Dispatch February 2009

Oscar Weekend Buzz

Movie producer Lynda Obst gives the scoop on two of Oscar weekend's biggest A-list parties, and makes some informed Oscar predictions
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Oscar weekend officially kicks off each year with the Uber-Agent parties on Friday night. There used to be three, but since the legendary Oscar party thrown by Ed Limato (for years of ICM, now of William Morris) has been wiped off the Friday itinerary (I think William Morris had no tradition of this kind of frivolity), there are now only two—Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor Agency party, and Bryan Lourd’s Creative Artists Agency—which simplifies the logistics for those who are invited to both.

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Oscar, Oscar

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Tradition has it that Endeavor and CAA accommodate each other Oscar weekend in a way that they rarely, if ever, do otherwise, with Ari’s party starting around 8:30 p.m. and Bryan’s around 9:30-10. Both peak at around midnight, so it doesn’t matter which party you’re at when the witching hour comes – you’ll find yourself packed in, wall-to-wall, with Rolodex jockeys and movie stars. It's Camp Hollywood, Home Sweet Home. Don’t bring a date, at least not a civilian. It’s brutal.

So Friday night my date and I (my galpal Risa Shapiro, the gorgeous manager of Jennifer Connelly, among other top talent) made our plans. We had both given up on bringing real dates to these events due to the impossible simultaneous demands of subtle, intense work and air kissing mixed with the task of constantly introducing our non-industry dates to people who didn’t want to meet them. (Two years ago, said hapless civilian ‘date’ was my friend Atlantic editor Ben Schwarz). We piled into Risa’s SUV at 8:45 and headed to Ari’s in Brentwood, fearing we might be early. But no…

Ari’s immense house and new screening room were bursting at the seams with players. Larry David mingled, actually looking happy. Jack Black was there, as were Les Moonves of CBS, and Paramount studio head Brad Grey. Hundreds of gorgeous boys and girls and comics packed the A-plus crowd. I thought to myself, “My, Endeavor, you certainly have grown!” And there are rumors that Endeavor may be merging with William Morris, which would only make it all the more terrifyingly formidable. I say “terrifying” in the fun, mercurical, carnival high-flying sense, because I know Ari—I assume you know this is Rahm Emanuel’s brother and the model for Ari Gold on Entourage. (Disclosure: my brother is his partner at Endeavor, and is not remotely terrifying.)

When I last saw Ari at the party, he was surveying the vast gathering in search of his brother Zeke, the genius chair of the department of Bioethics at the NIH.

I was trying to tear myself away from this scene, which Risa was enjoying immensely, before it was even close to peaking. “Are you nuts?” she asked. “But it’s 11:00,” I pointed out. “But this is great!” she said. And she was right. This was even before the stellar client list of Endeavor’s top talent partner, Patrick Whitesell, had arrived—Kate Hudson, Jen and Ben Affleck, Hugh Jackman, the Damons, and others. This is how much I wanted to get to Bryan’s!!

As Risa and I tore ourselves from Ari’s, I stopped in my tracks. Coming down the brick staircase were the two beautiful brothers of Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel, and Madhur Mittal.

After blurting out some embarrassingly rapturous compliments on their performances—which (thank god) I meant, I asked them if they would be so kind as to hear out a theory I have about their movie. They graciously obliged.

“I think that the reason some people in Mumbai are upset about your movie is that they think that we think that they are all like the bad-guy game show host who's rooting for you to lose and calls you Slumdog—that we don’t see the fact that in the movie all of India—all the classes—are rooting for you.”

They jumped up and down. “Yes, Yes, Yes… That’s it exactly!” And you know, Indians actually love the movie. It’s just that the media looks for the newsy quote. We’ve made more in India than Titanic and Dark Knight. But, yes, there is that cultural fear.”

I went on, “And this Bollywood breakout hit was made by the British —by the colonials.”

Yes, Yes, Of course. That’s it, too!” We were practically necking. “But you know, everyone who made that movie was Indian; every single crew member except for the writer and the director!”

“You will win, and we will cheer!” I said, smiling like a crazy person.

