Appropriately timed to the blockbuster’s DVD and Blu-ray release next week, Warner Bros. held a swank celebration for “Inception” Tuesday night in the Hollywood Hills. And while only director Christopher Nolan, producer Emma Thomas and additional behind-the-scenes talent such as composer Hans Zimmer were promised to be in attendance, the party found stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe coming out to support the film and its potent awards campaign. Besides select members of the media, the all important Hollywood Foreign Press Association were in the house, er, mansion as the picture battles for what is turning out to be an incredibly competitive best film – drama category for the organization’s upcoming Golden Globes.
To be honest, while DiCaprio was social and moving throughout the crowd, this prognosticator couldn’t think of anything to ask him. Was he really going to show his allegiances toward which performance — “Shutter Island” or “Inception” — SAG and Academy members should recognize him with a nomination for? Even with drinks flowing throughout the event (as well as some tasteful smores on a stick) DiCaprio would be too smart not to provide the expected political correct answer. Instead, I first made my way to the always delightful Page.
The “Juno” star actually got a substantial break with her important role in “Inception,” her first serious dramatic turn since “Hard Candy.” I, on the other hand, was much more interested in her supporting turn in the pilot for the potential HBO series “Tilda.” Starring Diane Keaton as a muckraking entertainment blogger inspired by real life “Toldja” pusher Nikki Finke, Page plays a studio assistant who come under Tilda’s wing. While the series hasn’t been officially picked up yet — creator Bill Condon is a bit busy on some two-part movie called “Breaking Dawn” — Page told me it was connecting with Condon, the chance to work with Keaton and the fact it was HBO that drew her to TV. She still hasn’t heard whether the series going to shoot this spring (as rumored) and she’s as curious as anyone else how it turned out.
Next up, across the room, was Nolan’s wife and longtime producing partner Emma Thomas. The first thing you gauge from Thomas is that unlike other powerful producers she’s genuinely friendly and more outgoing than her somewhat controlled and refined husband. When I brought up the subject that if it wasn’t for “The Dark Knight’s” major snub from the best picture race in 2009 there wouldn’t be a 10 nominee system today she laughed. It certainly has come up in conversation, but she couldn’t believe “Dark Knight” was the reason (trust us Emma, the Academy was embarrassed it didn’t get in the five that year and it sealed the deal). She also admitted that both she and Chris had no idea how “Inception” was going to do at the box office and when they saw that it had great reviews they assumed it would be the “kiss of death” for their adult thriller. Instead, their success was matched by WB’s excellent marketing campaign and the picture grossed a stunning $823 million around the globe. She was also blunt in admitting while someone in her position always says the recognition from the Academy doesn’t matter, at this point it might just a bit. Still, they are thrilled just to be able to make the movies they want to and with increasingly less pressure based on their continuing success.
With the 2011 Sundance Film Festival slate being announced today, I asked Thomas if she or Nolan ever discussed taking a more active role as producers. Especially of smaller independent films such as Nolan’s “Memento” which made a splash at the festival in 2001 after debuting at Venice and Toronto the fall before. Thomas said Nolan is so single minded when making a picture it’s hard to get him to work on anything else. And she made it clear that in the case of “Superman,” Nolan and David Goyer just had an idea they couldn’t believe wasn’t being explored by Warner Bros. And with Zack Snyder now on board as director, Nolan will be busy making “The Dark Knight Rises” and “we are handing it off to him.” So, take note anyone out there thinking this will be a strange Nolan/Snyder partnership. Thomas reiterated that they brought it to an appropriate screenplay and it’s now Snyder’s picture.
Eventually speaking to the svelte Nolan, who was joking he gains weight shooting and loses it in-between films, the filmmaker was in jovial spirits talking about “Inception.” I asked him if spending so many years working on the screenplay, what he thought of all the fans of the movie who had different theories of what it all really meant (i.e, whether it was a dream or not). Nolan said while he enjoys the passion online, if he hadn’t made the film “ambiguous” he would have failed as a filmmaker. He also admitted that he is surprised by some of the far out theories, but he just wasn’t creating something he expected moviegoers to have to delve into like a puzzle to really find out “what happened.” Moreover, he also finds it hard to believe so many fans think he’s written, cast, shot and finished his films before he’s even started. In particular, “The Dark Knight Rises” at the moment, where he’s still just finishing the screenplay and hasn’t finished casting at all. And make it clear Batman fans, this wasn’t Nolan just being humble for the sake of the press, he really thinks you all might be giving him just a bit too much credit. His films come together during the production and editing process and he’s certainly not thinking of what he’ll do after “Rises.” That’s the furthest thing from his admittedly one track mind at the moment.
Lastly, I joked with Nolan about his Batman muse Christian Bale who told the press recently he doesn’t believe anything about future “Dark Knight” movies until it comes out his director’s mouth. Nolan sadly hasn’t gotten a chance to see Bale’s amazing turn in “The Fighter” yet, but he did reveal he keeps Bale pretty up to date with what’s going on. So, perhaps it’s Bale that’s being decidedly mum?
Now, from an awards perspective, “Inception” is an intriguing case among the legitimate contenders. There is no doubt some sentiment that Nolan and Thomas are due after being snubbed in the main categories for “Dark Knight,” but even without that sentiment an instant critical and box office classic like “Inception” would still be a major player this year. In fact, there’s no reason without enough of a push it could even win the best picture Oscar. There’s a long way to go for that to happen, but judging by WB’s increasingly visible and justified campaigning they are certainly trying.
You can relieve the thrills of “Inception” when it hits DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday.
Follow Gregory Ellwood and Awards Campaign on Twitter @HitFixGregory