Five Takeaways: And the Oscar for Biggest Moneymaker goes to …

Rob Lowe and Oscars

As you’ve heard by now, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences wants to add an Oscar for outstanding achievement in “popular film” to the mix in 2019.

“The film business passed away today,” Rob Lowe (above left)  tweeted in response. “It had been in poor health for a number of years. It is survived by sequels, tent-poles, and vertical integration.”

On the surface, it seems like a cockamamie, ill-advised plan. A few quick thoughts:

  1. The Academy may be imperfect. The Oscars telecast may be kooky and overlong. But it has the highest profile of any organization/show designed to honor achievements in filmmaking — accomplishments related to the art of making movies. Box-office receipts aren’t the same thing. Does Oscar’s history count for nothing?
  2. Some films are simultaneously artistic standouts and commercial juggernauts. If the Best Popular Film award in 2019 goes to box-office hits “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” or “Mission Impossible: Fallout,” but those movies don’t get Best Picture nominations, isn’t that like saying, “Sure, your movie isn’t a stand-out artistically but it made a heckuva lot of money, so we’re giving you our Very Special Oscar?”
  3. Doesn’t introducing an Oscar for Best Popular Film dilute the impact of the Oscar for Best Picture? Which one is the “real” top winner?
  4.  If the idea is to pump up the TV ratings of the Oscars telecast, a last-minute CYA attempt to get more fans of, say, superhero movies to tune in seems misguided. There are other ways to restructure the thing to make it funnier and faster moving. And maybe, just maybe, the Academy’s members might consider cutting back on the political speechifying that’s alienated so many viewers, and potential viewers?
  5. Is the plan designed to keep the Academy from accusations of a) being “so white” if/when the enormously popular “Black Panther” doesn’t get nominated and/or win Best Picture or b) being unwilling to honor superhero movies if/when that film or “Avengers” don’t get nominated and/or win Best Picture? The Academy has notably made moves to diversify its membership via increases in minority, female, and younger members, along with other tweaks, including expanding the number of Best Picture nominees. Why not allow a bit of time for the nominations to reflect those changes? Is it really necessary to press the panic button right now? Patience, grasshopper.
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Oscars 2010: “The Hurt Locker” Wins Big; “Up in the Air” Shut Out

Sometimes Oscar even gets it (mostly) right: The Hurt Locker cleaned up with six awards last night, including best picture, best director (Kathryn Bigelow), and best original screenplay (Mark Boal).

Bigelow had been widely expected to win for her direction of the riveting Iraq War drama, and in so doing she became the first woman to take home that award. But most Oscar guessers were about evenly split on whether best picture would go to her film or James Cameron‘s extraordinarily expensive and extraordinarily profitable 3-D sci-fi spectacular Avatar. The better film won in both top categories, IMO.

Boal’s win was a bit of a surprise, as some had expected that Quentin Tarantino might take a home win in this category, for his violent, funny, wildly imaginative Inglourious Basterds. QT’s film, though, only won in the category of supporting actor (Christoph Waltz).

An even bigger upset was in the category of best adapted screenplay, with Geoffrey Fletcher winning for his adaptation of Saffire’s tough-but-uplifting urban drama Precious.

The majority of the categories played out about as expected, although it was interesting to see another left-field choice win in the foreign-film category: Argentina’s The Secret in Their Eyes trumped two wildly acclaimed films — The White Ribbon and A Prophet.

Tallies: The Hurt Locker won 6 out of 9; Avatar won 3 out of 9. Precious (6 noms), Up (5 noms) and Crazy Heart (3 noms) each won 2. Inglourious Basterds won 1 out of 8. Shut out: Up in the Air (6 noms), District 9 (4 noms), Nine (4 noms), An Education (3 noms), The Princess and the Frog (3 noms).

Why did Avatar lose out in the big categories? Patrick Goldstein, writing in the Los Angeles Times, offers this insight: “My suspicion is that academy members still find it difficult to believe that films largely created and sculpted in the computer–whether it’s “Avatar” or the long string of brilliant Pixar films — can be just as worthy and artistic as the old-fashioned live-action ones.”

How’d I do? I made predictions in 15 categories. I guessed wrong in four. Score: 11/15.

Best Picture – The Hurt Locker. My guess: Avatar.

Best Director – Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (my guess).

Best Actor – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart (my guess).

Best Actress – Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side (my guess).

Best supporting actor – Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds (my guess).

