The first event of the weekend was the Palms Springs Gala, where Oscar hopefuls can schmooze with the retired AMPAS voters who live in the tropical community, just an hour south of Los Angeles. Dressed to the nines in colorful gowns and lots of jewels, Palms Springs attendees watched stars Jennifer Lopez, Joaquin Phoenix, Martin Scorsese, Charlize Theron, and Renée Zellweger accept various honors in the opening night presentation. However, it was Little Women director Greta Gerwig who won the night with her heartfelt speech for Director honoree Quentin Tarantino. “[He] makes movies as if movies could save the world,” she said while introducing him, adding, “Movies can kill Hitler, free slaves, and give Sharon Tate one more summer… He makes movies like movies themselves matter.” This was a big moment for Tarantino, who had received flack earlier in the year regarding his lack of dialogue for star Margot Robbie. Tapping Gerwig — arguably the most noteworthy female director in the awards conversation this year — to present him with the award and speak so positively on his behalf was a smart play for the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood director. It’s just too bad she couldn’t pinch-hit for his awkward Golden Globes acceptance speech on Sunday, as well.
There is no way to put this delicately so we’ll just say it — campaigning for an Oscar is torturous. Stars have to clear their calendars for two to three months to shake hands and make speeches. They go through the arduous exercise of doing hours of press, taking selfies, and smiling through it all, with very little to no chance of actually winning any awards. Cocktail parties, posh dinners, and award shows may sound like a fun time, but doing anything every day for two months will lose its novelty quickly. This is why the AFI luncheon on the Friday before the Globes is such a welcome moment for most Oscar hopefuls. Each year, AFI selects 10 films and 10 television shows from the previous year (and a couple of specialty honors if they find international entries of merit) and gather the principal players together for a relaxed lunch with limited press just to celebrate their achievements. The lack of press and potential voters and the fact everyone in the room is already previously announced as a winner removes most of the anxiety that comes with other events. This is why everyone from Brad Pitt to Kevin Feige call the event their favorite moment of the season.
This year, we watched Pitt chat it up with Bong Joon-ho and the cast of Parasite as he repeatedly gushed about how he “loved the film.” We also spotted Rian Johnson, who was honored for Knives Out, chatting with his Star Wars: The Last Jedi co-star Laura Dern, who was being feted for her work in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. Robert De Niro (Joker, The Irishman), Harvey Keitel (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Irishman), Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story), Sam Rockwell (Richard Jewell, Jojo Rabbit), and Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, produced Richard Jewell) were all involved with more than one honoree. We asked Dern about how she split her loyalties, and she joked she was a bit like the young boy at the center of the divorce drama in Marriage Story: “They are like my parents. I love them both. I don’t pick sides.”
Though there is a “no campaigning” mantra in effect at the AFI, there’s nothing to say attendees can’t steer voices and eyes to films they favor, and this year featured an excellent example of tongue-in-cheek campaigning. Former AFI honoree Mel Brooks kicked off the festivities with a benediction, during which he raved about his favorite film of the year — the Hitler anti-war satire Jojo Rabbit: “It’s really a terrific, eloquent, and beautiful picture,” he said, adding jokingly that writer/director Taika Watiti “did not ask my permission to use Hitler” — a hilarious reference to Brooks’ Hitler satire The Producers.
If we were ever unsure of Bong Joon-ho’s effect on the Hollywood community, the party hosted by Guillermo del Toro at the Sunset Tower answered all of those questions. After being fawned over by just about everyone at the AFI Luncheon, Team Parasite was greeted by the rest of Hollywood that evening. Edgar Wright, Rian Johnson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Laura Dern, Keegan-Michael Key, Noah Baumbach, Jay Roach, Miranda July, and Natasha Lyonne — some of whom left their own For Your Consideration events to make a trek to the West Hollywood celebration — all made time to pay their respects that night. Having so many A-listers and Academy voters as confirmed members of the Bonghive – Bong’s online fanbase – a Best Picture nomination this coming Monday looks more and more like an inevitability.
On Saturday, Film Independent had the Indie Spirit Awards’ annual nominees brunch, where they handed out $125,000 to filmmakers Kelly Reichardt, Mollye Asher, Rashaad Ernesto Green, and Nadia Shihab. We also spotted Last Black Man in San Francisco director Joe Talbot, who was up for one of the Indie Spirit specialty prizes that were handed out during Saturday’s fete by Alfre Woodard and Crazy Rich Asians director John Chu. When we asked Chu about his upcoming film with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, In The Heights, he simply smiled and said, “He can’t wait for people to see it.” As was the case on Friday, Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho was again so mobbed by well-wishers he barely had time to sit down.
After the Globes, the most raucous party was – as it has been for the past few years – the Netflix party. Tiffany Haddish, who presented at the ceremony, put on an impromptu freestyle at the end of the night, shortly after Brad Pitt, Eddie Murphy, Ava DuVernay, Taika Waititi, and numerous Netflix stars danced the night away to pop hits. At the Instyle/Warner Bros. do, their elevator glam shot was a frequent stop for celebs, and The Farewell helmer Lulu Wang paired up with Rita Wilson for a hilarious shoot sporting a – yes, it’s legal in California – blunt, courtesy of Snoop Dogg. Though the Netflix party was the spot be, it was slightly a somber affair at the start, due to the fact the streamer only took home two prizes out of 17 nominations. In contrast, the NBC celebration was a joyous time after two surprise wins for their World War I “one-shot” epic 1917. This is welcome news for Universal Studios, who are likely still smarting after the vicious – though at times bemused – reception to Cats. The wins at the globes could propel the film, which opens wide in theaters this weekend, to box office domination over January, and if awards keep tallying up on our Awards Leaderboard, perhaps a Best Picture win as well.
The Academy Awards are broadcast February 9, 8 pm EST/5 pm PST, on ABC.