Spirit Awards and pre-Oscar gatherings highlight a busy Saturday for Hollywood

Posted by · 11:00 am · February 22nd, 2015

Better late than never on filing a report from yesterday's Spirit Awards and pre-Oscar festivities, I guess. It was a late night, Harvey Weinstein and his peeps rounding things out with a big soiree/dinner that drew to a close around midnight, so my bed was far more enticing than my keyboard when I got back to the homestead.

The Spirit Awards are generally my favorite event of the season, largely because the imbibing starts early and the attitude is super lax. But it's also my own personal bow on things (as I always happily steer clear of the Oscars), saying final goodbyes to colleagues and talent I've interacted with consistently over the season. And given that Film Independent was apparently looking to break the record for most commercial breaks in a single awards show, I was able to bounce around and catch up with just about everyone I was hoping to.

Before the show started I spoke at length with “A Most Violent Year” director J.C. Chandor. I was happy that the film was able to have one last hurrah like this, as it is one of 2014's best offerings. He's coming off of a departure from a major project in Summit Entertainment's “Deepwater Horizon” with Mark Wahlberg and trying to re-focus at the moment, potentially diving headlong into an adventure story he's been sort of bouncing off his 10-year-old daughter for a number of years. Now is the time for that, if ever, he told me, so maybe it's good he didn't get lost in an inflated budget nightmare.

The “Birdman” table was all smiles before the awards even began (and obviously even more so after). I got the requisite fist-bump from Michael Keaton, told producer John Lesher I was sorry that almost every time he turned around this season he ended up seeing my ugly mug, and congratulated Emmanuel Lubezki for his off-air cinematography award. This weekend isn't much for typical LA weather but Lubezki will take it over the frigid production of “The Revenant” up in Calgary, which has frozen up its share of Arri Alexas and looks to extend to May at this point. (Production started in October but they had a big hiatus built in.) I have a feeling we'll be talking about that film, and maybe even Chivo's potential to three-peat for Best Cinematography, this time next year.

Ava DuVernay grabbed me as I was circling the room at one point. “This is my last snub of the season,” she joked after the Best Director prize was handed out. I get the feeling she's ready for the circus that has developed around “Selma” to just go away (and who isn't), but the work will last forever, of course, and I'm sure she'll look radiant as always on the red carpet tonight. She encouraged me to stay off Twitter during my upcoming time off. I'll try.

The highlight of the afternoon was a personal one, though. An old college chum, Aaron Katz, won the John Cassavetes Award with his “Land Ho!” co-director Martha Stephens, and I let out a little yelp. Frequent readers might recall last year's winner was another college pal, “This is Martin Bonner's” Chad Hartigan. Clearly the secret to winning this prize is having learned the form alongside yours truly. Clearly. Fingers crossed Zach Clark is next!

I was also delighted to see Justin Simien win the Best First Screenplay honor for “Dear White People.” Here's a guy many of us knew for his tenure as a publicist. He would check my name off when I would show up at Paramount screenings. Now he's giving one of the most poignant speeches of the season at the Spirit Awards. I couldn't be more impressed with how fine a point he put on the importance of getting your voice and your story out into the world and I have no doubt the circuit isn't finished with him and his voice yet. He'll be back.

I finished things off by sitting with Jessica Chastain for a spell as everyone filed out of the tent. If you caught the show, you saw her bit with Andy Samberg as they presented toward the end. She enjoyed being able to cut up like that and wants to do a comedy, but unsurprisingly, the female roles in the comedy scripts she receives tend to be underwritten. We talked a little about Ridley Scott's “The Martian,” which she just wrapped, as well as Guillermo del Toro's upcoming “Crimson Peak.” She said she went to a very weird head space for that role and that she was a bit depressed, even, after the shoot was over, because it was so intense. “I had so much disturbing imagery in my trailer,” she said of wallowing in the mood of the film. One wonders what kind of a presence the genre piece will have on the circuit next year after del Toro's good friends Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu saw such luck the last two years.

Chastain, by the way, is presenting Best Cinematography at the Oscars tonight. So if Lubezki indeed wins, that will be a nice “Tree of Life” reunion on the Dolby Theater stage.

After the show, IFC held a big after party across the street. Spirits (no pun intended) probably could have been higher, seeing as “Birdman” managed to win the Best Feature prize over “Boyhood,” but that whole crew is just happy to have been on the journey. I caught up with Ethan Hawke in the tent as well, for instance, and wished him and the team luck on Sunday. He just sort of happily shrugged, content as ever, and said, “It'll be a fun party.” It's a party they all feel like they crashed anyway, so whatever the outcome, “Boyhood” was heard.

Later in the evening, Harvey Weinstein held his annual swanky, exclusive pre-Oscars celebration at The Montage in Beverly Hills. Those in attendance included Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Lopez, Eric Schmidt, Marion Cotillard, James Corden, Jeff Bezos, Diane Warren, Channing Tatum, Rita Ora and Paul Allen. An intriguing mish-mash as only Harvey could manage. And of course, much of the Oscar-nominated talent from films like “The Imitation Game,” “Begin Again” and “CITIZENFOUR” was on hand as well, including Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

The crowd was treated to a bit of Weinstein's Broadway offerings. He's been putting together a musical production of “Around the World in 80 Days” and, for a “low-stakes crowd,” he joked, there was about a 30 minute preview with a handful of the songs involved. Later, a few tracks from the musical adaptation of Miramax's 2004 Oscar-winner “Finding Neverland” were performed.

By this point, though, it was safe to say I was fighting sleep. So I took my leave. But on the way out, I ran into “The Imitation Game” screenwriter Graham Moore one last time and was glad for that. Think what you will about that movie, but he is an immensely talented writer and a genuinely nice young man who hasn't been soured by the awards season ringer. (That's not always the case.) And I know because I was there at the start of it, talking to him in a Silver Lake coffee shop just after Telluride when he hadn't even really started the press maelstrom for the film. I told him then that he could well be nominated for an Oscar, and it was something he couldn't even fathom at the time. Now he might walk out of the Dolby with the win, and it's probably still impossible for him to fathom. Even more so, what to do when the merry-go-round stops?

“I have no idea what I'm going to do on Monday,” he said with the glint of a dreamer who knows this particular fairytale has an expiration date.

Stay tuned to HitFix later today as the Oscars ramp up. We'll have coverage throughout the site.

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