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November 17, 2017

Pete Hammond’s Notes On The Season: WGA Nixes ‘Three Billboards’; Bleecker Puts Lumps Of Coal In Critics’ Stockings; ‘Get Out’ Globes Petition Nears Goal

A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

As I have been taking the temperature of the race so far, at this early stage no movie seems buzzier among voters across the board than Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This is the name you increasingly hear over and over in Best Picture conversations, the title most enthusiastically mentioned by those who have seen it. But don’t count on hearing it mentioned at the Writers Guild Awards this year. The WGA is deeming McDonagh’s original screenplay as ineligible for a nomination due to their arcane rules about requiring any potential nominee to have been made under the auspices of the Guild’s Minimum Basic Agreement.


Pundits at our sister site Gold Derby named McDonagh’s script as the frontrunner for the Original Screenplay Oscar and it would seem at the very least a shoe-in for a nomination there along with other top prospects as Lady Bird and Get Out at this point. McDonagh is no stranger to getting derailed by WGA rules as his 2008 Oscar nominated script for In Bruges also was ineligible at the guild. Another top Best Picture and Screenplay prospect, Darkest Hour written by Anthony McCarten is also said to be ineligible at the WGA this year along with others including Victoria & Abdul, Breathe and Coco (unlike Oscars animated features do not get consideration at WGA). McCarten also went through the same thing with his Oscar nominated adaptation of The Theory Of Everything, also ineligible at WGA then. But both ‘Mc’s’ Donagh and Carten can take heart as they are very much in the running to get an invite to the Dolby Theatre anyway and can look to examples of recent Oscar winning scripts like Birdman and 12 Years A Slave, which were also WGA snubees. Both films still get official WGA member screenings this weekend.


Get Out Box Office


Universal’s Get Out from writer/director Jordan Peele won’t have a problem landing with WGA as it is completely eligible under their rules for Original Screenplay and it has a very good chance, especially with Three Billboards out of the way. And if the studio continues to have its way it also won’t be competing with that film at the Golden Globes as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association splits their Best Picture competition between Drama and Comedy/Musical. Universal pushed to put the horror suspense thriller Get Out into the Comedy category (where there is less competition) and the HFPA bought it. Peele though has publicly dissed the idea stating he thinks of his film in a much more serious vein and even facetiously tweeted that it is a “documentary”, but as Deadline reported earlier today he doesn’t care how it is categorized, only that people see it. But now Care2 Petitions, in between more pressing social causes on their site, has taken up this cause to demand the HFPA put the film in the Globes Drama category, and with a goal of 10,000 signatures, already has 8161 supporters. “It is very clear the commentary is not meant to be so lighthearted. The ultimate story is about white people stealing the life from black people – nothing about that is funny, ” the petition states. You can sign up at Baby Driver is another dubious entry into the Golden Globe Comedy/Musical category with a rep for the summer action thriller claiming it is really a “musical” since, according to this logic, it has wall to wall tunes (mostly with the word “baby” in them) on the needle drop soundtrack. It is hard to believe HFPA voters will buy into the idea that this movie is on the same level musically as genuine entries like Beauty And The Beast and The Greatest Showman where people actually sing on camera.


20th Century Fox

Pretty soon we will have all the pieces of the puzzle of this year’s Oscar contest finally in place as both Steven Spielberg’s The Post and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread start multiple screenings, and in the case of the latter daily screenings at the Fine Arts and Aero Theatres beginning the day after Thanksgiving. Spielberg’s film, which he just finished the final mix on Monday, rolls out Sunday in LA and NY, followed by other screenings early next week. Take it with a grain of salt but one person who is working on the Fox film, but always gives me an honest read of a movie, saw it this week and said simply and without further comment, “I think the race is about to change significantly”. Hmmmm. CBS Films President Terry Press who has worked on past campaigns for Spielberg (Lincoln, Saving Private Ryan) is moonlighting as a consultant on this one as well I hear as CBS Films has no dog in the race. As for Phantom Thread, which of course stars Daniel Day-Lewis, coincidentally last seen on screen in Spielberg’s Lincoln for which he won his third Best Actor Oscar, I hear is completely stolen by his co-star Vicky Krieps. “This is definitely ‘a star is born’ time for her,” one early viewer told me as I thought the last thing we need now is yet another Best Actress prospect.


