Wednesday, March 29, 2006

ARE ACADEMY AWARDS® PASSE?

Sorry. I simply had to revisit this issue.

Patrick Goldstein, writing for The Los Angeles Times recently wrote, "Ratings are crumbling for the Oscars®, and award shows in general, because the Era of the Mass Event is drawing to a close." He maintains this is now the Era of Niches.

Hundreds of television channels are available. Thousands of Web sites about movies and television, most with video and Flash graphics are on the Internet, cell phones, iPods, etc. Then, there is a movie released on CD almost each day, as well as a new video game. All these things compete for leisure time, a TV viewer's attention, and for moviegoers' dollars.

No longer do the majority of Americans tune in to a mass event such as "Miss America," "Miss USA," or even a speech by the president of the United States. I am one who never watches any of the above.

Goldstein wrote, "With the exception of the Super Bowl, which seems immune to anything short of a civil war, even the biggest sports and show biz events find their ratings in decline." I used to tune in for the Super Bowl half-time show, but the quality of that event is in decline, so I don't now.

American Idol is the preferred TV show of most Americans, easily trouncing even the Winter Olympics, another endangered mass TV event. So-called "reality shows" reign supreme across the airwaves. Mindless fodder for simple minds.

The ratings for the Oscar broadcast, a mass event, dipped again this year, the lowest since 1987 when CHICAGO took the best-picture award. Not many had seen one of the top nominated films before the Oscars were awarded March 5, and few have since.

Millions of moviegoers did not see the challenging 1969's MIDNIGHT COWBOY or 1999's AMRICAN BEAUTY before the Oscars either, but they headed to the theaters after those films were crowned "Best Picture." Not this year. However, in all fairness, all the movies except CRASH were released after October 2005.

Still at this post, a month after the Oscars, the five films have grossed only $242M collectively, or an average take of $48M per movie. A trivial amount for a U.S. Box Office take. Compare that with STAR WARS: EPISODE III's $380M.

Only BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (23rd) and CRASH (49th) have cracked the top-50 list. Four movies that have scored in the top 50, having received at least one Oscar nod, are WALK THE LINE (17TH), CINDERELLA MAN (42nd), MEMOIRS OF A GUISHA (45th), and WALLACE & GROMIT (47th). With results like this, we analysts have a right to ponder, "What's up with all this?"

Box Office figures from boxofficemojo.com

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

FINAL WORDS ABOUT THIS YEAR'S OSCARS®

For those who watched the Academy Awards® March 5th, the evening turned into a night of surprises when the movie CRASH edged out BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN for Best Picture. Yet, there were some downsides to the broadcast, and host Jon Stewart was the biggest disappointment for many, including myself, and according to the multiple press reports I read.

Frazier Moore, AP television writer wrote, "[Stewart's] usually impeccable blend of puckishness and self-effacement fell flat in the service of Oscar®." At one point Stewart reminded the audience that he is an outsider to the movie business quipping, "Tonight is the night we celebrate excellence in film with ME, the fourth male lead from 'Death to Smoochy." He also refrained from strong political humor as not to offend the dozen or so Republicans that might have been present.

To me, Stewart was awkward from the beginning. His timing was definitely off, unless it is like that all the time. His zings at obvious targets had no sting. His biggest laugh was a reference to the swan dress that singer Bjork wore in 2001. That was an easy hit. His jokes received mostly polite laughter.

The program got off to a good start with the audience-pleasing Best Supporting Actor award to George Clooney for SYRIANA. Then, it hit a slump.

THE MINUSES -

Following the first award, there was about an hour of salutes to visual effects, animated feature film, live action short film, animated short film, sound editing, costume design and makeup, etc., awards that mean nothing to anyone outside the industry.

AP writer Bob Thomas asked why those awards couldn't be presented at another time like the technical awards. Then, he answered his own question with "no," for three reasons: The Academy makes enough money from the awards to finance its yearly activities, ABC also earns a bundle from commercials on the show, and the Board of Governors consists of representatives of all the creative branches. None would ever permit their categories to be downgraded.

Film montages that were cut so rapidly that the average viewer couldn't follow them was another minus. I mean, you see someone on the scene and ask yourself, "Now, who is that?" Poof, on to the next clip before your mind can answer its own question. Can't those young hot shots slow the pace just a tad in the montages? To me, those were the most annoying segments.

