Notes On The Season: Oscar In Overdrive, The Gender-Bender Question & Will Smith Makes The Scene Again

Notes On The Season: Oscar In Overdrive, The Gender-Bender Question & Will Smith Makes The Scene Again

A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

If you didn’t think the awards season was in full bloom by now, rest assured it is. With today’s particularly and predictably quirky New York Film Critics Circle winners, the Gotham Awards earlier this week, the Oscars basically confirming their 95th ceremony is striving to erase all last year’s mistakes, and the last of the potential contenders either sucking up all the oxygen out of their premieres – or preparing to (that’s YOU, Avatar: The Way of Water), there is no question that the town is in overdrive as we hit December.

And none of this takes into account the endless number of screenings, Q&As and star-driven receptions attached to them in order to attract voters. As I write this, I have just received my Critics Choice ballot, which will be due back a week from today on December 9. But before that Critics Choice show on January 15, we have Monday night’s fifth annual Critics Choice Celebration of Black Cinema and Television at the Fairmont Century Plaza, where a slew of contenders will be honored including Angela Bassett, Danielle Deadwyler, Jonathan Majors, Brian Tyree Henry and more.

Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro G. Inarritu Celebration of Latino Cinema and Television

This follows two other November Critics Choice events: The inaugural Celebration of Asian Pacific and the second annual Celebration of Latino Cinema and Television shows, which here at the same hotel where the Academy held its 13th Governors Awards also just two weekends ago. That brought out what looked to me like a record number of Oscar hopefuls to schmooze during cocktail hour and dinner breaks with a wasp’s nest of AMPAS voters. That has been a side tradition of the Gov Awards that had reigned until the pandemic stopped campaigning as we knew it in its tracks. But now it seems to be, “Pandemic? What pandemic?” One studio exec I ran into the next day (at yet another Q&A event) cracked, “How did you like that super-spreader we were all at last night?” (Just to be fair, there were few reports of that coming to pass).

And also back big time is the old tradition of stars and high-profile filmmakers lending their presence and name as “host” of special screenings of Oscar-hopeful movies (a large number of these in L.A. being held at CAA). Cher turned out for Till,and Kevin Bacon for his Apollo 13 director Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives — just a couple on the docket this weekend, but there have been a lot of them. And with those deadlines fast approaching for nomination voting for Critics Choice, the Golden Globes (yes, they are baaa-aaack), SAG and more, the pressure is on to make a showing at these important precursor events.


Getty images

The Independent Spirit Awards and the aforementioned Gothams, both with nominees picked by committees, introduced this season what I consider to be an ill-considered move toward slashing their acting categories in half by eliminating male and female gender separation and just going with one Best Lead Performance and Best Supporting Performance. The thought behind the idea was admirable, but the results, so far at least, are disappointing, looking at the disproportionate numbers of outstanding work by both male and female actors this year that were left out in this divide. For instance, the Spirits have eight — count ’em, eight — women up for lead and only two men (and hey, no Brendan Fraser is a crime). It is almost the complete opposite in Supporting, where seven men named but only three women, and this in a year of incredible contenders for Supporting Actress. From my conversations with both BAFTA and Academy officials, thankfully there are no plans to follow this course on their part, at least at this time. The Oscars has only four acting categories to begin with, so cutting them in half would do nothing for the show’s ratings woes. You want as many categories with “actor” or “actress” in their title as you can possibly get in that regard.


Bill Kramer Oscars
Academy CEO Bill Kramer AMPAS

And speaking of Oscars. New AMPAS CEO Bill Kramer made it official in a conversation with a trade this week where he confirmed “all 23 categories will be presented LIVE”. This was in response to last year’s disastrous decision to pre-record 8 of those categories and roll them into the show later. It didn’t go down well, and the fact is the Academy had no intention of repeating it even if they didn’t say so in so many words (yes, they do have ABC’s feelings to consider). What they still haven’t said is just how they will be presenting some of those less glamorous categories (unlike the four acting contests they still have) on the air. Though Kramer says all will be “live”, what does that mean? Is it just like the good old days – or do they have something a little craftier planned for the crafts presentations, something that wouldn’t offend those in those crafts. Sources close to the thinking told me this week, there are no details available yet, that it is all in the early stages. Stay tuned.


The other sticky still-simmering controversy from the last Oscars, that Will Smith/Chris Rock slap, is definitely something the Academy wants excised from our memories and certainly hopes it does not become a talking point during the upcoming March 12 ceremony. Well the man behind that infamous and cringe-inducing moment, Mr. Will Smith is clearly getting comfortable again walking the red carpet, if his activities talking to press at the Westwood Village premiere of his new slave film, Emancipation were any indication. He, and his movie, are front and center again. Of course he has been banned from any Oscar ceremony for 10 years and had to resign from the Academy, and certainly won’t be presenting Best Actress, the traditional spot for the previous year’s Best Actor winner, but at least one overly zealous Oscar season pundit for another trade touting his belief in the movie’s and Smith’s chances at Oscar glory, suggested that maybe AMPAS could reconsider the ban since should the film be nominated as Best Picture. Smith being a producer would be in historical territory in a category where there have been precious few winning Black producers. What would it say to deny entry to someone who could achieve that feat, or so the pundit’s thinking goes. I doubt this scenario will come about because I highly doubt this film will land in either Best Picture or Best Actor (Robert Richardson’s cinematography, the Sound work, Makeup, all possibilities). Reviews were mixed, but you can bet this is a scenario the Academy is praying doesn’t come to pass.