Best supporting actress – Mo’Nique, Precious (my guess).

Best animated feature – Up (my guess).

Best documentary – The Cove (my guess).

Best foreign language film – The Secret in Their Eyes, from Argentina. My guess: The White Ribbon. As I said – plenty of wild cards in this category, and one of them won.

Best adapted screenplay – Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious. My guess: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air.

Best original screenplay – Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker. My guess: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds.

Best music (original song) – “The Weary Kind,” by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett, Crazy Heart (my guess).

Best art direction – Avatar (my guess).

Cinematography – Avatar (my guess).

Visual effects – Avatar (my guess).

For the complete list of Oscar winners and nominees, click here.

Oscar Talk: Viewership Jumps

oscars10Blame it on the down economy, and the accompanying desire for escapist entertainment. Or perhaps it’s the fault of the nasty winter weather, which continued to break records nationwide (global warming, or new ice age?). Who wants to go outside?

Or  maybe there simply wasn’t anything else worth watching on Sunday night.

At any rate, the 81st annual Academy Awards telecast drew 36.3 million viewers, an increase of 13 percent over the 32 million who caught the show last year, according to a report in the New York Times. Viewership grew by 22 percent among men ages 18 to 34.

That’s despite the predictable post-show grumbling by television critics and others, some of whom probably wouldn’t be pleased by the Oscars even if the telecast ran no more than two hours and was the funniest thing on TV.

By the way, some of these same critics kill acres of trees in the course of endlessly hyping such awful “reality” programming as “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Bachelor” and “The Biggest Loser.” Like they know from quality.

More factoids: Viewership for the show peaked in 1998, when 55 million watched Titanic win 11 Oscars, including best picture and best director (James Cameron). More than 40 million watched the Oscars show in 2007, when the award for best picture went to Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

So much for those who would want to force the Oscars to honor only the year’s biggest crowd-pleasers.* Isn’t television already overwhelmed with popularity contests?

*(This is NOT a dis on The Dark Knight, which deserved Oscar attention on artistic merit alone. Its exclusion had more to do with a)a general disrespect for comic-book culture, and b)a liberal political agenda that clearly dominates the thinking of Hollywood types).

UPDATE: Mary McNamara, a television critic for the L.A.Times, writes, “If nothing else, the 81st version proved that the Oscars are important after all, that in this digitally splintered world where everyone can find something better to do every single second of the day, there remain media and entertainment experiences we long to share with one another.” The rest of her piece.

Oscar Talk: My Envelope, Please

oscars6After what feels like the longest Oscars PR run-up in Academy Awards history, the 81st annual Academy Awards arrives Sunday night.

Wolverine, I mean, Hugh Jackman, will play host in a ceremony purportedly designed to honor the year’s best achievements on the big screen.

Sadly, this year that means that The Dark Knight, the visually astonishing fantasy film directed by Christopher Nolan, was robbed of a best picture nomination, and was all but ignored in most categories. A notable exception: The late Heath Ledger’s bone-deep performance as The Joker, a shoo-in to win for best supporting actor.

Stephen Daldry’s The Reader, compelling but essentially designed to win an Oscar, is just one of the best picture nominees that might have been bumped to make way for The Dark Knight.  Another is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, vastly overrated — some have called it Forrest Gump redux — but nonetheless the recipient of 14 nominations (!!!???!!!).

The Oscars goofed, too, in leaving a pair of quite accomplished and quite different foreign films — Gomorra, a crime film from Italy, and Swedish horror shocker Let the Right One In —  off the list of foreign language nominees.

On the other hand, it’s gratifying to see underdogs Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) and Melissa Leo (Frozen River) land major acting nominations. Their chances at winning are practically nil.

Without further ado, my picks.