Actually, some were somewhat defacing, especially the "Brokeback Mountain" spoof depicting the likes of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Alan Ladd, etc., with dialog and non-verbal behavior that suggested they were actually depicting homosexual characters. The clips were obviously doctored.

Another montage made fun of the first names of the best-actress nominees, Judi, Felicity, Keira, Charlize, and Reese. Bad taste as well. Then, there was the black & white salute to film noir that interrupted the flow of the program, and had no relation to the rest of the program whatsoever, at least as far as I could tell.

Finally, Stewart quipped, "I can't wait until we have another montage." The audience showed agreement.

THE PLUSES -

The best song category was cut to three nominees, all the film scores where showcased in one medley, there weren't hardly any attempts by the presenters to make cute remarks, and the majority of the females walked to the podium by themselves, proving they actually could get there without being on the arm of some superfluous male. Biggest kudos in that department go to the 81-year-old Lauren Bacall.

Director/writer/producer Robert Altman, whom I have long admired, received a long standing ovation as the recipient of an honorary Oscar for his extensive career as director of risky movies. I didn't know he had a complete heart transplant a few years back. He is still going strong at 81.

The rousing performance by Dolly Parton, singing the song she wrote and performed for TRANSAMERICA, "Travelin' Through." I saw Dolly perform live when I attended the Academy Awards in the early 1980s. In that particular show, she sang the song she wrote for the movie NINE TO FIVE ("9 to 5"), which was nominated. Although her voice is getting a little thin, she is still a bundle of talent and exuberance that excites audiences wherever she appears. Afterwards, the attendees showed their appreciation of the performance.

The Three 6 Mafia performing "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," from HUSTLE & FLOW. I'm not a fan of hip hop, and can't abide rap, but I liked this song, especially the beautiful vocalist Taraji Henson. She sang the over-laid melody (the hook), and portrayed Shug in the movie.

I saw the movie after the awards, and I think Terrence Howard was robbed for the best actor award. Oh, I know that Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) turned in a terrific imitative performance, but Howard brought his character to life as an original. The same can be said about Felicity Huffman (Transamerica) as compared to Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) for best actress. I've seen WALK the LINE, and I didn't see the substance in the performance, but I'm tough.

You see, I'm growing weary of actors and actresses getting awards for imitating a formerly famous, now dead person. I have seen every motion picture, and many TV shows starring Katherine Hepburn, and I still do not think that Cate Blanchett deserved the best supporting actress award in 2005 for her portrayal of the strong inimitable Kate.

THE AFTERGLOW -

The TV ratings came in 6 March, and they were down. According to Lynn Elber, an AP entertainment writer, an estimated 39 million people watched the Academy Awards this year, as compared to 42 million last year, which pulled a 30 rating and 43 share. This year's was 27 and 40, each down three points.

According to Nielsen Media Research, the Oscars hadn't dipped below 40 million viewers since 1987, except for the 2003 count of 33 million viewers when CHICAGO took the best-picture award.

However, the Oscars did give ABC a welcome ratings boost over its network rivals, ranking as the night's most popular show by far, and the most watched non-sports broadcast so far this season. Here is the statistic that counts the most, the Oscars remain a coveted program for advertisers, with the average cost of a 30-second commercial spot on the Academy Awards costing about $1.5 million in 2004 and 2005.

Frazier Moore wrote that the biggest winner of the night could be Jon Stewart, because many viewers of the broadcast might tune in to Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" for the first time. Then, again, if they had the same reaction I did, not likely.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A GANGSTER, GEISHA, GROMIT, KING, and PENGUINS

GANGSTER = TSOTSI (gangster, hoodlum, thug) was the Oscar® winner for Best Foreign Language Film of 2005 at the 78th Academy Awards, 5 March 2006. Written and directed by Gavin Hood, this U.K./South African film is set in the Johannesburg township of Soweto. TSOTSI traces six days in the life of a ruthless young gang leader who ends up caring for a baby accidentally kidnapped during a car-jacking, which becomes a life-altering experience. It opened wide 24 February 2006, and is distributed by Miramax.

GEISHA = MEMORIES OF A GEISHA, directed by Rob Marshall (CHICAGO, 2002), stars Chinese actress Zhang Zivi (HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, HERO) in her first English-language role, as Sayuri who enters the hidden world of geishas. She is taught that a geisha is not free to love, or to pursue her own destiny. Her mentor, the legendary geisha Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), understands the limits of an intimate relationship with a special patron or danna, and teaches Sayuri to keep her feelings tightly reined. Unlike Sayuri’s defiant rival Hatsumomo (Gong Li), Mameha knows that a proper geisha cannot afford to indulge her passion for any man.

