‘Tis the season for lots of swag, as long as you’re not in the Academy
At a party at Musso & Frank’s to celebrate the home video release of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” on Monday night – which is to say, a party that was designed to drum up awards votes more than to promote DVDs or Blu-Rays – a fellow voter for critics’ awards plopped his plate next to mine, introduced himself and struck up a conversation. Almost the first thing out of his mouth was, “So, what do you do with all that stuff we’re getting in the mail?”
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I knew exactly what he was talking about. This is always the time of year when DVD screeners are accompanied by various packages of swag – but this year, the stream of goodies arriving at the door seems particularly heavy.
The funny thing is, the goal of every studio and every campaigner this time of year is Oscar nominations, then Oscar wins – but Academy members are the one group of voters to which you’re forbidden from sending any promotional items. So the approach is a roundabout one: If somebody sends me something cool and gets my vote for the Critics’ Choice Awards, then maybe that movie gets a nomination, and maybe a few more Oscar voters notice it.
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And at this point, I feel compelled to point out that I’m not implying you can get my vote by sending me something cool. You can get my vote by making a great movie. Sending me stuff, cool or not, mostly makes me wonder where I’m gonna put it.
Which I’m now wondering about the two packages that arrived while I was writing that last paragraph. Both were from Netflix, which is particularly, um, generous this time of year. One contained a bright red pair of bedroom slippers – papal red, you might say, since they say “The Two Popes” on them. The other is a very plush, cream-colored blanket, with a discreet leather patch in one corner that reads, “Marriage Story.’ A Noah Baumbach film.”
Anyway, for the benefit of Academy members who don’t get this stuff, I thought I’d compile an inventory of what is stacking up in my living room and office at this moment – in other words, what I’ve received in the mail over the last couple of weeks.
– Red “Two Popes” bedroom slippers
– A “Marriage Story” blanket
– Two hardcover “Marriage Story” books, one devoted to Adam Driver’s character and one to Scarlett Johannson’s, in a cream colored slipcase
– A plush figure from “Missing Link”
– An eight-pound “The Irishman” coffee table book
– A bottle of Windsor Vineyards cabernet sauvignon from “The Irishman,” with “For Your Consideration Best Picture” on the label
– A package of Bottega Calocco panettone from “The Irishman”
– A hardbound screenplay to “The Irishman”
– A hardbound screenplay to “Marriage Story”
– A hardbound screenplay to “The Two Popes”
– A bottle of avocado oil, a jar of bourbon lemon marmalade and a trucker hat from “The Biggest Little Farm”
– A jar of peanut butter and a jar of bourbon figs with vanilla & smoked salt from “The Peanut Butter Falcon”
– A bottle of Ernie Els white wine from Charlize Theron, with a note promoting “Bombshell”
– A tin of tea from “Downton Abbey”
– LPs containing the music to “Us,” “Missing Link” and the documentary “5B”
– A 45rpm single containing part of Randy Newman’s score to “Marriage Story”
– A coffee table book about “Rocketman”
– A coffee table book about “Missing Link”
– A coffee table book about “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
– A coffee table book about “The Black Godfather”
– A hardcover movie-companion book about “Little Women”
– A “Knives Out” box containing a flask, earbuds, a portable Go game and a tube of Advil
– A hardcover copy of “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson
– A signed page from the score to “The King” by composer Nicholas Britell
– A book of storyboards and screenplay to “The Peanut Butter Falcon”
– A book of storyboards and art from the Japanese animated film “Weathering With You”
– A box from “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” containing book by Mr. Rogers, a bottle of hand cream, a Pop! vinyl figure of Mr. Rogers, a Mr. Rogers-themed tie and a red sweater that I would say is Mr. Rogers-style except that it’s a woman’s sweater and it buttons instead of zips
– A package from A24 that contains “Waves” earbuds, “The Lighthouse” soap, a “Last Black Man in San Francisco” map, a little “The Farewell” plushie and a sheet of “Uncut Gems” wrapping paper
– A “Collectible Commemorative Lithograph” from “Frozen II”
– A black-and-white print, in an edition of 500, from “Toy Story 4”
– A denim jacket festooned with “Dolemite Is My Name” buttons
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I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I see at the moment. And I’m not including all softbound screenplays or the CDs or the screeners or the lavish promotional booklets.