—–Picture—–

  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: Slumdog Millionaire
  • The rest: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader

—–Director—–

  • Most likely to win: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Deserves to win: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
  • The rest: Stephen Daldry, The Reader; Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon; Gus Van Sant, Milk

—–Actor—–

  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
  • The rest: Richard Jenkins, The Visitor; Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon; Sean Penn, Milk; Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

—–Actress—–

  • Most likely to win: Kate Winslet, The Reader
  • Deserves to win: Melissa Leo, Frozen River
  • The rest: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married; Angelina Jolie, Changeling; Melissa Leo, Frozen River; Meryl Streep, Doubt

—–Supporting Actor—–

  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
  • The rest: Josh Brolin, Milk; Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt; Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

—–Supporting Actress—–

  • Most likely to win: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
  • Deserves to win: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona

—–Foreign Language—–

  • Most likely to win: The Class
  • (Probably) Deserves to win: Waltz With Bashir
  • The rest: The Baader Meinhof Complex, Departures, Revanche

—–Animated—–

  • Most likely to win: Wall-E
  • Deserves to win: Kung Fu Panda
  • The rest: Bolt

—–Documentary—–

  • Most likely to win: Man on Wire
  • Deserves to win: Trouble the Water
  • The rest: Betrayal, Encounters at the End of the World, The Garden

—–Adapted Screenplay—–

  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: Slumdog Millionaire
  • The rest: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, The Reader

—–Original Screenplay—–

  • Most likely to win: Milk
  • Deserves to win: In Bruges
  • The rest: Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, Wall-E

—–Cinematography—–

  • Most likely to win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Deserves to win: The Dark Knight
  • The rest: Changeling, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

—–Art Direction—–

  • Likely to win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Deserves to win: The Dark Knight
  • The rest: Changeling, The Duchess, Revolutionary Road

—–Music (score)—–

  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: Slumdog Millionaire
  • The rest: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Defiance, Milk, Wall-E

—–Music (song)—–

  • Most likely to win, deserves to win: “Jai Ho,” Slumdog Millionaire
  • The rest: “Down to Earth,” Wall-E; “O Saya,” Slumdog Millionaire

Oscar Talk: Talent Behind The Reader Strikes Back at Those Who Call It a “Holocaust Denial Film”

oscars5The Reader, nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Kate Winslet) and five other Academy Awards, essentially is an examination of how a nation, Germany, chooses to deal with the sins of its past.

And yet, some have attacked the movie as a “Holocaust denial film,” saying that Winslet, who has already been honored with a Golden Globe and a Bafta, was too sympathetic in her portrayal  of a female prison camp guard.

the_reader1-520x349Mark Weitzman, head of The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said  “Essentially it takes a woman who serves in, is responsible for, is complicit in, you pick the words, in the deaths of at least 300 Jews – and her big secret shame is that she’s illiterate.”

The London Jewish Cultural Centre’s head, Trudy Gold, in an interview with Jewish News, also expressed her displeasure with the movie.

“This is just one of a spate of films portraying sympathetic Nazis. This woman acted monstrously, there’s no question about that. The question is have we gotten to the point where we have to make heroines out of Nazis? I do find it a bit sick.”

(Source story)

The talent behind the film, including director Stephen Daldry, David Hare, whose screenplay was adapted from the German bestseller, producer Donna Gigliotti and studio owner Harvey Weinstein, are striking back.

So are leading Jewish voices, including author and activist Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Here’s the joint statement issued by the filmmakers (caps are theirs), courtesy of the movie’s publicists:

“We are proud of The Reader and everyone who made this film.  It is outrageous and insulting that people have called it a “Holocaust denial film.”  While entitled to their opinion, these allegations are fueled by ignorance and a misunderstanding of the material, and  are based on unsubstantiated arguments.

The greatest films elicit great debate and conversation. Unfortunately, the recent attacks on The Reader have generated debates, not about the substance of the film, but about what people believe to be the intent of the filmmakers.  To take a piece of art that was constructed with the hard work of many talented people and turn it into propaganda is plain ignorant.  No one is suggesting that The Reader must be beloved by everyone.  On the contrary, there is always room for criticism.  If one does not like the film that is one matter; but to project one’s personal bias on the filmmaker’s objective is wrong and something we could no longer remain silent about.

The Reader is a film about how a generation of Germans lived in the shadow of one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century.  Some detractors of the film have said that it is a piece of Holocaust revisionism; however Holocaust survivors, children of Holocaust survivors and a Nobel Peace Prize winner feel differently.

Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has praised The Reader as “a film that deals powerfully with Germany’s reconciliation with its past.”  He said that ‘it is not about the Holocaust; it is about what Germany did to itself and its future generations.’ He called it ‘a faithful adaptation of an important book, that is still relevant today as genocide continues to be practiced around the world.’ ”

Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti Defamation League, concurs, according to a press release:

“As we move further away from the Holocaust we must continue to tell the story of the Shoah in ways that will reach and touch new generations.  The Reader, which takes place in post-WWII Germany, clearly portrays the horrors of the Holocaust, not visually but intellectually and emotionally.  There is no doubt to what Kate Winslet’s character, Hannah Schmitz, did during the war.  Her guilt is given.  At her trial her crimes are portrayed in detail and she is brought to justice for them.  The Reader is not meant to be a factual re-telling of the Holocaust; for that we have documentaries.  Rather it is about guilt and responsibility that is as important for our times as it was for post-war Germans.”

