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NY Heard Scene
Four Films Worthy of Oscar Buzz
From the Wall Street Journal of Tue, 16 Dec 2014 23:41:49 EST
Oscar Isaac and Jenny Lumet at a screening of ‘A Most Violent Year.’
Oscar Isaac and Jenny Lumet at a screening of ‘A Most Violent Year.’ Startraks Photo

After several months of lackluster releases, the Oscar race has finally started to get interesting. And in the last 48 hours, four holiday movies that are very much in the mix held splashy parties in an effort to stake their award season claims.

On Sunday, at the Crosby Street Hotel, there was a screening of “A Most Violent Year,” which stars Oscar Isaac as a New York oil man trying to protect his business, his children and his Lady Macbeth of a wife, played by Jessica Chastain. The afternoon was hosted by Jenny Lumet, a screenwriter and the daughter of the filmmaker Sidney Lumet, in an effort to underline how “A Most Violent Year,” directed by J.C. Chandor, echoes Mr. Lumet’s oeuvre.

“Oscar, can I get a hug?” Mr. Chandor asked his lead actor.

Messrs. Isaac and Chandor have been in this awards season conversation before: Mr. Isaac for last year’s “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and Mr. Chandor for his two previous films “All Is Lost” and “Margin Call.” As waiters passed fried pumpkin goat cheese fritters, the two agreed that they have begun to get used to the rhythms of the Oscar circuit.

“It’s kind of like a callus,” said the amiable Mr. Isaac. “You know what to expect.”

Still, they said, it’s good to be down the rabbit hole of your next project while you’re trying to promote the current one.

“I want to go to bed, but I need to write,” said Mr. Chandor, who is scripting a film about the BP Oil spill.

“It’s better to be working,” added Mr. Isaac. He is in the midst of shooting a movie for HBO and recently finished production on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Of the different experiences, he said, “Between action and cut, it’s the same thing.”

Sienna Miller, Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood at a lunch for ‘American Sniper.’
Sienna Miller, Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood at a lunch for ‘American Sniper.’ Startraks Photo
Anderson Cooper and Taya Kyle
Anderson Cooper and Taya Kyle Startraks Photo

On Monday at the Four Seasons restaurant, Sienna Miller and Bradley Cooper joined Clint Eastwood at a lunch for their new film, “American Sniper.” Mr. Cooper plays Chris Kyle, the U.S. Navy SEAL who survived four tours of duty in Iraq, only to be killed at a shooting range, last year, near his home in Texas.

As guests ate sirloin steak and creamed spinach, Anderson Cooper led a moving panel discussion featuring Messrs. Cooper and Eastwood, along with Ms. Miller and Mr. Kyle’s widow, Taya, whom Ms. Miller plays in the film. Even Mr. Eastwood seemed to get choked up as the film’s screenwriter, Jason Hall, recalled attending Mr. Kyle’s funeral.

Ms. Miller also appears as a widow in “Foxcatcher” and recognized the parallels between the roles.

“But you can’t say no to Bennett Miller,” who directed “Foxcatcher,” “and you can’t say no to Clint Eastwood,” she said. “But I need to stop playing wives whose husbands have terrible deaths.”

Mr. Cooper found himself comparing Mr. Kyle to John Merrick, the character he plays on Broadway in “The Elephant Man.”

“They’re actually both gentle spirits, but being labeled a legend didn’t set well with them,” Mr. Cooper said. The actor said he loved his last two movies, which brought him Oscar nominations—“Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”—but “American Sniper,” he said, “I think it’s my best work.”

Margaret Keane at the New York premiere of ‘Big Eyes.’
Margaret Keane at the New York premiere of ‘Big Eyes.’ Startraks Photo
Tim Burton and Larry Gagosian
Tim Burton and Larry Gagosian Startraks Photo

Uptown, there was sushi and Fiji water aplenty at the swanky Kappo Masa, where Harvey Weinstein celebrated the premiere of his new release, “Big Eyes.” The art dealer Larry Gagosian is a co-owner of Kappo Masa (the Japanese restaurant is below his Madison Avenue gallery), and “Big Eyes” has an art connection, too. It is about the artist Walter Keane (played in the film by Christoph Waltz), whose paintings, it turned out, were actually done by his wife Margaret (Amy Adams).

“I grew up looking at this work,” said the film’s director Tim Burton. “And there was always the question of, ‘Is it art? Is it not art?’”

An appropriately eclectic crowd surrounded Ms. Adams and Mr. Waltz, including the Broadway star Jessie Mueller (who starred with the actress in a production of “Into the Woods,” Disney’s award-season entry), Steve and Christine Schwarzman (whose son, Teddy, produced yet another Weinstein tiger, “The Imitation Game”), and the singer Michael Bolton.

Awards campaigning, said Mr. Burton, “is so surreal. But I like these people I’ve worked with on this so much.” That said, “After tonight, I’m going to take a few days and just not talk.”

Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo celebrate ‘Selma.’
Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo celebrate ‘Selma.’ Startraks Photo
Carmen Ejogo
Carmen Ejogo Invision/Associated Press
Aretha Franklin and Common
Aretha Franklin and Common Startraks Photo

Perhaps the biggest party of all was on Sunday night at the New York Public Library, for Paramount’s Oscar horse, “Selma,” about the march, led by Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo), from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., leading to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Carmen Ejogo plays his wife, Coretta Scott King.)

“Biopics are notorious for hagiography, for telling you what you already know,” said Mr. Oyelowo, as guests like Aretha Franklin, Glenn Ligon and Thelma Golden milled about, dining on pumpkin ravioli. “But this goes beyond the veil. It shows you a man with fears. And rather than a historical drama, it’s smack in the middle of the zeitgeist.”

“He had an ego,” said the film’s director, Ava DuVernay of Mr. King Jr. “He wasn’t perfect.”

“Selma” marks only Ms. DuVernay’s second feature. Her first, “Middle of Nowhere,” she said, was budgeted less than what Sunday evening’s party for “Selma” cost. She should know: before getting behind the camera, Ms. DuVernay worked in film publicity and promotion. Does that help her going into the Oscar fray?

“I know that in the end, it’s about the film. It’s hard to even remember who was nominated for what last year,” said Ms. DuVernay. “I think I don’t believe the hype because I used to create the hype.”

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