Well, now of course I could leave, having made my Best Picture prediction, and made intellectual love to its stars.

So why Slumdog and not Benjamin Button? David vs. Goliath has turned upside down. What had at first looked like a shoo-in victory for the corporately crafted Oscar bid Benjamin Button, had somehow devolved into a glum scene at the Golden Globes after-party, with Brangelina looking gloomy at a packed table of hangers-on as the tide began to turn.

The table reminded me of Hillary-ites after Iowa, stunned and affronted, as if losing to this upstart was beneath their dignity. But the analogy doesn’t end there. Warning: I’m perfectly capable of driving this analogy into the ground. Benjamin Button was a polished studio entry with all the right ingredients –David Fincher, a $160 million dollar budget, the Paramount pedigree. Movie stars! Special effects! Aging backwards! Romance! Famous writers!

Slumdog was a come-from-behind sleeper – a multi-culti half-breed built on a shoestring (and almost orphaned when Warner dropped it last spring), with a whole Yes, We Can element to its rise from behind within the Academy.

In his February 9 New Yorker piece, David Denby has gotten it completely wrong. Again! (What’s wrong with him these days? I think he’s just too "older male quadrant" as we say out here, totally out of touch with contemporary movies, and with the whole point of making movies.) In his utterly backwards take on the picture, he completely misses both the point and the appeal of the movie, dismissing it with his repulsive phrase, “a commercial for poverty.” It’s the opposite of that. The movie doesn’t objectify the poor in this movie; we are the poor in the movie. If Jamal can win and overcome these obstacles, then so can we. It represents the victory of hope against the most impossible of odds, and the most cynical of forces. In this it is an utterly Barack-era Zeitgeist movie. Those who don’t get it baffle me. There’s a kind of bah, humbug to their criticism: “Don’t put dance numbers at the end of movies,” they say. “It’s manipulative!” Oh, to hell with you!

The point of movies, —not films mind you, but movies, which are what we make—are to give people hope or joy. Something to hold on to and believe in. We are the feel-good, yes-we-can, get married, live to see another day, fall in love again, make another fortune, survive a death, scare yourself and escape, laugh again medium. That’s why we did so well in the Depression, and are doing so well at the box office now. As an old friend who works for Nielsen told me last night at Ari’s, Tyler Perry will pull in $40 mill this weekend. “Everything is totally over-performing,” he said. People need us. And happy endings are our middle name.

So Slumdog Millionaire will win. It will win Best Picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, best cinematography, best editing, and best score. At least the actors and actresses from the other movies are still free to compete.

And on to Bryan’s.

As we got out of the car, we could just tell by the rows of paparazzi and autograph seekers being held back by barriers that many big shots had arrived before us. The camellia corsage that was slipped onto my wrist at the door was the perfect accessory for my little black Chanel dress and boots that I’d pulled from the recesses of my closet.

I didn’t realize at the time how ironic it was that the first person we saw was Ed Limato, the former party thrower, who was leaving as we arrived. We all bussed cheeks, he a one-time colleague of Risa’s when they were at ICM (all agents are related.) Bryan’s LA modern architectural house is laid out magically, and immediately I could see that things were in full swing.

Bryan gets a great New York contingent mixing in with his major movie stars: the Tom Ford-meets-Tom Cruise kind of thing. Everyone is so relaxed—Leo and Bryan chatting and laughing; Jen Aniston back from dinner at the Soho House; Oprah somewhere in the vicinity (having arrived with an entourage that somehow included my best friend’s son.) It was like US Magazine-meets-high school reunion.

People never see each other in LA: we all spend so much time out of town and live so spread apart that it’s only at these annual events that we can catch up. Matthew McConaughey and I talked Texas; we had made two movies together—Contact and How To Lose a Guy. He’s a dad now, and having lived with him on set, that truly blows my mind.

I saw Marisa Tomei outside, a friend ever since I saved her hair in Someone Like You and she saved the comedy; we were later to discuss her outfit for Sunday. Discretion being the better part of everything, I decided to get any speculating about the best supporting actress competition out of the way before running over to her. So I got the discussion on the races going, and saved my visit with Marisa for later.

First: On Miss Winslet

If Kate Winslet doesn’t win, it is the greatest of upsets, and a case of Sally Field in reverse, “They hate you, they really hate you.” But it won’t happen. She will win. But not really for The Reader. She’s the only under-40 actress to essentially win for a body of work. I voted for her because of Little Children and Revolutionary Road, and this is essentially the controversy: On Oscar morning, the largest acting outcry was, Why The Reader and not Revolutionary Road? Some cynics cite Kate’s own hilarious 2005 performance in Ricky Gervais’s HBO comedy series Extras, in which she joked that she would finally have to break down and do a Holocaust movie to win her Oscar, the Academy being known to be cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs in this predilection.

There is also the large and mystifying group who just didn’t get Revolutionary Road. And many haters hated her speech at the Golden Globes,

But, hell. Give the greatest living actress besides Meryl a break.

Best Actor: This is a two-way between Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn. If Mickey Rourke wins, which I predict, it is because there are no other great roles like this to come for Mickey, and everyone can relate to this. It was designed for his DNA, and he killed it. As the thinking used to go regarding Miss Winslet, Sean will have hundreds of future opportunities, given his infinite versatility. If by some chance, Sean Penn does win, it is partly as an honor for Milk. Yes, his performance was wonderful. But basically it’s a way of honoring the movie and its politics. I call this one for Mickey, as do most people at these parties, though they wouldn’t say so on the record for hell or high water.

Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, the late great – with the Oscar to be accepted by his daughter in one of the big moments of the night. Prepare to cry.

Michael Shannon gave an astonishing and defining supporting performance in Revolutionary Road. And Josh Brolin was perfect in Milk. No matter. Wrong year.

Best Supporting Actress: There was absolutely no consensus last night about this race, so this is the only horse race worth betting on in your home pool. Here are the issues as I see them: The top three contenders are Viola Davis, Taraji Henson and Penelope Cruz. The Viola crowd I spoke to last night was all performance-oriented: “The best two scenes in the movie. That’s what a supporting role is for. No politics, pure merit. Blah blah blah.” And there were a lot of them, including studio heads and actors who vote. Merit! Who’d think of that?!

There is also a big Taraji contingent, (now also including Lakers fans who have recently learned that she’s dating the cool Lamar Odem—though the crucial question is, Did they learn in time?) The issues here are 1) Benjamin Button 2) Benjamin Button. It’s got to win something; she was really good and carried the movie through its looooong first hour and a half.

And Penelope Cruz: So heavily fêted during Oscar season, she sure has a lot of friends, and my great pal and former blogging partner David Edelstein reminds me that this sometimes predicts success in a close race. Also, and most importantly, it was her best role in English, and she was sexy, sophisticated, and nutty—just the kind of woman we women out here love. And New Yorkers love Woody Allen. So there’s the thinking there.

As for Marisa, she did no campaigning, and Mickey got all the Wrestler juice.

I have absolutely no idea. This is a toss-up. My heart is with Penelope. But my money is on Taraji or Viola.

Animated: Wall-E. Half of the town says they would have voted for it for Best Picture.

Foreign Film: Waltzing with Bashir: critical of Israel or not, it’s by and about Israelis. If it were critical of Israel and not by Israelis, it wouldn’t win. Not to say it isn’t terrifically made.

Screenplay besides Slumdog: Wall-E

Score: Slumdog

Song: Wall-E/Peter Gabriel.
It is given.

The Dark Knight will take many sound and technical awards like a big booby prize.

But far from the Kodak Theater, which Academy members are still getting used to, “The Dark Knight” will pick up the biggest award for its studio, Warner Brothers. On Oscar night it will stay home, eat pizza in pajamas and pass the billion-dollar mark.

Jai Ho!

Lynda Obst is a producer and writer. Her newest film is This Side of the Truth, starring Ricky Gervais (who also co-wrote and co-directed) and Jennifer Garner. It will be released this fall.
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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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