WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – After a rough start to 2013 (“Stoker,” say what?), Fox Searchlight has had a lot to celebrate. The studio’s Sundance pickup “The Way, Way Back” was one of the art house hits of the summer earning $21 million, September comedy “Baggage Claim” did an OK $20 million with an $8.5 million budget and Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said” became a surprise indie smash with $16 million and is still going strong (with $20 million well within reach). Oh, and of course, there is that little drama “12 Years a Slave” that critics and audiences have been a tad euphoric for.
The mini-major held its annual holiday party for press and talent on Friday night at Cecconi’s in West Hollywood and it was well worth stopping by. “12 Years” director Steve McQueen was constantly encircled by well-wishers and it turns out expected supporting actress nominee Lupita Nyong’o is a natural when working an awards season crowd. Along with Chiwetel Ejiofor, the trio have been busy on the circuit hitting the Britannia Awards, GQ Awards and screening after screening over the bast week alone. And they’ll be at the Academy’s Governors Awards Saturday night alongside every potential nominee squeezed into the Hollywood and Highland ballroom.
Ejiofor seemed much more at ease with being a Best Actor frontrunner (it’s clearly between him and “Dallas Buyer’s Club’s” Matthew McConaughey for the win) and the reaction to “12 Years” than when we spoke in September. At that time he was coming off of back-to-back rapturous screenings at both the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals and seemed a little overwhelmed by it all. That has clearly passed. The 36-year-old actor said he may shoot an indie in New Zealand (which he loves) in January, but it’s unclear if it can work with his schedule. He also noted that thanks to “12 Years” he’s found himself in the envious position of being offered much bigger movie roles than he’s ever seen before. And yet, he told this pundit he’s being cautious. He noted that if this notoriety had occurred much earlier in his career he’d probably have jumped at as many of these parts as he could. Now? It’s about picking the right project at the right time and for the right reasons. Smart man.
Searchlight’s “Enough Said” was also represented with star Julia Louis-Dreyfus arriving just hours before (she’d filmed scenes for “Veep” earlier in the day on the East Coast) as well as the film’s wonderfully self-deprecating writer and director Nicole Holofcener. Louis-Dreyfus and I had caught up a little over a week ago to discuss the box office success of “Said.” At the time, embattled Toronto mayor Rob Ford had just admitted he’d smoked crack. Louis-Dreyfus had said there was no way “Veep” could ever go down that direction. Audiences just wouldn’t believe it and would think it was too over the top. Even for a comedy about Washington politics. It turns out Louis-Dreyfus was so busy on Thursday she hadn’t heard of Ford’s latest misstep. The pleasure, after excusing myself for having to stay a naughty word, was all mine. Needless to say, she went bug-eyed at the news. And no, “Veep” could never go there. Who’d believe it?
Along with the “12 Years” crew the “Enough Said” duo will enjoy the swanky Governors Awards (as will HitFix’s Kristpher Tapley, mind you). They’ll be joined, no doubt, by the numerous Universal Pictures stars who showed up to celebrate the studio’s mega-blockbuster “Despicable Me 2” about a mile away at Fig and Olive (and enjoyed a performance from Pharrell Williams). This writer tried to make both events, but with a season as intense as this it sadly didn’t happen.
Other notables on hand at the Searchlight event included 20th Century Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos, Plan B partner and “12 Years” producer Jeremy Kleiner, Searchlight toppers Nancy Utley and Stephen A. Gilula and “Black Nativity” star Jacob Latimore.