This is the first season I can think of, at least since I’ve been covering this crazy beat on the west coast, that studios have become so terrified by the media that guild screenings are preempting press screenings with such consistency.
Some have whined about “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” screening for SAG 10 days before the media at large gets a look (with the usual brand of entitlement that turns the stomach). Others actually snuck into the screening, surely freaking out a few publicists desperate to unfold the film at their own pace (and the pace dictated by the meticulous David Fincher). I’m just waiting.
Plenty have taken the altered ending story behind “Australia,” not to mention the film being held from the press until two weeks before it opens, as a sign that the movie is in trouble. I’m just waiting.
Lots of anticipation has suddenly been blown into “The Reader”‘s previously deflated balloon. I’m just waiting.
But I have to say, seeing a couple of the year’s contenders last week with big industry audiences proved to be just the breath of fresh air this incredibly stifling season needed.
“Milk” enjoyed a lavish premiere at the Academy Thursday night, bringing out a spectrum of stars: Jack Nicholson, Harry Dean Stanton, Oliver Stone, Marisa Tomei, Woody Harrelson, David Gordon Green, Bruce Vilanch, and of course Sean Penn, James Franco, Gus Van Sant and Emile Hirsch. Gay rights advocates held a candlelight vigil across the street on Wilshire Boulevard as flashbulbs went off along the red carpet.
The crowd clearly loved the movie. “What an important film,” I heard one producer say. “I’ve never seen a performance like that.” After a lengthy ovation, most of the crowd stayed all the way through the credits roll, a rarity considering we could all smell the San Francisco-inspired cuisine laid out in the lobby below.
Saturday the press at large (and a massive SAG crowd) got it’s first peek at “Revolutionary Road.” Spillover crowds had to see the film in the nearby Sherry Lansing Theatre while plenty of guild members had to be turned away.
The SAG crowd couldn’t get enough of the acting clinic put on by the film’s ensemble, but I’d say Michael Shannon stole the show in the post-screening Q&A. I even found myself a bit irritated when Pete Hammond cut him off to move on to a new topic, no matter how much I might understand the plight of a deadline-bound moderator.
The dinner party that followed the screening was a much more intimate affair than the “Milk” reception, 30 or so people mingling about Larchmont grill across the street from the Paramount lot. David Harbour was led around the room by his hard-working publcist it what might be his first real Hollywood whirlwind, taking it all in stride and having nothing but glowing things to say of co-star Kate Winslet (with whom he shares a couple of notable scenes in the film).
Kathryn Hahn, meanwhile, carried a bouyant sense of humor throughout the evening that left you wondering how she could tap into the repression of Milly Campbell on screen with such visceral authenticity. Kathy Bates prefered the more casual hues of the front patio, engaging in this intimate conversation or that, while Kate Winslet and hubby Sam Mendes fielded queries and adoration inside. Ditto lenser Roger Deakings and composer Thomas Newman.
Michael Shannon leaning against the bar, quite affable and a guy you;d like to bullshit with into the night; Leonardo DiCaprio knocking a surprisingly flawless George W. Bush impersonation out of the park (his blood boiling at the Commander-in-Chief’s most recent on-air gaffs); just a delightful spread in the service of a film Paramount Vantage hopes can cross the finish line outside of the obvious expectations.
In both cases, it was a moment’s relief in a season that has become incredibly stifling. The ability to simply delight in conversation about the movies with a few smart people, both with and without vested interests, outside the unbearable vacuum than tends to build up around this time of year, it was just what the doctor ordered.
The only films that will be left to unveil on the other side of the Thanksgiving holiday are Columbia Pictures’ “Seven Pounds” and Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Gran Torino.” Both of them have a play at the big race in a still somewhat uncompetitive year, if for no other reason than they have the unknown in their favor. But I already sense our five falling into place, even if I’m a bit wary of how safe that line-up appears to be. So who knows?
I’m just glad we’re getting somewhere, even if this column clearly isn’t. Let’s just get to what you want: