Pete Hammond's Notes on the Season: Oscar Voting Begins as Contenders Make Final Pitch

Release Date: March 2,2016

Final Oscar balloting begins today. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel with a deadline for voting by 5 PM PT on Tuesday, February 23, just days before Oscar Sunday. And so the final push for those votes also begins with endless TV ads and lots of double-truck color ads appearing in trades and newspapers for the likes of Open Road’s Spotlight, The Revenant, The Big Short and Mad Max: Fury Road. You can tell upstart indie Open Road really feels a potential win and seems to be spending much more than it did even when the film opened earlier in the fall. It is a no-brainer that the major studios behind the other aforementioned films feel they are still in it to win it, so they are all still reaching into their deep advertising pockets to make sure voters keep their film front of mind. Contenders are still hitting the circuit, albeit in different ways from the party-heavy pre-nomination period that the Academy forbids in this second phase. Nevertheless, in the past week alone I have moderated sessions with the likes of George Miller, Alicia Vikander, Sylvester Stallone, Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, Bryan Cranston and more in this wide-open race.

OSCAR CONTENDERS FLOCK TO SANTA BARBARA

As is the case every year at this time, a slew of Oscar nominees have been making their way to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival — and not just because the weather has been unusually great this month. It’s also because the fest is a way of being seen accepting an award just as Academy voters are getting ready to make a decision. It doesn’t hurt that there are lots of those voters in nearby Montecito who attend the fest, or at least read about it in the local papers, which make a big deal of the honorees.  I had the pleasure again this week of hosting two onstage tributes at the 2,000-seat Arlington Theatre. First up on Monday, I raced from the Oscar Nominees luncheon in Beverly Hills to Santa Barbara for the fest’s Outstanding Performers of the Year evening honoring Best Actress contenders Brie Larson for Room and Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn.  It turned out to be a lot of fun despite being a first for SBIFF when Larson, due to a change in her production schedule on Kong: Skull Island in Australia, had to be Skyped into the theater from the A24 offices in Los Angeles. There was no other way to do it and still make her flight back to the arms of King Kong. So the script was torn up and for her portion of the tribute (film clip retrospective and all), and she hovered over me on the Arlington’s massive stage, trouper that she is. Earlier in the day at the nominees lunch, Larson told me that during the simultaneous filming of this tentpole movie for Universal and her awards-season duties, she has made four one-day trips in and out from locations in Hawaii, two from Vietnam and now two from Australia. As least she’s getting miles. In fact, she couldn’t even make it back for the Critics’ Choice Awards (she won). And for the SAG awards (she won), Larson nearly missed the plane out right afterward. And you thought it was easy being up for an Oscar!

Ronan also made a quick trip in for the lunch and the SBIFF tribute as she is deep in rehearsals for her Broadway debut in a revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which starts performances just two days after the Oscars. She told me this production is going places you haven’t seen in previous incarnations, and she’s really excited about it and happy to be back in New York — where, believe it or not, this very Irish star was born, in the Bronx. “Can’t you tell by my accent?” she asked on stage in her charming Irish brogue when I brought up her early years. She actually moved to Ireland when she was three.

As seen in Deadline Presents: AwardsLine.

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