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The Red Carpet Campaign


Precious director Lee Daniels with Quishay Powell, who appeared in the film, before the Producers Guild Awards.  

It’s known in L.A. as “Globes Weekend,” but for the players involved, the Golden Globes—presented annually by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group known for its susceptibility to bad musicals, big stars, free food, and the charming imprecations of Harvey Weinstein—is just the final stop in three days of force-fed festivity. Contenders like Mulligan, Sidibe, Kendrick, Renner, and Reitman are the new faces of the season, and they’re expected to hit every event of this giddy love-in. (“I just go where I’m told,” says one. “They even told me how many changes of clothes to bring.”) It’s a roaming party made especially intense by how quickly heat can dissipate; if form holds, out of the twenty Oscar nominees for acting this year, only one or two will be invited back next year. Eat, drink, and be merry, for in 2011, you will only be presenters.

The first stop is the American Film Institute luncheon, at which ten movies are honored (full disclosure: I was one of this year’s jurors). The films, each of which presents a clip, range from sure Oscar bets like The Hurt Locker to worthy left-field choices like Sugar and Coraline to a couple of movies—Tom Ford’s A Single Man and Oren Moverman’s The Messenger—hoping to break into Oscar’s top ten.

The Messenger, which has grossed only about $800,000, is probably the least-seen movie that has a shot at a Best Picture nomination; after the AFI ceremony, in the driveway of the Four Seasons Hotel, I hear a publicist for a rival film mutter grimly into his cell phone, “I don’t know if that movie is on the radar or not, but that clip killed.” The Messenger is distributed by Oscilloscope, a New York–based indie run by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and David Fenkel. “You never know how these things will shape up,” says Fenkel. “Every couple of weeks, films that you thought were contenders turn out not to be, so you’re constantly revising your expectations. And what we found was that in early December, Woody Harrelson’s performance started getting a lot of traction.” For movies without a huge campaign budget, that kind of break is critical: Actors form the Academy’s largest branch, and a talked-about performance like Harrelson’s can lead voters to watch the DVD and perhaps consider other long-shot choices—like the screenplay (which does, in fact, get nominated) or even the film itself (which doesn’t). Oscilloscope sent screeners to voters early, a real gamble for a company without even a small studio budget, where even a single “For Your Consideration” ad page, which commands between $13,000 and $30,000, requires a cost-benefit analysis. But even in a season of relative austerity, money still matters, and it’s hard to argue that the playing field is level when you’re driving from one studio party to another through a city in which every other billboard (price: $50,000 and up for four weeks) seems to be touting Inglourious Basterds or Up in the Air. (At least Up in the Air is still trying to sell movie tickets. The billboards for Basterds, long gone from theaters, are clearly meant for Academy voters only—Harvey Weinstein, who released the movie, being Oscar’s most remorseless campaigner.)

At some ceremonies, more is at stake for the givers than for the recipients. Over the last decade, the Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics’ Choice Awards have bounced from E! to the WB to VH1, where the ratings are reportedly “lower than [the network] would like.” (How low do ratings have to be to disappoint VH1?) The show’s producers have wisely tagged the banquet at the Hollywood Palladium onto the Friday of Globes weekend, praying that stars will show up. And except for Clooney, who is working on the coming Friday’s just-announced Haiti telethon, they do.

By this evening, the crisis in Haiti is being taken more seriously, even within the celebrity bubble. Tobey Maguire comes out to make a plea for people to send money. People nod and look away thoughtfully as if they just remembered they left something in the glove compartment. Then Maguire presents Best Supporting Actress—it’s Mo’Nique! Now they’re awake. Partial standing ovation. Is she actually there? She is, looking awards-y in a dark gown, and thus ends the “Mo’Nique isn’t showing up” story, not with a bang but with a VH1 appearance.

After her tremulous acceptance speech, she and her husband, Sidney Hicks, are walked through a short outdoor alley into the press room—actually a makeshift tent in a parking lot—which harbors an awesomely unbridled combination of hostility and sycophancy. A white British journalist yells something at her about “backlash from the black community.” Mo’Nique turns toward him coolly. “There was backlash in the black community?” she says. “I didn’t know nothing about that, baby. Did you see the first-weekend box office?” Question No. 2 is about her purported refusal to campaign. She calmly replies that all business topics will be handled by her business manager—who is also her husband. (Uh-oh, I think—historically, the phrase “business manager who is also my husband” does not inspire confidence.) Hicks joins her for some awkward remarks about business paradigms and how Mo’Nique is a “self-sustaining entity,” but he ends strongly by saying, “She’s a mother, she’s a wife. She’d rather play a bad mother in the movies than be one in real life.” As she’s being escorted back to the Palladium, a side door bursts open and a man rushes out. “Mo’Nique!” a familiar voice yells. “There she goes! I was lookin’ for you!” It’s Tracy Morgan. Mo’Nique breaks into a grin as Morgan bear-hugs her and says, “In Precious, you left me all over the floor!” For the first time, she looks genuinely relaxed.

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