Off the Carpet: ‘Gone Girl,’ Cumberbatch and more brace for Hollywood Film Awards

Do the Hollywood Film Awards matter? Ask publicists and film marketers eager to lap up any and all opportunities to position movies and talent this time of year, then yeah, they do. Have they long been a ham-fisted attempt to capitalize on awards season and a scheme to line one ambitious individual's pockets? Ask the same group and you'll get another affirmative. “I don't want to deal with this, but I guess I have to,” one deflated publicist told me of the upcoming show, which will be broadcast for the first time ever on CBS Friday.

When Ben Affleck dutifully takes the stage to accept the organization's best film prize for David Fincher's “Gone Girl” (which is the current plan according to multiple sources), for the modest audience that bothers to watch on a Friday night, it will look like a timely shot of adrenaline for a box office success on the bubble for Best Picture Oscar consideration. When the cast of “Foxcatcher” is honored, when Benedict Cumberbatch and Julianne Moore receive the first of many trophies this year, when “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Top Five” get commercial-leaning awards, when Michael Keaton is feted for lifetime achievement, when “Wild” director Jean-Marc Vallée accepts a breakthrough filmmaker prize a full year after truly “breaking through” with “Dallas Buyers Club” – it will appear to some viewers like a commencement of the season.

To those in the industry, however, those feeling arm-barred into $25,000 price tags for tables at the event, who have been put off by the “if you don't give us this then we're going to take away that” bullying of the negotiated prizes, who know the best director honor was still up in the air as late as last week with the event's leadership scrounging for Angelina Jolie, Richard Linklater, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, any “name” to show up and gladly accept (some significant players have perhaps smartly declined representation at the show) – it will simply feel like wasted energy.

But awards season is a monument to wasted energy. So why not one more huckster with wares to peddle?

I don't know Carlos de Abreu well – the mastermind behind all of this largesse, pictured above – but his reputation has always preceded him. He has smartly leveraged his enterprise over the years, loading up his Rolodex since arriving in Hollywood in the 1970s, initially affixing his kudos showcase to the Hollywood Film Festival, finding media cohorts who would eventually secure trade pulpits from which he could broaden his profile, etc. When Dick Clark Productions was looking to hedge bets in the wake of the NBC/Golden Globes dispute, he unloaded. And seriously, good for him. But observationally, I think it's a little sleazy that he's going after the finances of a competitor*; it's thinly veiled and everyone sort of gets it. I think it's a shame that a show meant to kinda/sorta recognize the best of the year happens at such an early date, before a number of films have been seen, let alone released (they used to be even earlier). And I think it's a real bummer, if not an outright disaster, that the event now has a broadcast outlet on a major network, because in an industry where perception often means more than reality, the cachet of the whole thing takes on a new, unfortunate hue.

You could knock the notion of negotiated awards if it weren't such a constant; they happen elsewhere during the season and it's sort of just a course of business this time of year. Still, the manner in which the Hollywood Film Awards have long operated, leveraging below-the-line honors as a tactic to get famous people to show up and present (not-so-shocker: those have now been kicked to commercial bumpers for the televised show, and have already been announced, because who has the time?**), making an often gross time of year even grosser – it hasn't always sat well with those involved. But they still play ball. They still humor the horse trading. As Anne Thompson put it when she bothered to write about all of this five years ago, they (and the media) still give it a pass.

So here they come. And the question remains: Do they matter? For “Gone Girl,” which will also pick up prizes for screenplay and sound, I guess we'll see. For other winners that serve more as obvious Oscar prognostication than anything else, the answer will be more nebulous.

But I imagine, like always, the Hollywood Film Awards will be more or less just part of the clutter by the time we get to the meat of the season. When watching the Golden Globes or Academy Awards nominations announcement, casual viewers will think, “Yeah, I've been hearing about Eddie Redmayne being an Oscar contender for a while” (he will be honored for breakout work alongside Shailene Woodley Friday). But this event simply remains one more voice in a sea of noise that won't have any tangible bearing on anything. Ask Hilary Swank what a Hollywood Film Award for “Amelia” did for her. Or Mike Medavoy for “All the King's Men.” Or Sam Rockwell for “Conviction.” Or Jake Gyllenhall for “Prisoners.”

Long live the circuit, I guess…

The 18th annual Hollywood Film Awards will be presented this Friday, Nov. 14. We'll be sure to let you know what else “won.”

(Note: The Contenders section has been tweaked in recent weeks but we'll know a lot more about the direction of this season in the coming days, so I'll save a full-on update until mid-week.)


*Disclosure: I am a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, a group not without its own issues, of which I have certainly been critical in the past.

**Case in point, when the BFCA began presenting below-the-line awards, they, too, were relegated to commercial bumpers. Worse, none of the talent at the show were aware said awards were being handled that way. A little embarrassing.