Will any of the folks associated with the movie, or anyone else, allude to the controversy during the Oscar ceremonies on Sunday night?

Stay tuned.

Oscar Talk: Awards Bounce? Not so Much

oscars3The Oscar bounce — the uptick in attendance when any particular movie lands Academy Awards nominations — once was the cart placed before the horse of movie productions.

That is, producers and studios routinely attached stars and directors to scripts merely in hopes of assembling a movie that would land awards attention, which in turn would lead to boffo box office, in Variety-speak.

As it turns out, the Oscar bounce is practically as obsolete as the payphone.

So says Los Angeles Times writer Patrick Goldstein, in a piece published today.

“The Academy Awards’ best picture nominees were announced Jan. 22, an event quickly commemorated by a blitzkrieg of expensive full-page ads in the trades, the New York Times and my newspaper, designed to use the cachet of a best picture nomination to nudge reluctant moviegoers into the theaters,” Goldstein writes.

“But at the time when the rest of the movie business is booming, the best picture nominees–with the obvious exception of the crowd-pleasing Slumdog Millionaire–are doing a slow fade. Only one of the five best picture nominees, The Reader, has made more of its overall box-office take after it earned a best picture nod.”

Downside for viewers, long term: Some high-quality productions, which might only have been given the green light because of their potential for grabbing Oscar attention, will now stay in development hell.

Upside for viewers, short term (as in this season): Oscar prospects have lengthened the on-screen life of an impressive group of films far more worthwhile than such February releases as the turgid The International and the execrable Friday the 13th.

So … see the good stuff while you still can.

Click here to read the rest of Goldstein’s story.

Oscar Talk: Acting Performances Rule

oscars2Great performances by actors outshine films nominated for Oscars this year, USA Today writer Susan Wloszczyna argues, in a piece published today.

Case in point: The best actress category was so packed with strong acting turns that several notable performances, by Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road), Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) and Kristin Scott Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long) were overlooked.

Read the story here.

Oscar Talk: The Underdogs – Melissa Leo, Richard Jenkins, Trouble the Water

oscarsBack in the day — you know, before the Oscar nominations were announced — I was rooting for acting honors for Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) and Melissa Leo (Frozen River), and a little Academy Awards love for Katrina documentary Trouble the Water.

That particular dream came true, as all received nominations.

New York Times writer David Carr, in a piece published today, pays tribute to those Oscar underdogs, as well as Michael Shannon, nominated for best supporting actor in Revolutionary Road, and nominated docs Waltz With Bashir and The Class.

“Don’t think of the people who aren’t favorites to win as also-rans; these lesser-known nominees are still among the exalted few, given the hundreds of movies made and the tens of thousands of people who make them,” Carr writes.

“And even if they don’t get a shot at thanking their agents and their moms, we can all be grateful that the spectacle-rich Oscars actually have the collateral effect of elevating impressive work that was conceived and somehow made far from the studio lot.”

Click here to read the rest of the piece.

Tampa Film Notes, 2.11.09: Watching the Oscars, in Style

Oscars fans looking for a big to-do for the big night, Sunday, Feb. 22, and unable to get to the real thing, have a couple of appealing options in the Tampa Bay area.

Watch the proceedings on the big screen, at Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin St., or at the Beach Theatre, 315 Corey Ave. in St. Petersburg Beach.oscar

Oscar Night America, celebrating 10 years at Tampa Theatre, means a reception, red-carpet festivities, limo rides around the block, screaming fans and paparazzi.

And it’s all a fundraiser, with proceeds going to the art deco theater’s myriad film and educational programs.

The event kicks off at 6 p.m., and tickets range from $20 for students to $130 for the whole shebang (including VIP reception and admission).

For more information, go to the Tampa Theatre web site or call (813) 274-8981.

The Beach Theatre is offering a low-dough alternative – as in, free admission. The event starts at 8 p.m., naturally, when the ABC telecast gets underway.

For more info, visit the Beach Theatre web site or call (727) 360-6697.