In Hollywood, Autumn Is Oscar Season

And then there are the parties to promote big-studio pictures. Years ago (eight?) these were tonier events—at night, with better food. But then the spending spiraled so out of control, mostly by people keeping up with The Harvey, who played the Academy game better than anyone. So the Academy outlawed the whole jazzy thing, and we are left with measly cocktail parties and luncheons. The studios used to pay for them, but that is now verboten, and now are ostensibly hosted by "friends:" the films' producers, stars, directors, friends of the stars, friends of the producers, who then hire the publicists who the studios used to hire, whose bills are paid by.... the studios? This laundering makes the parties kosher. It's a game played on both coasts, but actually ritzier in the East, away from the prying eyes, or the propriety of the Academy brass in the West, and the poor offending studios, who are always getting beaten up during Academy season, thus the 10 nominees. By golly, they are going to get something out of all these expenditures, or they'll never go hungry again. Or something.

I know why I like going to Academy events. Where else in Hollywood can I feel so young? These little unofficial official luncheons—like the one I went to earlier this month for Alice in Wonderland at a private room off the bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel—are the last places where I can relish the delusion of being part of the younger generation of the movie industry.

As I met my invited lunch guest whom I've known for over three decades at the valet where he was parking his midlife crisis wife electric Tesla, and we were joined by another still working producer/director whom we've both known forever. The three of us walked the winding palm frond path to the fete. We greeted each other like the survivors of a long war we feel ourselves to be. "What is this for?" asked the jaunty hyphenate.

I answered, "Alice in Wonderland wants to be nominated for best picture and with 10 nominations, I guess it thinks it has a chance if it gets out ahead of the buzz." My guest snorted, skeptically. But the hyphenate said, " With the recession and private school bills, we might as well have 15 to 20 pictures nominated. This was both funny and cute.

There is a backlash to the increased number of nominated best pictures, which the big studios lobbied for heavily and won last year. Every season it has seemed that they were either left out entirely or pulling up the rear of the of the pack of at the end of Oscar festivities, while footing the bill, essentially, for the whole shebang. Their best and most noble efforts were rarely rewarded, (Okay, Titanic, Forrest Gump, but both were along time ago) and to make matters worse, their own industry voters seemed to be rooting for the outsiders too, of late: Slumdog over Button, The Hurt Locker over Avatar, even last year in a 10-picture race. They figure with 10 pictures—including comedies and musicals—honored, more of their entries will get the enormous added publicity and marketing, an Oscar nom can bring. And so there we were at AiW party, released by Disney and a guest list of Academy Voters, aging by the second.

Septugenarians no one had seen for years since they'd lost their studio deals four rounds ago mingled with costume designers, octogenarians the septs hadn't seen since their hip replacements, and young'uns like me and my Academy producer pals and colleagues. There were about 10 of my peers, including five I hadn't seen and one I hadn't spoken to in a decade. We made up. There was much catching up on children, untimely deaths, and equity financiers giving their money to weird people. And no one discussed Alice in Wonderland where I was sitting. The man to my left, a manager in his 60's, looked so dazzling, I asked him if he'd had microdermabrasion, and he looked at me as if I were from Mars. Or Venus. He asked me if there were such thing as macrodermabrasion, before admitting that his motto was detox, retox, Botox. Here and there were AiW's costume designer Colleen Atwood, who actually could win, Helena Bonham Carter, and Michael and Pat York, who held the door for me as I left. Then I remembered having an incandescent conversation with both of them at an Academy event just like this three years ago, which none of us had remembered. This town is so deep, it's indistinguishable from dementia.

This week I watched Darren Aranofsky fete likely (winner?) nominees Natalie Portman, supporting actress up-and-comer Mila Kunis and veteran like me Barbara Hershey, in the same room. This time the venerated octos included Mr. and Mrs. Walter Matthau, who entertained a wondrous Ms Kunis and then asked me who she was. Vet Hershey and I went out for a smoke (only I smoked) right before Darren introed the cast and tech support, and scandalized all but the oxycodinized. I was the only person who hadn't yet seen the movie (wasn't it in Venice, wasn't in Toronto, and wasn't at the AFI premiere, and promised Darren, of whom I've been an avid fan since the brilliant Pi, that I would email him as soon as I did. I felt like an idiot. The noise on Black Swan since Toronto has been thunderous, as is the case for The King's Speech, which I missed at a screening at ICM Sunday night.

The buzz is heating up, my mailbox runneth over. Thanksgiving with the fam in Santa Barbara will be a festival of screeners. I return to a week of free meals. Oh, Academy season, you are such a cozy tradition. Turkey and buzz.

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Lynda Obst is a producer and writer who has made 15 films in her producing career, at almost every major studio. More

Lynda Obst was recruited to Hollywood from the New York Times Magazine in 1979 by Peter Guber, for whom she developed Flashdance and Clue, as well as beginning the development of Carl Sagan’s Contact. In 1985, Obst partnered with producer Debra Hill, forming Hill/Obst Productions at Paramount Pictures. They soon made the iconic teen pic Adventures in Babysitting. Then the duo produced Terry Gilliam’s Oscar-nominated The Fisher King, starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges.

Obst then began a solo-producing career, where she produced Nora Ephron’s directing debut, This Is My Life, and executive produced Ephron’s second film, Sleepless in Seattle. Obst then produced The Siege, Hope Floats, One Fine Day, and Someone Like You. One of Obst’s earlier projects came full circle when she came on Contact for Warner Bros. in 1997, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jodie Foster. In 1999, she executive produced NBC’s Emmy Nominated, two-part miniseries The 60s. Then Lynda moved back to Paramount Pictures, where she produced such films as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Abandon.

Obst’s most recent film was the September Warner Bros. release of Ricky Gervais/Matthew Robinson's directorial debut The Invention of Lying, starring Gervais and Jennifer Garner. Her notable upcoming projects include Steven Spielberg’s Interstellar, a sci-fi feature from The Dark Knight scribe Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Obst, Nolan, and Dr. Kip Thorne; What Was I Thinking, starring Leslie Mann, Elizabeth Banks & Jennifer Garner; and Getting Rid of Matthew, starring Jennifer Aniston.

She has long written about the movie business for magazines and blogs, including a long running Oscar dialogue with New York Magazine critic David Edelstein.

Lynda Obst’s magazine writing, as well as more information on her films, can be found on her website: visit http://lyndaobstproductions.com/.
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