Saturday night, in a masterstroke comparable to the calling together of the Five Families in The Godfather, Hollywood's most powerful, warring movie execs called a truce.
The sudden peace initiative — which concerned the lacerating fight over the movie A Beautiful Mind — was designed and executed by Miramax's Harvey Weinstein. The studio mogul hosted the annual Miramax Max Awards at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood in front of more than 750 people. The Max Awards always feature skits in which Oscar nominated actors from Miramax films perform from movies they weren't in, usually with hilarious results. This year was no exception, but the audience was — sitting front and center were Dreamworks president Jeffrey Katzenberg and Universal Pictures chief Stacey Snider, the two executives who have been caught up in the Beautiful Mind war.
The high-powered audience also contained Sony chairman Howard Stringer, as well as dozens of other celebrities, actors, and notables including Diane Sawyer, director Peter Jackson, Sting and wife Trudie Styler, Rachel Griffiths, Renee Zellweger, Jim Broadbent, Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, William Mapother, Marisa Tomei, director Todd Field, Kate Winslet with beau Sam Mendes, Neve Campbell, Benjamin Bratt and Talisa Soto, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, Audrey Tatou, Dame Judi Dench, actors Martin Landau and Rip Torn (the latter being Sissy Spacek's first cousin, if you didn't know), plus Hugh Jackman, David Lynch, Bonnie Hunt, Jill Hennessey, Alan Cumming, Wes Craven, gossip writer Liz Smith and director Robert Altman with his lovely wife Catherine.
You couldn't have hoped for a better turnout. Earlier in the day, Universal/USA Films chairman Barry Diller tried to deliver an A-list picnic; on Friday night ICM agent Ed Limato also made a stab at cornering the market in swells. But the Max Awards — not only in sheer numbers but also in quality of presentation — simply eclipsed all the others.
And then, once everyone was seated on the covered swimming pool in the Sky Bar, the sketches began. Nearly all of them poked fun at the Best Picture nominees from other studios and made reference to the fighting over charges that mathematician John Nash's life was white-washed for A Beautiful Mind. The jokes were often raunchy and risqué, and always irreverent. At first it didn't seem clear whether or not Snider and Katzenberg were enjoying the defusing of the controversy. But then, in the final sketch of the evening, Weinstein and Katzenberg played themselves being counseled by Snider as played by actress Christina Applegate. Even Snider had to laugh as Applegate went about repairing the relationship between the studios by letting the two chiefs bicker, curse and call each other names. I can't even repeat some of the things that were said, but I can tell you that one person in the audience was of special interest — Internet pot-stirrer Matt Drudge, who hung in the back of the tented Sky Bar with Liz Smith, publicist extraordinaire Pat Kingsley and the aforementioned Altmans.
Another parody, called "Amelie in West Hollywood," featured a very funny turn by Neve Campbell in a black wig with narration by Benjamin Bratt. The piece featured descriptions of all the Oscar participants on the morning of the nomination announcements. "John Nash was in Key West with Rupert Everett," went one unsparing observation.
Several satirical Best Songs were played by musician Mervyn Werner, including a version of the Village People's "In the Navy" sung as "In the Bedroom" and Mulholland Drive transposed as the theme song from Gilligan's Island: "You won't find out a goddamn thing, here on Mulholland Drive."
In a sequelly kind of send-up of Bedroom, Judi Dench played the role of the wife and mother who keeps encouraging her husband (Tom Wilkinson) to murder the lovers of their son (Todd Field) who is currently dating Bridget Jones. "Ruth, I can't keep killing people!" he exclaims, and then lists "the illegitimate sons of John Nash and two Dreamworks publicists who talked shit about our movie" as potential targets.
The evening also featured a live acoustic performance by Sting of his Oscar-nominated song "Until," as well as a few short films including an animated feature by the late director Ted Demme in which the Weinstein brothers run a deli instead of a movie company and a very trenchant parody of Project Greenlight in which Martin Scorsese is chosen as the winner of the latest version of the contest and wants to make Gangs of New York for $129 million. The latter film featured Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Chris Moore, as well as Scorsese himself.
The evening, which was underwritten by Mercedes, was used as a charitable event for New York's Robin Hood Foundation. Believe it or not, in the middle of this massive undertaking a new Mercedes sports car was auctioned off for $125,000. Apparently in Beverly Hills, that's a bargain.
So the hatchets have been buried, and the grievances have been aired. All the participants in what was an ugly month of infighting have now been in the same room at the same time, and laughed off their differences. Now we wait for the Oscars, less than 12 hours away and fraught with tension. But at least now the tension is back to being about who will win or lose, instead of revenge, misery and backbiting.
"It felt like a small car crash."
That's the way Tom Wilkinson felt yesterday when he won Best Actor at the IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards. Wilkinson did not expect to win, and he told me afterward that the shock of it was like "a small car crash."
His wife Diana was delighted and shaking while Tom headed to the stage to accept his award. Altogether Bedroom won three important categories, including Best Actress for Sissy Spacek and Best First Feature for director Todd Field.
Meanwhile Memento won Best Feature, Best Director (Chris Nolan), Best Screenplay (by Nolan), and Best Supporting Actress (Carrie Ann Moss).
As producer Jennifer Todd said: "Considering no one wanted this movie, this is pretty remarkable."
The Spirit Awards were a pretty much straight ahead affair this year, held on the beach in Santa Monica under cold and blustery gray skies. There were no unusual outbursts or filibusters or even anything sensational. Only this comment by Sir Ian McKellen in reference to the ridiculous amount of primping for the Oscars: "I had my first facial today, my first pedicure and my first manicure, just to be with all of you today."