I think this film should have been nominated for the Best Film Academy Award®. It won three statuettes, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Costume Design. Had it been nominated for Best Film, it would have won more. I think it should have been nominated instead of CAPOTE, which contains little to compliment, except the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of the late author Truman Capote. Hoffman won best actor.

GEISHA'S nomination most likely did not happen because all the actors are Chinese, not Japanese. Yet, the film is set in Japan, and everyone knows that geishas exist only in Japan. It was a bad judgment call by someone involved with the film, but the buck must stop on director Rob Marshall's desk.

GROMIT = The winner of the best animated feature film was WALLACE & GROMIT IN THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT. This hand-crafted clay animated feature film, directed by Nick Parks, is from DreamWorks SKG. Wallace, a cheese-loving inventor, voiced by Peter Sallis, and his loyal dog Gromit set out to discover the mystery behind the garden sabotage that plagues their village and threatens the annual giant vegetable growing contest. The film won almost every major animation award this season.

KING = The mighty ape wasn't nominated for Best Film of 2005, but KING KONG, directed by Peter Jackson, roared in three major technical awards, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. The folks at Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic must be fuming. KONG will be released on DVD 28 March.

PENGUINS = Lots of them in the documentary feature winner, MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (La Marche de l'empereur), narrated by Morgan Freeman and directed by Luc Jacquet. It is an independent film (Canal+, France, in association with Buena Vista International Films, France), distributed by National Geographic Feature Films, and Warner Independent Pictures. PENGUINS documents the amazing march of the Emperor Penguins in order to procreate in a certain location of Antarctica. It is available now on DVD.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

OSCAR® WINNERS IN A NUTSHELL

Here is the nutshell:

Motion Picture, CRASH; Director, Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain); Actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote); Actress, Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line); Supporting Actor, George Clooney (Syriana); Supporting Actress, Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener); Original Screenplay, CRASH; Adapted Screenplay (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN). CRASH, directed by Paul Haggis, also received the statuette for Film Editiing, and BROKEBACK won for Original Score (Gustavo Santaolalla).

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA was nominated in five categories and won statuettes for Art Direction, Cinematography, and Costume Design. However, KING KONG topped MEMOIRS in Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. Plus, KONG won in Visual Effects, making a total of three wins for both.

Other film wins went to: Foreign Language Film, TSOTSI (South Africa, Gavin Hood, Director); Animated Feature, WALLACE & GROMIT IN THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT; and Documentary Feature, MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, narrated by Morgan Freeman and directed by Luc Jacquet.

In the Short Films Categories: Documentary Short, A NOTE OF TRIUMPH: THE GOLDEN AGE OF NORMAN CORWIN; Animated Short. THE MOON AND THE SON: AN IMAGINED CONVERSATION; and Live-Action Short, SIX SHOOTER.

The Memphis hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia(Jordon "Juicy J" Houston, Paul "DJ Paul" Beauregard and Darnell "Crunchy Black" Carlton, Cedric "Frayser Boy" Coleman), made history when they performed the first hip-hop song ever performed on an Academy Awards telecast, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" (music and lyrics by Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman, and Paul Beauregard) from HUSTLE & FLOW. Then, history was made again when the song won the Best Song of 2005. Singer Taraji P. Henson, the actress who played Shug and sang the hook (melody overlay) in the film, sang over the "boys" hip-hop vocal rhythm. The movie DVD and soundtrack CD, with the original explicit lyrics, are available.
[Official Oscar Site]

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

THE ACTING OSCARS® WENT TO . . .

I picked Hoffman and Huffman for the best actor/actress awards, and scored 50 percent. To no one's surprise, Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar® as Best Actor of 2005 for his portrayal of Truman Capote in CAPOTE.

However, I completely underestimated Reese Witherspoon's "Academy Likeability Quotient." She literally grew up in the industry. She, too, portrayed a real-life person, June Carter Cash, in WALK THE LINE.

After stints in modeling, beginning at age 7, and acting in commercials, Witherspoon landed her first major acting role in THE MAN IN THE MOON (1991). That role as a 14-year old tomboy earned her rave reviews. Roles in bigger films such as JACK THE BEAR and A FAR OFF PLACE followed shortly. She added executive producer along with acting credits for LEGALLY BLONDE 2: Red, White and Blonde (2003).

