Fun On Oscar Weekend

A glowing Melissa Leo, at the Independent Spirit
Awards, looks nothing like the mother she played so
frighteningly well in The Fighter.

The Academy Awards is the locomotive that drives virtually every other event that celebrates movies, especially in Hollywood. It should come as no surprise, then, that the days leading up to the Oscars are filled with satellite activities. I’m not a big partygoer, but there are three events I do look forward to every February.

The Independent Spirit Awards celebrate indie movies and up-and-coming filmmakers, although some years (like this one) their honor roll looks amazingly similar to the Academy Award roster. For someone like me, who has no stake in the actual awards, this large-scale gathering is a wonderful opportunity to schmooze with actors, writers, directors, producers, and distributors in a congenial setting along the beach in Santa Monica. Everyone is relaxed and the mood is upbeat.

On Friday of Oscar weekend the Publicists Guild holds a luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel where people who—

Arnold Schwarzenegger hands a career award to his friend and fellow
action-movie veteran Sylvester Stallone at the Publicists Guild Awards.

—communicate mostly by e-mail and text get to see each other face-to-face for a change. Publicists drive the business, whether they’re setting critics’ screenings for new movies, arranging interviews, or mapping out massive promotional campaigns. This year’s speeches and presentations were unusually engaging. Glee creator Ryan Murphy and Modern Family’s Steven Levitan were fun to listen to as they praised the co-chairs of 20th Century Fox Television, while the always-endearing Bonnie Hunt (who provided one of the voices in Cars and the upcoming Cars 2) sang the praises of Pixar guru John Lasseter.

Michelle Monaghan can’t keep a straight face as Matt Damon
tries to explain his disheveled appearance at the Publicists
Guild Awards.

Few people know how to play to a crowd as well as our ex-governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who bestowed a lifetime achievement award on Sylvester Stallone. But the highlight came just as Michelle Monaghan was about to present her representative, Jennifer Allen, with a citation as Publicist of the Year, another client rushed on stage in his bathrobe, as if he’d just been woken up. Matt Damon apologized for being late and explained that normally Jennifer arranges his schedule and this time she hadn’t, leaving him to fend for himself. One can only admire a movie star who cares enough to prepare and pull off such a stunt…and it certainly says a lot about Allen, who is a thorough professional and a pleasure to deal with.

John Powell, nominated for the score of How to Train Your Dragon, chats with
Hans Zimmer, whose score for Inception is also up for an Oscar this year.
It turns out the two are friends who are collaborating on a new project.

My favorite event of the weekend has the lowest profile, because it’s held in a private home in Beverly Hills and isn’t covered by the media. The annual celebration of the year’s Oscar nominees in both music categories (song and score) is one of the most collegial, and enjoyable, parties of the year. Every one of this year’s nominees was in attendance except Randy Newman, who is currently touring the country (and will be flying in late Saturday night in order to appear on the Oscar show). There is a wonderful sense of community at this event, where one can see past Oscar winners, hit songwriters and composers, and members of the music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences enjoying each other’s company—and cheering on this year’s Oscar hopefuls.

I feel fortunate to attend such events, where I see old friends, make new ones, and get caught up in the Oscar spirit as it was meant to be. I hope you enjoy some of my snapshots.

Screen newcomer Ashley Bell, nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for
The Last Exorcism, poses with her mother, actress/artist Victoria Bell. Ashley
and my daughter went to pre-school together, and our family couldn’t be happier
for her success.

Nicole Holofcener is one of many ex-New Yorkers
now living in L.A.—but as she proved with Please
, she’s still plugged into a New York sensibility.

To people of a certain generation, Ann Guilbert will always be Millie Helper from
The Dick Van Dyke Show. Younger TV viewers know her as Yetta on The Nanny.
But this year she gave a knockout performance as an acerbic old woman in Please Give,
and shared in the Robert Altman Award for its ensemble.

Last year, Vera Farmiga was an Oscar nominee for
Up in the Air. This year we’ll see her directorial debut,
Higher Ground, which was acquired by Sony Pictures
Classics at the Sundance Film Festival.

A windblown Lena Dunham didn’t know, when I
snapped this picture, that she’d walk away with an
Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay, the
latest honor accorded her debut feature Tiny Furniture.

Mia Wasikowska straddles the mainstream and indie film
worlds: the star of last year’s box-office smash Alice in
, she also gave a fine performance as
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore’s daughter in
The Kids Are All Right. This charming young Aussie is also
poised and self-effacing. I look forward to seeing her
in Jane Eyre next month.

They’ve written the soundtrack of our lives: Oscar-winner Richard M. Sherman, of Mary Poppins fame,
and Stu Phillips, whose prolific television credits range from The Monkees to Battlestar Galactica.

Dan Foliart (right), current President of the Society of Composers and Lyricists, poses with two
stalwarts, Arthur Hamilton (“Cry Me a River”) and Charles Fox (“Killing Me Softly With His Song”).
If I tried to list all their credits this caption would run longer than my article!

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May 2024