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.

Sarasota Film Festival: 11th Edition Kicks Off March 27

sarasota-film-festivalAnother ambitious film festival is on the horizon, and it’s well within reach of the Tampa Bay area: The 11th annual Sarasota Film Festival runs March 27-April 5.

This year, more than 200 films will be screened, including dramas, family films and documentaries. The schedule is expected to be announced this Friday, March 13.

The fest’s funding this year derives in part from a $30,000 grant provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Institutional Grants Program.

It’s the third time the fest has received AMPAS funding, following grants of $20,000 in 2005 and $15,000 in 2007.

This year, AMPAS grants totaling $450,000 are going to 24 U.S. film festivals – Sarasota’s event was the only other Florida fest on the list of recipients.

For the full list of the grant recipients, click here.

USC Film School: New Digs

Are filmmakers insecure about the place of cinema at the table of the arts?
George Lucas, a chief benefactor of the new home for the USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, in an interview with the New York Times lamented that film is too often thought of ”not qualified to sit in the pantheon” of the most significant arts.

Maybe so, maybe not.

At any rate, Lucas, who attended the USC film school in the ’60s, along with John Milius (Big Wednesday) and Randal Kleiser (Grease), put his architectural sketches, and money, where his mouth is, contributing $175 million and project designs to the complex of classrooms, sound stages and production buildings, officially set to open March 29.

An additional $50 million was coughed up by several studios, including Fox, Warner Brothers, and the Walt Disney Company, and an additional $50 million is still needed.

When complete, in August 2010, the complex, home to about 1,500 film students, will included a 36,000-square-foot animation building. Two of the buildings will be named for Lucas and Steven Spielberg; the latter attended Cal State, but is a trustee at USC.

The school was established in 1929 as a joint venture with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which has donated a fountain, to include a statue of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Fairbanks was a member of the founding faculty, along with D.W. Griffith, Ernst Lubitsch, William DeMille, Irving Thalberg and Darryl Zanuck.

Whether film is or is not treated as a second-class citizen, in terms of its status as an academic discipline, or its status among the arts, film schools have provided a launching pad for a wide variety of talent.

The list of notable directors who have passed through USC’s film school is vast, and includes comedy bad boy Judd Apatow, John Carpenter, Jon Landau, Doug Liman, Bryan Singer, John Singleton and Robert Zemeckis.

Notable directors who attended the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television: Francis Ford Coppola, Alex Cox, Catherine Hardwicke, Alexander Payne, Joel Schumacher, Penelope Spheeris, Gore Verbinski, Paul Schrader.

NYU (I briefly attended the school’s grad program in cinema studies, circa summer of ’85) is the other one in the big three of film schools. Notable alumni of the program, housed in the Tisch School of the Arts: Oliver Stone, M. Night Shyamalan, Joel Coen, Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Brett Ratner, and Todd Phillips.