So, Hoffman and Witherspoon portrayed real people, and both were outstanding, the latter doing her own singing. That's always a plus for the Academy voters.

CUT TO:

MIMI
(Slapping herself on the forehead.)
How did I miss it?

MIMI continues to write.


As I wrote in an earlier post, the best supporting actor/actress categories are much harder for me to determine. George Clooney's "likeability quotient" is high, but there was that knawing feeling that Jake Gyllenhaal might ride the coattails of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN to victory. When he didn't, and Clooney was named the Best Supporting Actor of 2005 (Syriana), with this being the first award bestowed, I began to think that BROKEBACK might not win best picture after all.

Rachel Weisz received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress of 2005 (The Constant Gardener). She was the favorite going in, and when you read the previous post, "Songs and Scores," please click the link for GARDENER to hear Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias' unusual score. He has been composing for Spanish movies since 1980. GARDENER is based on the novel by John le Carré, and Weisz's co-star is Ralph Fiennes. In my humble opinion, the movie deserved more than it received from the Academy.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

AND THE OSCAR® WENT TO . . .

Lucky for me, this is National Procrastinations Week, because I haven't had the energy to tackle synthesizing the Sunday night Oscar® broadcast before today. The major critics have. The interesting thing is that they were mostly miffed that the front runner BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN didn't win. Many were shocked that CRASH did. Too bad. They are professional writers, seeing all the films, so they should have seen the possibility at least. Only a couple of the ones I have read did.

When it came time for Best Director category, the last award before Best Picture, BROKEBACK had been awarded statuettes for Adapted Screenplay and Original Score, and CRASH for Original Screenplay and Film Editing. They were basically even in the race. Each had made a slim showing compared to previous best picture wins. So, at that point, it was impossible to call the best picture winner.

Both Paul Haggis (Crash) and Ang Lee (Brokeback) were nominated in the directing category. Although it doesn't always happen, the norm is for the winner of this category will signal that the film they directed will win Best Picture. The opposite happened in 2005 (77th) when Martin Scorsese was nominated for directing THE AVIATOR. Almost everyone reasoned that since Scorsese had never won an Oscar for directing, this would be his year as THE AVIATOR was favored to win Best Picture. However, the award went to Clint Eastwood for directing MILLION DOLLAR BABY, while THE AVIATOR won Best Picture oF 2004. I never expected it to happen two years in a row. When Ang Lee's name was announced as Best Director of 2005, I thought, "BROKEBACK is going to take the top honor, and I'll have egg on my face for predicting a win for CRASH."

Jack Nicholson handled the top award announcement perfectly. His expression was priceless as he announced, "And the Oscar goes to . . . CRASH." This in a year when the box office continued to sink, Oscar's projected TV ratings were considered precarious, provocative independent films dominated over big studio movies for Oscar recognition and, now, a small-budgeted ensemble drama from outside Hollywood had the audacity to take first prize. I was thrilled, and there is no egg on my face for going out on a limb while many others followed the pack!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

IT'S SHOWTIME!




Well, it's time to go get dressed for the Oscar® Party tonight. Hope you are ready! Have a wonderful time, and come back tomorrow evening, read my "chewing" of the results, and put in your two cents worth.

GOOD NIGHT, and GOOD LUCK!

HOW TO PICK THE BEST FILM WINNER (maybe)

There is a way to discover the Academy's possible Best Film choice early in the Oscar® telecast, and I find this method about 90% effective. Well, one must allow for an occasional "zinger." It will help to impress your fellow viewers, if you announce your choice about two and one-half into the broadcast. Here's how it works:

Early in the awards, one can predict the winner by keeping a tally of which of the five movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar actually win in the following categories: Best Actor, Actress, Screenplay, and Directing. It also helps if a major film wins for Cinematography and/or Editing, with Original Score a plus. Actually, any Guild award counts, so count them. Of course, not every film nominated is also nominated in the "also helps" categories. Therefore, a film not among the top five might win one of those, possibly crashing the theory. The trick is to know in which categories each of the top five films appear, and count only those wins for the top films.

To get a list of all movie nominees, and each category for which it is nominated, go to the Official Oscar Site and print the list. HINT: For the alphabetical listing of films and each of their nominations only, print pages 9 - 13, or print all (14 pages) for the whole enchilada.