But sorry, Academy members – you can’t have any of it.
Now, can we got back to “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” for a minute? I like the movie a lot, but what gives with the way the title is printed on its screeners?
In ads, it’s always been “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” But on the cover of the screener, that ellipses has somehow moved, and it’s “Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood.” Which is it, anyway?
I know which version makes sense thematically, and it’s the one where the ellipses comes after “Once Upon a Time.” What I don’t get is why those pesky dots have moved.
By the way, it’s illegal to send Oscar voters a different version of a film than the one that originally ran in theaters, which means that “OUATIH” screeners can’t contain the extra footage that has been added to the theatrical cut for its re-release.
But I guess it’s legal to send them a version where the film is the same but the title has been re-punctuated.
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This was the week when nominations and awards started coming fast and furious: The Annie Award nominations and the Gotham Award ceremony on Monday, the National Board of Review winners on Tuesday, the New York Film Critics Circle winners and AFI top 10 list on Wednesday. And we know what the big winners have been so far, with “The Irishman” winning NBR and NYCC and “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and “1917” and “Marriage Story” showing up everywhere as well.
But what are the real messages those voters are sending? They’re not trying to make sure that the Academy notices Scorsese or Tarantino, but they may be trying to move the needle in other places.
NBR: In addition to the usual suspects, they made a case for “Dolemite Is My Name,” “Richard Jewell,” “Waves” and “Knives Out,” all of which were considered on the fringes of the awards conversation. And above all, by naming Adam Sandler best actor for “Uncut Gems” over the likes of, say, Leonardo DiCaprio and Joaquin Phoenix and Adam Driver, they made a big push to put him and that film on the awards map.
NYFCC: Their selection of Antonio Banderas as best actor for “Pain and Glory” was not as dramatic as NBR’s choice of Sandler, but it nonetheless made a statement on behalf of a beautifully quiet performance. They did the same thing by going with “The Irishman” costar Joe Pesci over his more flamboyant castmate Al Pacino. Their choice of Lupita Nyong’o as best actress for “Us” was even bolder, since the genre nature of Jordan Peele’s smart horror film could be a problem for her with some voters. And by going with non-English films for cinematography, first film, nonfiction film and animated film, they made a case for voters to look beyond the international category and beyond “Parasite.”
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AFI: Again, it wasn’t the obvious choices – “The Irishman,” “OUATIH,” “Marriage Story,” “1917,” “Jojo Rabbit” – that sent the message. It was “The Farewell,” which had been overlooked by some other voters, and “Joker,” which launched with a bang but hasn’t gotten much awards love, and “Knives Out,” which is slowly turning from a pleasing popcorn whodunnit to an actual awards movie.
So those are the messages for this week. Next week, it’ll be L.A. Film Critics, Golden Globes, SAG … and then, mercifully, a break.
Steve Pond has been writing about film, music, pop culture and the entertainment industry for more than 40 years. He has served as TheWrap’s awards editor and executive editor, awards since joining the company in 2009. Steve began his career writing about music for the Los Angeles Times, where he remained a contributor for more than 15 years, and Rolling Stone, where he was West Coast Music Editor and wrote 16 cover stories. He moved into film coverage with a weekly column in the Washington Post and became a contributing writer at Premiere magazine, where he became the first journalist to have all access to the Academy Awards show and rehearsals. He has also written for the New York Times, Movieline, the DGA Quarterly, GQ, Playboy, the Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, New York, the Christian Science Monitor, Live! magazine and many others. He is the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller “The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards” (Faber and Faber, 2005). He has also written “Elvis in Hollywood” (New American Library, 1990) and contributed to books that include “Cash,” “The Rolling Stone Reader,” U2: The Rolling Stone Files,” “Bruce Springsteen: The Rolling Stone Files” and “The Rolling Stone Interviews: The 1980s.” He was the co-managing editor of the syndicated TV news program “The Industry News” and the creative consultant for the A&E series “The Inside Track With Graham Nash.” He has won L.A. Press Club awards for stories in TheWrap, the Los Angeles Times and Playboy, and was nominated for a National Magazine Award for a story in Premiere.