By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 13, 2014 at 4:26PM
If you've ever wondered why Hollywood invests so much time and money on the votes of 82 admittedly idiosyncratic members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the reason is that the Golden Globe awards show helps to sell their movies and TV series.
One topic of discussion on last week's Globes party circuit is the marketing impact on likely Oscar nominees to be announced next Thursday. Why spend $3 million in "Inside Llewyn Davis" print ads if you're not going to get your money back in box-office or nominations? The answer: to establish the marketing prowess of CBS Films. Now they can say to a Sundance filmmaker with awards in their sights, "Look what we did for the Coen brothers."
This year, for example, the five doc and foreign film finalists will be sent to the entire Academy, which tends to favor high-profile films that have done well at the box office. The question is, will they watch all ten films? Maybe a few...but they are far more likely to vote for what they have already seen. A Globes win for Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty," assuming it's an Oscar nominee, helps persuade voters to watch the movie.
The Awards party week started Tuesday night at the House of Blues, where the Broadcast Film Critics Association (of which I am a member) mounted a Celebration of Black Cinema, complete with an impressive clip reel of about a dozen strong pictures, from "12 Years a Slave" to "The Butler." The house was packed with Academy members who were treated to gourmet Mac & Cheese and a rocking concert from the singer stars of Oscar doc frontrunner "20 Feet from Stardom": Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Darlene Love and Tata Vega. They've helped to keep this doc front and center for Academy voters.
As Vega sang "It's a Man's World," with feeling, I was moved yet again by the way these women back each other; they've experienced the same travails and blues and get what the others have been through. Lisa Fischer sexily crooned "Fever" to each of her sisters. Merry Clayton killed Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changing" and her signature Rolling Stones contribution, "Gimme Shelter." They should form a girl band and take this act on the road.
Querying various Academy members there and at Friday's intimate American Film Institute lunch at the Four Seasons, it was clear that their ballots are all over the place. There are three clear frontrunners (also on the AFI list of the year's ten best films) and after the Oscar nominations announcement Thursday the momentum will shift as voters start to think about who they want to win. Oscar bloggers Pete Hammond (Deadline), Melena Ryzik (The Carpetbagger at The New York Times), Tim Gray (Variety) and The Wrap's Steve Pond sat with me at the AFI event, which brings together the increasingly overlapping worlds of film and television. (The AFI Awards 2013 Video Almanac is here.)
I got a kick out of seeing Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks") talking to Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad"), Netflix's Ted Sarandos (TV winners "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black") hanging with Warner Bros. chief Kevin Tsuijihara, and "Captain Phillips" producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti talking with their "50 Shades of Gray" and "Saving Mr. Banks" writer Kelly Marcel. Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," of all the clips, won the biggest applause in the room. I made one of my usual pitches to producer Megan Ellison ("Her," "American Hustle") that she sit down with me--she doesn't do interviews.
T-Bone Burnett not only supervised the music on "Inside Llewyn Davis" but NBC's "Nashville," which is written by his wife Callie Khouri ("Thelma & Louise"). Khouri and the network are constantly trying to balance melodramatic soap opera and the series' authentic music elements, which a recent survey says the audience likes best.
As much heat as Globe-winners "American Hustle," "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" are generating, "Captain Phillips" is also in the hunt. Each of the other films has passionate defenders and detractors. "Hustle" is a raucous, messy, improvised comedy directed by a fierce talent (David O. Russell) who is more respected than loved, which is one reason why beloved Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron will likely pick up the director win for "Gravity"; "12 Years a Slave," directed by British outsider Steve McQueen, is considered overrated by some, and too tough to sit through by others, while many fervently want it to win Best Picture.
Why is "Captain Phillips" a strong Best Picture candidate? It has done well across all the guilds, and is a popular, seriously well-mounted film that presents America in a positive way, from a respected DGA nominee (Paul Greengrass). It's also a movie that the dominant Steakeaters in the Academy (older white men) can wholeheartedly embrace. That clip shown at the AFI of Tom Hanks in the infirmary brings tears to anyone's eyes. Interestingly, Sony is clearly favoring "American Hustle" for the win. Sony chairman Amy Pascal may want to reconsider that approach.