Now, have you downloaded and printed your ballot yet? I repeat again, you will find one at IMDB (pdf).

GOOD FUN, and GOOD LUCK!

ACTORS, ACTRESSES, AND COATTAIL AWARDS

Best Actor and Actress - Hoffman and Huffman

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (Capote) has won almost every major Best Actor Award this season, including best actor Golden Globe in the drama category. His portrayal of the late author Truman Capote is exceptional and uncanny, to say the least, and this one is probably a done deal.

That is not to discount HEATH LEDGER (Brokeback Mountain), who could win on the coattails of the movie because it is being touted as the sure best film winner. JOAQUIN PHOENIX (Walk the Line) is the popular choice, having won the Golden Globe in the musical/comedy category, and Walk the Line has done well at the box office, having topped one million.

TERRENCE HOWARD is nominated for Hustle & Flow, instead of Crash, and that may weaken his chance. DAVID STRAHAIRN (Good Night, and Good Luck) gives a perfectly understated performance as Edward R. Murrow, the newsman who quietly and deliberately countered the mass hysteria surrounding the McCarthy-led, "commie witch hunt in the 1950s." The problem for STRAHAIRN is, "Who really remembers Murrow fifty years later?" The problem for WILLIAM HURT (A History of Violence), is that the title of the film may hurt his chances (no pun intended).

FELICITY HUFFMAN (Transamerica) has also won some important awards in this category, including the Golden Globe in drama, and she has the highest female "likeability" quotient among Academy members. Of course, there are some heavyweights running strongly, chief among them REESE WITHERSPOON (Walk the Line), winner of the Golden Globe in musical and/or comedy, is a popular choice. KEIRA KNIGHTLEY (Pride & Prejudice), would win hands-down if beauty were the only requirement for wining. Both DAME JUDIE DENCH (Mrs. Henderson Presents) and CHARLIZE THERON (North Country) are certified heavyweights. However, I don't think this is the year, or the movie vehicle, that will allow either to win. Neither film has made any kind of a showing at the box office."

Best Supporting Actor and Actress - This category is always a crap shoot, because there are so many variables, but I'm going with CLOONEY and WEIZ.

There are three actors who stand the best chance of winning the best performance by an actor in a supporting role. The leader of the pack is GEORGE CLOONEY (Syriana), also nominated for best director and producer of Good Night, and Good Luck; and he won the Golden Globe in the best-supporting category. Of all the actors, CLOONEY has the highest male "likeability" quotient among the Academy members.

However like Heath Ledger, JAKE GYLLENHAAL, (Brokeback Mountain) might benefit from the coattail effect. Both PAUL GIAMATTI (Cinderella Man), and MATT DILLON (Crash) certainly give strong performances, and both have won at least two prior major awards. Either one could squeak through if the vote is split, as often happens with this category.

RACHEL WEISZ (Constant Gardener) won the Golden Globe in this category, and seems to be a front runner. According to the buzz I hear and read, the film is well liked and so is WEISZ. Both she, and another not-too-well-known, AMY ADAMS (Junebug) are strong contenders. The same is probably true for FRANCES McDORMAND (North Country) as it is for Charlize Theron, this is not the year or the movie to make McDORMAND a winner.

MICHELLE WILLIAMS (Brokeback Mountain) has that coattail effect going for her. Either she, or CATHERINE KEENER (Capote), could win if the vote is split, which also happens fairly often in this category.

THE OSCARS® AND POLITICS

In the last official briefing on Friday before the big show, Oscar® producer Gil Cates, director Lou Horvitz, and Academy president Sid Ganis promised no political uproar. Though host Jon Stewart is known for his political comedy on "The Daily Show," and many of the nominated films have political themes, the Academy Awards® show isn't about politics, it's about "rewarding excellence" and reflecting the times, Cates said. Yet, if any Oscar winners want to make political statements during their acceptance speeches, that's fine. "It's their 40 seconds," he said.

The Oscar crew is prepared for anything Sunday, Horvitz said, even a rumored streaker. "If it's going to happen on the stage, we're going to cover it the appropriate way," he said.

Cates said there would be no limit on gay cowboy jokes, for or against. However, Ganis joked: "It's a three-and-a-half hour show, so 167 is the quota."