Tri Star

So after those two films are unveiled all eyes will be on Ridley Scott who doesn’t seem to have a problem taking his time to make a splash into the race and just started reshoots for Sony’s All The Money In The World yesterday with Christopher Plummer replacing Kevin Spacey in the movie that was supposed to have closed the AFI Film Festival last night, but was otherwise occupied trying to rise from the ashes of the Spacey debacle to make a December 22nd opening date. Sony’s Tri Star which is distributing also wasted no time in releasing two new one sheet posters today with Plummer getting second billing behind Michelle Williams who also could be a late breaking entry into that impossibly overcrowded Best Actress competition. If Scott can pull this off, and if the movie is good, Sony might have a real contender since this Hail Mary pass to rescue the film in time for this season is simply unprecedented, and the heroes could be Scott who turns 80 on November 30th and Plummer who turns 88 on December 13th.

Pete Hammond/Deadline

Plummer by the way is terrific as a Scrooge you have never before seen in the great holiday treat, The Man Who Invented Christmas opening the day before Thanksgiving through Bleecker Street. The film starring Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens is an origin story tale about the creation his Christmas classic. So far critics are being kind with the exception of one rotten tomato rating from the critical version of a Scrooge at The Wrap. The distributor is taking it to heart and sent him a lump of coal in a red stocking with a holiday card in which they wrote: “Humbug to you! We were sad to hear the film didn’t warm your heart with a festive feeling in the spirit of the season and Dickens himself. We’ll be making a donation to The Bowery Mission on your behalf.” Bleecker Street tells me they plan to send lumps of goal to any other critic who goes negative on the movie.


Pete Summers/REX/Shutterstock

Getting back to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I got a chance to have drinks the other day with its writer and director Martin McDonagh who as I mentioned is getting a lot of Oscar buzz for this film. In fact past nominees like Sally Kirkland are already buzzing about it and its cast as she did this week on Facebook in order to spread the word. “Just came from the Academy where I saw what could be the best picture of the year. Martin McDonagh wrote it for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell who could win Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor Oscars. McDonagh writes like Harold Pinter meets Sam Shepard. TOTALLY BRILLIANT. I had a chance to talk with him afterwards and tell him I was voting for the film and how brilliant he was,” she wrote. Actually McDonagh, who dabbles in movies in between a lot of great plays that he writes, has been down this path before not only as an aforementioned Oscar nominee in 2008 for In Bruges, but also as an Oscar winner for Six Shooter the 2004 Live Action Short he directed. He told me he was nervous on that Oscar evening, but when nominated for In Bruges he already knew he was going to lose to Milk, so it was a much easier time. “You know who the competition is and you kind of know that you’re not going to win so it was much more relaxing than the first time around,” he laughed. Three Billboards became the surprise winner of the often-times prescient Peoples Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival which really shocked some pundits who didn’t see that coming, but McDonagh had been gauging audience reaction at screenings since the Venice opening and San Sebastian as well as TIFF and saw how it played, so when I asked him if he could believe it took the top audience prize he said he could. “Completely. I was sitting in the auditorium and you could feel it. I mean you can always tell if they’re going for the laughs, but you could hear the gasps and shocks. But its been consistent everywhere.

Fox Searchlight

Toronto was the biggest because it’s an English speaking place too but it played like a crowd pleaser rather than a dark indie,” he said of the movie that had one of the top specialty openings of the year last weekend. “I think it was Toronto that really kind of kicked us on and made us think we are going to be part of the conversation. I just dip in to making films every four or five years so it’s kind of fun. I’d rather be part of it than not be talked about. A film like this could have gone a different way so it’s much nicer to be considered. Fran, Sam and Woody (Harrelson) are great friends. It’s good to hear their names being talked about.”

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