrival," but not to "Blake".

On the Oscar front, "Arrival's" big challenge is that when Academy members occasionally nominate well regarded sci-fi films for best picture they don't usually vote for them to win. Looking back to 2000, it's clear that sci-fi nominees, however acclaimed they may be, typically don't go home with the gold.

In 2010, "Avatar" and "District 9" lost to "The Hurt Locker." In 2011, "Inception" lost to "The King's Speech." In 2014, "Gravity" lost to "12 Years a Slave." And in 2016, "The Martian" lost to "Spotlight."

Out of curiosity, I went way back to 1969 to see how "2001: A Space Odyssey" did on Oscar Night. Turns out, the best picture winner was the musical drama "Oliver." Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi masterpiece didn't even get a best picture Oscar nom! Kubrick was, at least, nominated for best directing -- but lost to Carol Reed for "Oliver." Of its four noms, "2001" won only for best special visual effects.

In those days, Academy members were more kindly disposed to applauding musicals than they are today. That's a challenge "La La Land" will have to cope with this time around.

A few other sci-fi classics managed to get into the best picture Oscar race, but didn't win. In 1978, "Star Wars" lost to "Annie Hall." And in 1983, "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" lost to "Ghandi."

"Arrival" can try to position itself as a human drama that's much more than just a sci-fi tale, but at the end of the day it's still about aliens visiting earth in spaceships.

On the other hand, "Arrival" has the advantage of having Amy Adams as its campaign face and that could be helpful. Adams was a Globes best actress-comedy or musical nominee and is now a lead actress BAFTA nominee. She's a five time Oscar nominee – for lead actress ("American Hustle") and supporting actress ("The Master," "The Fighter," "Doubt" and "Junebug").

Unfortunately for Adams, in the BAFTA's – and most likely in the Oscars -- she'll be going up against "LLL's" Emma Stone, the category's front runner after winning the best actress-comedy or musical Golden Globe.

The same challenge will confront Natalie Portman, a BAFTA nominee for playing Jacqueline Kennedy in "Jackie." Portman didn't face Stone in the Globes, where she lost in the best actress-drama race to Isabelle Huppert for "Elle." Portman previously won the best actress Oscar for "Black Swan" and got a supporting actress nod for "Closer."

"Blake" being a quintessentially British story isn't likely to wind up in Oscar's best picture race, although anything's always possible. The fact that it's a best picture contender in the BAFTA's is great because critically acclaimed films with British sensibilities and storylines are meant to be celebrated by BAFTA. It's also a BAFTA nominee for outstanding British film, a category in which its prospects of winning are probably greater.

BAFTA's influence on Oscar voting is probably less than people think. While there is some membership crossover between the two groups, there reportedly are only about 500-some British voters who also cast AMPAS ballots. Since over 6,000 AMPAS members vote, the BAFTA crossover punch can't be too powerful. Nonetheless, every vote can make a difference.

BAFTA's winners will be announced Sun., Feb. 12  at ceremonies hosted (happily, once again) by Stephen Fry at London's Royal Albert Hall. They'll be seen live in the U.K. on BBC1 and in the U.S. via a delayed telecast on BBC America.

As for the PGA, it allows for 10 best film nominees while Oscar voters can generate anywhere from five to 10 such noms. Besides the three front runner titles, the PGA's other best picture nominees (alphabetically) were: "Arrival," "Deadpool," "Fences," "Hacksaw Ridge," "Hell or High Water," "Hidden Figures" and "Lion."

Winners of the 28th annual Producers Guild Awards will be announced Sat., January 28 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Although the PGA uses the same byzantine preferential voting system that the Academy does, that doesn't guarantee that the same films wind up with noms from both groups. There are differences between how producers look at contenders and how Academy members (some of whom, of course, are producers) look at potential nominees.

Producers, for instance, are thought to pay more attention to boxoffice success than Academy members in general do. That could account, at least in part, for the PGA's best picture nod for the comic book driven fantasy action adventure "Deadpool," which grossed $363.1 million domestically. Academy members could also put "Deadpool" into their best picture race, but it's unlikely since they tend to exclude comic book blockbusters from that exalted category.

Ironically, when the Academy expanded its best picture noms from five to 10 in 2009 (in 2011 they changed to having between five and 10 noms) one of the explanations for making the change was that there would now be room for a few well regarded mainstream hits to get into the best picture race.   

In particular, it was believed to be industry unhappiness over the Academy's failure to give a best picture nod to Christopher Nolan's critically acclaimed 2008 "Batman" re-imagination "The Dark Knight" that prompted the category's expansion the following year.         "TDK" did receive noms in eight categories and won for supporting actor (Heath Ledger) and sound editing. It also got a PGA best picture nod and had nine BAFTA noms -- winning for supporting actor, but not getting into BAFTA's best picture or directing races.

It's also interesting to look at who didn't connect last week with BAFTA, PGA or DGA voters. After striking out at the Globes, Mel Gibson's career comeback hopes hinged on "Hacksaw Ridge" quickly finding some love elsewhere.

BAFTA ignored "HR" for best picture or director, but did give it five noms -- lead actor (Andrew Garfield), adapted screenplay, editing, makeup & hair and sound. That wasn't great news for Gibson, himself, but last Tuesday he still had the DGA noms on the horizon.

A DGA nomination Thursday would have instantly elevated Gibson's prospects of getting into the Oscar race. It would have essentially ended his 10 years of being in the Hollywood doghouse for his notorious Malibu DUI ranting. But there was no DGA redemption for Gibson. The guild's nominees were (alphabetically): "Arrival" "LLL," "Lion," "Manchester" and "Moonlight."