Pardon me, gentlemen, politics will be there big time, because a number of movies that will shine at the Academy Awards tonight are there by design. Who designed them? Social Entrepreneurs. Who are the social entrepreneurs? Well, in the movie business the chief among them is Jeff Skoll, along with his friend George Clooney, and others. A Social Entrepreneur is society's change engineer, a pioneer of innovation that benefits society.

Who is Jeff Skoll? He founded that little company selling all kinds of things on the Internet, called eBay. After he built it into a gigantic enterprise, he sold it for billions. Now his goal is to use movies to help change the world for the better by curing social ills, and God knows there are plenty of those to keep all the Social Entrepreneurs hopping.

First, he establish a non-profit, The Skoll Foundation, and one of his first projects was to make a deal with Warner Brothers to dub the movie GANDHI into Arabic. Skoll was shocked when he learned the film had never been dubbed into Arabic, and Palestinians had never seen the 1982 movie that won 9 Academy Awards, including best picture. He loves the film, and he believed Gandhi's message of non-violence was one the Palestinians should hear.

"The Gandhi Project" began in April 2005 when the movie premiered at the Cultural Palace in Ramallah. It has been shown in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, and on the wall at the Qalandia checkpoint that marks the border between the Palestinian Territories and Israel.

Meanwhile, Skoll formed a production company, Participant Productions, to make new films that he believes will change the world for the better, one story at a time. The mission: "Participant believes in the power of media to create great social change. Our goal is to deliver compelling entertainment that will inspire audiences to get involved in the issues that affect us all."

And what does all this have to do with the 78th Academy Awards®? Three of Participant's films are nominated this year, including one for best picture, GOOD NIGHT and GOOD LUCK. The others are SYRIANA and NORTH COUNTRY, making a total of 11 nominations in all.

No politics at the Oscars? Hogwash!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

ARE ACADEMY MEMBERS OUT OF TOUCH?

With ratings slipping every year for the Oscar® telecast, some think the members of the Academy are particularly anxious this year because of the preponderance of low-budget, under-viewed movies in the running. More than 55 million people watched the TITANIC win the Oscar in 1998. Compare that with just over 42 million viewing THE AVIATOR win last year.

This year, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, a saga of homosexual cowboys, has had a cultural impact - - the endless articles, the jokes, the spoofs - - that even people who haven't seen the film might want to see if it really does win Best Picture. On the other hand, many feel the Academy is out of touch, since the box office receipts for all five nominated movies combined ($229 M) is less than that of Star Wars III (over $380 M). Only the top grosser BROKEBACK ($73 M) broke into the top ten list, and only for one week.

The question a number of reviewers and critics are asking is, "If few people even go to see the nominated movies, why should they watch the Oscars?" Well, many non-industry people watch to gaze at the bling, glitz and glam, scope out the fashions, hear the music, to be generally entertained (jokes by the host, etc.), to see if their favorite star still looks good, or is getting long in the tooth.

Or, perhaps, they will get lucky and see a streaker like the one that shocked David Niven one year, hear a daring political statement like Michael Moore's, someone like Sasheen Littlefeather accept an award for someone like Marlon Brando, or hear a brilliant acceptance speech like the ones Laurence Olivier used to make. Of course, they could be watching simply to see if one of those almost dresses will finally fall down on the stage. There are many reason people watch, and there is much more to the Academy Awards than the movies themselves.

In the main, grownups watch the Oscar telecast. The nominated movies this year are for grownups. They deal with reality, but an exotic reality that the average working stiff wouldn't dare enter. They can, however, go to the movies, or rent the DVD, and for two hours be a wicked voyeur, legally.

These movies are all low budget (under 10M), and BROKEBACK because of its homosexual cowboy theme has been hyped the most. CRASH, with its "Can't we all get along in this California melting pot" theme has received the least attention. The others are in between.

The main purpose of instituting the Academy Awards®, besides honoring the industry's own, was to bring attention to the movies and increase the box office take. Well, grownup movies have been steamrolled by the big-budget movies aimed at the younger set, and Hollywood has fed them Pabulum with whiz-bang computer generated effects long enough. Perhaps, this year's nominate movies - - all of them - - will help the still-kids grow up, and the eyes of the adults open wide.

No, the members of the Academy are not out of touch. The majority of Amricans seem to be swimming in a noisy sea of cognitive dissonance, being driven to distraction, and the constant noise is too loud for them to hear, or see, what is really happening around them. Thank goodness for this year's producers and directors who are trying to change the cinematic course for the industry and the American People. More about this in my next post.

