It’s that time of year Oscar faithful which means awards season is in full effect in the greater Los Angeles area. Tuesday night featured the West Hollywood, er, LA premieres of two films hoping to make a serious dent in the Oscar race: Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” and Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation.” One has an excellent shot at landing a Best Picture nomination and winning Best Actress. The other? Well, Netflix has an intriguing test case on its hands.
“Room,” which debuted at the 2015 Telluride Film Festival and went on to win the People’s Choice Award at Toronto, played at the recently renovated Pacific Design Center screening room in the center of WeHo. Abrahamson and author/screenwriter Emma Donoghue were on hand as were stars Brie Larson (potentially your Best Actress frontrunner), Jacob Tremblay (we still can’t decide if he’s really lead or supporting), Joan Allen (the Supporting Actress crasher) and William H. Macy. Among the the screening attendees were Alicia Silverstone and Macy’s wife, one time Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman. The after party was held at the casually chic Zinque right across the street from the PDC (not to movie studio party planners, it worked!) and the Hollywood hipster crowd that simply adores A24’s slate enough to venture past Vermont included none other than “Portlandia” Carrie Brownstein.
Having reviewed “Room” at Telluride different aspects of both Larson and Tremblay’s performance stood out during the second go around. More importantly, it’s becoming increasingly apparent Abrahamson simply isn’t getting enough hype for the incredible job he pulled off directing the film. Nothing is a lock in Oscar land, unless you’re “Inside Out,” but landing a few pseudo directing honors for Abramson might help him pop a bit more to members (the Hollywood Film Awards and Palm Springs Film Festival Gala has to be good for something right?). Having him crash in LA and do a ton of Q&A’s for a month or so wouldn’t hurt either.
At the same time as “Room” was unspooling Netflix brought “Beasts” to the Director’s Guild of America Theater for a special screening hosted by Ben Affleck, John Legend and Elizabeth Banks. Affleck didn’t appear to make the post party at the West Hollywood landmark Chateau Marmont, but Banks and Legend certainly did. The post-party was filled with a number of Academy voters (two of whom told me everyone keeps telling them to see “Room”) and HFPA members.
The dapper Fukunaga was besieged by well wishers and had barely made it to the party’s main patio by the end of the night. For those who caught “Beasts” for the first time the buzz surrounded young star Abraham Attah (Best Supporting Actor contender Idris Elba was unable to attend). Like “Room’s” Tremplay, Attah faces a tough task of bypassing a number of established adult actors if he hopes on pulling off an Oscar nomination at such a young age.
During the “Beasts” party I was lucky enough to speak to none other than Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos for a few minutes. Our conversation went in all sorts of directions, but here were a couple of key revelations.
*He was slightly nervous about screening the first episode of Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” at New York Comic-Con this past weekend, but thrilled about the reaction.
*I asked if there was anyway “Beasts,” which is hitting art house theaters and Netflix on the same day, could target Academy member neighborhoods on their welcome screen to make sure they don’t miss out. Sarandos’ concern was that while in theory that could work it would ruin the customization that members value so much.
*Sarandos insisted he sent this pundit’s “Beasts” review around to members of his staff after it published in Telluride, but we also think he might have been just humoring me.
*Sarandos’ favorite film festival so far mirrors pretty much everyone else’s: Telluride.
*He’d love to see a third season/installment of “Wet Hot American Summer” just as much as everyone else, but wouldn’t divulge if it was close to happening.
*Among the upcoming originals Netflix has in the works, Sarandos is very excited about Baz Luhrmann’s “The Get Down” which stars “Dope’s” Shameik Moore and “The Crown,” which will recreate the life of Queen Elizabeth II over sixty episodes. He noted that each season will consist of 10 episodes and the series will recast every 20 eps. He also revealed that Stephen Frears is on board to direct a few of the episodes (something we certainly haven’t seen on IMDB).
Both “Room” and “Beasts” face different hurdles in the weeks ahead. “Room” needs to rock the art house circuit when it opens in limited release this Friday. “Beasts” needs to convince Academy and guild members that it’s an actual movie up for awards consideration and not just a Netflix original. In either case, for one night hope and free drinks sprung eternal.
“Room” opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday. “Beasts of No Nation” also debuts in limited release and on Netflix worldwide Friday.