There was, however, some good news last week for Gibson in that he's just signed with CAA for representation. Gibson's longtime manager, Rick Nicita, closed his management company earlier last week to go into film production instead. Having CAA's endorsement should be very helpful to Gibson in putting new projects together whatever happens in this year's Oscar race.

It also helps that "HR" has done well at the boxoffice. Lionsgate estimated Sunday morning that its domestic cume is $65.4 million after 11 weeks. It's also done about $92.5 million internationally.

Also conspicuously missing from the DGA list was Martin Scorsese's drama "Silence," which hasn't resonated with major awards givers other than the National Board of Review (for best adapted screenplay) and an AFI Fest Movie of the Year award. A DGA nod for Scorsese could have propelled him into the Oscar race.

Clint Eastwood was another A List director who also was MIA at the DGA. Eastwood's "Sully" has struck out on the major awards front aside from making the National Board of Review's Ten Best list and getting an AFI Fest Movie of the Year award.

The DGA nom for "Lion" could push that small drama, directed by Garth Davis and starring Dev Patel, into the Oscar race. Academy members who hadn't seen it yet may have decided to watch it – or some of it -- at home Thursday night before voting online Friday, the final day of nominations balloting. Some of them may even have nominated it sight unseen just on the basis of its endorsement by the DGA, which also nominated Davis in its first-time feature directing category. "Lion" has the advantage of diverse casting at a time when that's more valuable than ever on the Oscar front.

Another noteworthy nod in the guild's first-time feature directing category went to Nate Parker for "The Birth of a Nation." Parker and "Birth" were favored early last year not just to be nominated but to win Oscars for best picture and directing. However, an unexpected media firestorm over rape charges that Parker was acquitted of while in college in 1999 put a sudden end to that awards buzz.

It also helped kill "Birth" at the boxoffice, where it wound up grossing just $15.9 million domestically. Fox Searchlight Pictures had acquired all rights to "Birth" at Sundance 2016 for a record price then of $17.5 million.

A DGA nod for Parker in the best director category might have rekindled his Oscar prospects, but his getting into the DGA's lower profile first-time feature directing category isn't likely to have as much impact on Academy members.

Virtually all of the DGA's best director nominees have gone on to wind up in Oscar's best picture Oscar race ever since the Academy expanded that category in 2009. Of course, there's always an exception to everything. In this case, it was "The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo" (David Fincher) in 2011, which did not also receive a best picture Oscar nod or a best directing Oscar nom. The DGA and Oscar winner was Michael Hazanavicius for "The Artist," which also won best picture and in three other races.

Because the DGA and Academy directors branch don't always totally agree on noms, it's possible that one or two of those who were left out by the DGA could still get into the Oscar race. There are about 16,000 DGA members, including feature and television directors as well as assistant directors, unit production managers, associate directors, stage managers and production associates. DGA voters tend to be a younger and more diverse group than the roughly 475 feature director members of the Academy's very elite directing branch.

The two groups' different demos account for some of their voting differences. Last year, for instance, the DGA nominated Ridley Scott for "The Martian," a mainstream commercial sci-fi boxoffice hit. The directors branch, however, skipped Scott and instead nominated Lenny Abrahamson for the critically acclaimed, low budget intense drama "Room."

Last year's four films with both DGA and Oscar directing noms were (alphabetically): "The Big Short" (Adam McCay), "Mad Max: Fury Road" (George Miller), "The Revenant" (Alejandro G. Inarrritu) and "Spotlight" (Tom McCarthy). "Revenant" won in both races.

We'll find out who wins this time around when the 69th annual DGA Awards are held Sat., February 4 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Bottom line: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Weekend wasn't a very happy one for Hollywood. All films in the marketplace grossed about $148 million from Friday through Sunday, per comScore, down about 12.5 percent from $169 million this time last year.

There was, however, a solid first place finish for 20th Century Fox's PG rated drama "Hidden Figures."  Fox estimated Sunday morning that it would do $25.3 million for four days with a domestic cume of $59.7million.

"HF" went wider in its fourth weekend – to 3,286 theatres, an increase of 815 locations. Its best film PGA nom last week may have helped it to get seen by Academy members while they were still marking their nominations ballots. It can't hurt "HF" that Oscar voters have diversity in mind this year.

 STX Entertainment's PG-13 rated horror thriller "The Bye Bye Man" opened fifth to industry estimates Sunday morning of an okay $17 million for four days given its low budget of about $7.5 million.

Lionsgate's R rated drama "Patriot's Day" expanded and marched into sixth place. Lionsgate estimated Sunday morning that it would do $14.3 million for four days with a cume of $15.2 million after four weeks.

Paramount's PG rated family action film "Monster Trucks" drove into seventh place with industry estimates Sunday morning of $14 million for four days.

Open Road Films' R rated action crime thriller "Sleepless" awakened in eighth place to industry estimates Sunday morning of $9.6 million for four days.

Of the three best picture Oscar front runners, only "LLL" made the Top Ten, benefiting significantly from its seven Golden Globes wins and from exposure to the telecast's 20 million viewers. "LLL" will wind up either second or third for four days. Lionsgate estimated Sunday morning that it would do $17.5 million with a domestic cume of $74.1 million after six weeks.

Most of "LLL's" already healthy cume has come in limited release. Last weekend, Lionsgate expanded its run to 1,848 theatres, an increase of 333 locations but not a really wide break yet. A wider national release including smaller markets will coincide with Jan. 24's Oscar nominations announcement, which should help "LLL" sell lots of tickets.

Universal's PG rated 3D animated comedy "Sing" could wind up in second place, which would make "LLL" third for the holiday weekend. Industry estimates Sunday morning, anticipating strong family film Sunday and Monday matinee business, put it at $18.5 million for four days with a cume of $237.7 million after four weeks.

The year to date domestic gross is about $528.7 million, according to comScore, down 4.2 percent from $551.8 million this time last year.