No rest for the weary, especially when it comes to Oscar campaigning. Focus Features has set up the first Oscars FYC special screening and conversation of the awards season for Tom McCarthy’s “Stillwater” with star Matt Damon and the writer and director scheduled to attend in-person at the 350-seat Harmony Gold Theater in Los Angeles.
AMPAS members received an invitation on Wednesday for the special screening and conversation that will take place on Sunday, Aug. 1, with an option to bring a guest. The invite included an asterisk at the bottom of the email stating, “masks must be worn inside the theater.” No other additional information was included in the email regarding theater capacity, vaccinations or any social distancing requirements or protocols.
“It says masks must be worn, but I don’t know if that’s going to be a packed theater or not,” an active voting member of the Academy shares with Variety who wished to remain anonymous. “I love going to the movies, but I don’t want to risk it.”
Focus Features also had invited SAG and Oscar voters to the New York premiere of “Stillwater” in New York at Jazz at Lincoln Center on July 26. While that screening also had a mandatory mask policy, a reporter from Variety noticed that one of the cast members of the movie — along with the actor’s family members — chose not to wear masks while watching “Stillwater.”
The studio has been monitoring COVID reports daily and has said the theater will not be seated to full capacity while adhering to all local guidelines set by Los Angeles and the state of California.
The LA Oscars screening comes just hours after the CDC released recommendations that some vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in areas with high or substantial transmission. COVID-19 numbers have been spiking due to the infectious delta variant, with Hollywood labor unions recently agreeing to allow production companies to mandate vaccines for “Zone A” workers, which includes actors and others who must be on set without masks.
The campaigning for awards will kick off this year, as is tradition, with the fall festivals. The Venice Film Festival announced their lineup on Monday, which included another Focus Features awards hopeful, “The Card Counter” from Paul Schrader and starring Oscar Isaac. The Toronto International Film Festival revealed their lineup, which included Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast.” At the same time, New York Film Fest just announced their opening and centerpiece selections — Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” from A24 and Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” from Netflix.
This marks the first year the Academy has banned studios from sending DVD screeners and other physical media from being sent to voters. Instead, the films can be viewed in a theater or on the secure Academy Streaming Room, where voters can access all eligible contenders.
Feeling confident about Damon and the film’s awards prospects, Focus Features hosted the world premiere of “Stillwater” out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a five-minute standing ovation from attendees. As the credits rolled, the 50-year-old Damon began to tear up at the cheers from the audience. His portrayal of Bill Baker, a midwestern father, relentlessly trying to prove the innocence of his daughter (Abigail Breslin) after she’s imprisoned for murder in France, is one of the best-reviewed performances of his career, probably his strongest turn since his snubbed and astounding work in 1999’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
Damon has been a popular and beloved figure within the Academy ranks. He was a double nominee for best actor and original screenplay, winning for the latter for “Good Will Hunting” (1997) alongside his co-writing best friend, Ben Affleck. The screenwriting duo will be reuniting once again later this year on Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel,” in which the two will star from a script they co-wrote with Oscar-nominated scribe Nicole Holofcener (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”). After “Good Will Hunting,” Damon has landed two other Oscar acting nominations — for “Invictus” (2009) for supporting actor and for “The Martian” (2015) in lead actor. His last Oscar nomination was in the best picture category, as one of the five producers of Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” (2016). The film won two Oscars for original screenplay and best actor for Casey Affleck (a role that Damon was originally supposed to play).
McCarthy has received three Oscar nominations during his career, winning one for original screenplay for “Spotlight” (2015) alongside his co-writer Josh Singer. He was also nominated for directing the same year, and the film went on to win best picture, the first winner since “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952) to win just two statues. His other nom came with Bob Peterson and Pete Docter for co-writing Pixar’s “Up” (2009).
“Stillwater” will open in theaters this Friday, July 30.