Now, if only the Academy Awards telecast will do what the Oscars were originally designed to do, entice the viewers to the theaters, or to at least rent/buy the DVDs. All the films receiving nominations in any category this year are worth seeing.

PURCHASE A POSTER



Posters for the 78th Academy Awards® may be purchased at this link.

SONGS and SCORES

SONGS

Only three songs are nominated this year for the Oscar® in the category achievement in music written for motion pictures (original song). I am sitting at my computer, drinking coffee from a mug labeled, "9 to 5," which I received when a member of the Los Angeles Working Women, popularly known as "9 to 5". Some of us were asked to consult on the film project NINE to FIVE, and were given mugs in appreciation.

I went to my first Academy Awards® in 1980, and Dolly Parton sang the nominated "9 to 5" (music and lyrics by Dolly Parton). She was, as she is for this year's nomination, the original recording artist for the song as well, which topped the charts. The song didn't win. The honor that year went to "Fame" from FAME
.

Now, I am writing that Grammy Award-winning Parton will perform her nominated original song, "Travelin' Thru" from TRANSAMERICA (music and lyrics by Dolly Parton), on this Sunday's telecast. Wish I could be there.

Kathleen "Bird" York will perform "In the Deep," from the film CRASH, for which she is nominated for writing the music and lyrics. (Her co-composer Michael Becker also is nominated for the music.) York's debut CD on EMI "Wicked Little High," which features "In the Deep," was released February 21.

The Memphis hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia (Jordon "Juicy J" Houston, Paul "DJ Paul" Beauregard and Darnell “Crunchy Black” Carlton, Cedric "Frayser Boy" Coleman), will make history when they perform the first hip-hop song ever performed on an Academy Awards telecast, "It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp" (music and lyrics by Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman, and Paul Beauregard) from HUSTLE & FLOW, along with Taraji Henson, the actress who sang the hook in the film.

I understand that Three 6 Mafia has "cleaned" the lyrics for the broadcast. I have not seen the movie, but I have heard the song and classify it as light hip-hop with far too much repetition for my brain. Because "It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp" skews "young," it might stand a chance of winning, even with the excess repetition, but I think not. The movie HUSTLE & FLOW received only two nominations, this one and one for Terrence Howard for actor in a leading role. He was fabulous in CRASH as well.

"In the Deep" is a haunting, sometimes discordant melody that compliments CRASH at poignant and powerful moments in the film. However, it is somewhat short on the "likeable" scale, as is the movie. The Academy likes "likeable". CRASH is my favorite to win, but I wonder about its chances of the film snagging the Oscar, and this song winning best song.

"Travelin' Thru" is a ballad, also with repetition, but not as grating to my ears as the HUSTLE & FLOW song. I think that for the Academy, this song is higher on the "likeable" scale than the other two songs. This nomination is probably some additional recognition for TRANSAMERA, not nominated for Best Film, or it could be Parton's year to receive some deserved recognition.

If early on in the telecast "In the Deep" wins best song. Look out! That means CRASH'S chances of winning Best Picture just went up a notch.

To listen to the songs, go to NPR, and clink the links under, "Hear the Nominees". Then, make a comment and tell me what you think.

SCORES

The five nominees for achievement in music written for motion pictures (original score) are: BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (Gustavo Santaolalla), THE CONSTANT GARDENER (Alberto Iglesias), MEMOIRS OF A GISHA (John Williams), MUNICH (John Williams), and PRIDE & PREDUDICE (Dario Marianelli -- love that name!).

The conundrum of scoring a film is that it should support the film, but not distract the viewer. In other words, if it's a good film score, the viewer shouldn't hear it. So, how do people vote for Best Film Score? They listen to the recorded version, or at least a number of clips, and you can as well.
To listen to clips from the film scores, click links: PRIDE, BROKEBACK and MUNICH, GEISHA and GARDENER.

Friday, March 03, 2006

OSCAR® PRESENTERS ANNOUNCED AND ALTMAN HONORED

FIRST: Download an Oscar® ballot at IMDB (pdf).


SECOND: Academy Award®-winning actor Jack Nicholson will join Oscar® nominee Jake Gyllenhaal, Eric Bana, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Stiller, John Travolta and Ziyi Zhang as presenters at the 78th Academy Awards ceremony, telecast producer Gil Cates (pictured above) announced today.

