AFI Fest: How many Oscar winners will you see?

Benedict Cumberbatch rides a horse in Jane Campion's "The Power of the Dog."
Benedict Cumberbatch stars in Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” part of AFI Fest‘s lineup.

We’re a couple of weeks from Thanksgiving, and you can really feel it in the air, right? That autumnal crispness, the days getting shorter, Jack Frost making his presence known ... wait ... sorry, I just came in from outside and I think I’m suffering from delusions brought on by heatstroke. Whew.

I mean, for a second — and, yeah, you’re really going to think I’m crazy — I thought awards season was actually kicking into gear again, which couldn’t possibly be, as the Oscars just took place a few months ago. Man, I must be lightheaded ... that, or I have a contact high from reading colleague Adam Tschorn’s holiday gift list.

Whichever it is, hello again. I’m Glenn Whipp, awards columnist for the Los Angeles Times, host of The Envelope’s Friday newsletter. And, yes, believe it or not, we’re already back for another round. Pour yourself a cold drink, crank up the air conditioning — good news, it might cool down to 80 by Monday! — and take a break from perusing The Times’ holiday gift guide to consider what’s already going on with this year’s Oscar contenders.

AFI Fest now in full swing

Like most other film festivals, L.A.’s AFI Fest went virtual last year, which in one respect was OK, as I wouldn’t have to wander around the Hollywood & Highland parking structure at 1 in the morning looking for my car. But it was a drag in every other way, and I’m glad to report that the festival is back in all of its full-programmed glory.

My colleague Justin Chang rounded up 11 must-see movies that will play at the festival, including Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s melancholy masterpiece “Drive My Car” (Japan’s Oscar entry for international feature); Pedro Almodóvar’s latest, “Parallel Mothers”; and Jane Campion’s western psychodrama “The Power of the Dog,” which earned stellar reviews at several festivals this fall.


Milena Smit and Penelope Cruz in the maternity ward in "Parallel Mothers."
Milena Smit and Penélope Cruz play the titular mothers in “Parallel Mothers.”
(Iglesias Mas / Sony Pictures Classics)

Kristen Stewart and Pablo Larraín answer your ‘Spencer’ questions

Sometimes at the end of a day of shooting “Spencer,” Kristen Stewart felt wrung out and absolutely exhausted. Other days, the weight of playing Princess Diana coming to terms with husband Prince Charles rejecting her, and the royal family dismissing her, left the actor angry. Sometimes she felt all alone. And some days, it was a combo platter, leaving Stewart an absolute mess.

It didn’t matter how Stewart was feeling, though, because at the end of nearly every one of the 37 days she spent shooting “Spencer,” director Pablo Larraín had a final task for her to do before she left the set. For 30 minutes or so, Larraín would choose a musical cue — it might be Miles Davis or Frank Sinatra or Lou Reed — and Stewart, having picked out one of Diana’s dresses from a costume rack — would move to the music. She didn’t know the song in advance. And usually, at least at the beginning, all Stewart wanted to do was talk about the song. Larraín would have to remind her that the camera was rolling.

When “Spencer” was finished shooting, Larraín took all the footage from these sessions and turned it into a 3½-minute montage that’s seen toward the end of the film, a wordless sequence set to composer Jonny Greenwood’s “Crucifix” that sums up a defiant Diana’s need to escape.

Maybe you’ve seen “Spencer” by now and wondered about that montage sequence or whether Timothy Spall‘s character was trying to be a pal by leaving Diana that book about Anne Boleyn or what songs Larraín played for Stewart so you could create your own special playlist. I recently spoke to Stewart (following a first conversation at Telluride) and Larraín, asking them to break down some of the movie’s most memorable scenes. They obliged, and now I can’t get that choral version of Radiohead’s “Creep” out of my head.

Kristen Stewart and director Pablo Larraín from "Spencer."
Kristen Stewart and director Pablo Larraín from “Spencer.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

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Disaster movie for a disastrous moment

I still haven’t seen Adam McKay’s latest, “Don’t Look Up,” but I’m more interested than ever after reading my colleague Mark Olsen’s interview with the filmmaker. The serious-minded comedy follows a pair of scientists, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, who discover a comet destined to collide with the Earth and then have a harder time than you’d imagine getting the word out (and getting people to care) about the impending doom.

“I knew for the past couple of years the story in human experience is the climate,” McKay told Mark. “It’s maybe the biggest story on planet Earth in 66 million years since the Chicxulub asteroid hit. So I have been trying to think of how to do a movie that deals with that. And I thought of like five or six different ideas. One was very dramatic and epic. One was a little bit more like an M. Night [Shyamalan] movie with kind of a twist. And I just had all these ideas. And then my friend David Sirota [who shares a story credit on the film], I think he had a tweet or something where he’s just like, ‘the comet is coming and no one gives a s—.’”

Kind of like our collective response to the climate crisis right now, McKay added.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in "Don't Look Up."
(Niko Tavernise / Netflix)

Don’t just read, listen

The Envelope podcast returns on Nov. 30 with brand-new episodes that pull back the curtain on this awards season’s top contenders. Each week features A-list actors, directors or showrunners in intimate conversations about their lives and creative processes — and how it all fuels their art. For our season premiere, Kirsten Dunst recounts transformative moments from her decadeslong career and shares stories about starring with Cumberbatch in “The Power of the Dog.” New episodes — featuring Los Angeles Times entertainment reporters Yvonne Villarreal and Mark Olsen in conversation with the likes of Halle Berry, Jennifer Coolidge and McKay — will drop every Tuesday.


I’d love to hear from you. Email me at

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