These presenters will join Hilary Swank, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Jessica Alba, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves, Will Ferrell, Queen Latifah, Terrence Howard, Meryl Streep, Will Smith, Steve Carell, Nicole Kidman, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Uma Thurman, Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts, Lily Tomlin, Reese Witherspoon, George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek on the telecast.


THIRD: Robert Altman (pictured above), previously nominated in the Best Director category five times ("M*A*S*H," NASHVILLE, THE PLAYER, SHORT CUTS, GOSFORD PARK), has never taken home the Oscar. He will this year, but not for directing. He receives an honorary Oscar® statuette to honor "a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike."

Altman has directed 37 films, produced 27, and written 16 of them. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, he began his film career there working on documentary, employee training, industrial and educational films. He made his first feature film, THE DELINQUENTS, in Kansas City in 1957, a low budget exploitation film which was distributed by United Artists. He moved to Hollywood and found work directing episodes of television series such as "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "Bonanza." In 1969, he was offered the script of "M*A*S*H," the success of which galvanized his feature film career.

Altman's films include McCABE and MRS. MILLER, THE LONG GOODBYE, THIEVES LIKE US, POPEYE, A WEDDING, and KANSES CITY. His current film, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, is in post-production.

Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," will host the Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2005. Unless you have been in a coma, you know by now that the Oscar gala will be Sunday, 5 March, at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network beginning at 8 p.m. EST. A one-hour red carpet arrivals show will air one hour before the main telecast.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I Have Made My Choice for Best Picture of 2005!

The movie awards season that began in December culminates with Sunday night's broadcast of the 78th Annual Academy Awards®. Chicago Tribunes' syndicated columnist Clarence Page says that any one of the five nominated films is worthy of the Best Picture Oscar®, but he has chosen his favorite.

I'm in Clarence Page's corner both as to the nominated films being "for grown ups," and as to my pick for Best Picture this year. I know, I've been on the fence, but now I have decided. His comment today on NPR's "News & Notes with Ed Gordon" is the most succinct all-encompassing that I have heard concerning the five nominees.

When I heard him this morning, I jumped off the fence. I believe CRASH will pull and upset. Really. You must hear it!


Have you made your choice for Best Picture? Come on, post a comment. Do listen and discover our choice:

Windows Media Player

Real Player

Main link to Page's commentary on National Public Radio (NPR): "I've Already Picked My Best Picture Oscar."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Can CRASH Top MOUNTAIN for Oscar®?

FIRST: Final ballots for the Academy Awards® must be at the Los Angeles offices of PriceWaterhouseCoopers by 5:00 p.m. (PST) today!

CRASH, the low-budget, high intensity film about racial tensions in Los Angeles during a 36-hour time frame may be the "the little film that could," a dark horse that will sprint first to the finish line at the Oscars® for Best Picture, and possibly for Screenplay and Director. It has been nominated for 38 awards around the world, including 6 Oscars, and has won 19, many the most prestigious in the industry. Go to the IMDB and see for yourself - - picture, screen writing, acting, directing, editing, etc. See my Awards Page, and other links on this blog.

It is not an easy film to watch because the cinematic style is more complicated than the usual Hollywood film. With a nod to James Monaco, "reading" CRASH may not be easy for the casual viewer of Hollywood cookie-cutter films. Plus, anger and stress levels among the characters goes off the top of the chart, and the violence is graphic, but if one stays with CRASH, one will view one of the most powerful movies of the decade. It is available now on DVD, so put it in your NETFLIX queue and move it to the top!

Having lived in the Los Angeles area for many years, I was mesmerized, and that doesn't happen often enough for me with Hollywood films. Of course, this is an "Indy" through Lions Gate. Director/co-writer Paul Haggis wrote the script for last year's winner, MILLION DOLLAR BABY. It is a USA/German production, and having studied and taught German film, I see the Young German Film movements' influence in this film. Five languages are spoken: English, Spanish, Persian, Mandarin, Korean.

The biggest Academy "vote factor" for this film is the locale of Los Angeles, and the inter-racial theme. The majority of the voters live in Los Angeles, or New York. They will relate to this movie more than the average Joe.

I doubt that it will play well in Peoria, but I know members of AMPAS® will get it because they live it every single day. The hype is with BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN but my money, if had any, would be on CRASH for Best Picture of 2006. Then, again, BROKEBACK has the popular sentiment. Oh, me, I can't make up my mind.