Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Readers say Academy Awards need some changes.

Best of 2008
Actor - Daniel day-Lewis, Supporting Actress - Tila Swinton, Actress - Marilon Cottilard, and Supporting Actor - Javier Bardem.

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I received some comments by e-mail concerning the previous two posts about the recent Academy Awards television broadcast. Perhaps, I didn't make myself as clear as I had wished, or the readers didn't find the points clear enough for them. So I shall try to explain a little better for those of you who wrote.

First of all, my point was really that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences seeks to honor its own, and that is exactly what it did for almost three decades. Then, television came along and things began to change. Now, television, a.k.a., the ABC Network at the moment, has a huge say about the Academy Awards. They want ratings because they do it for money. Rightfully so, as they are a business, and they just extended their contract with the Academy for seven years. So, they are happy.

Around the world movie fans, and those who work in the industry in foreign countries want to see the Oscars. Once the Academy starts live streaming on the Internet, the entire world will be happy, except maybe ABC.

The Academy wants everyone to be happy. The Academy today is a super big business. It is no longer that dinner at a Hollywood hotel, and awards being given out among a few invited guests. They started to allow the radio broadcast fairly early on, and the importance of the Oscars started to grow.

Next, along came television, and the Academy awards began changing radically. Now, there is the Internet and the Academy foot soldiers are fiercely trying to catch up, yet they want to hang on to televisions' coattails at the same time.

Today, the money the broadcast, and the satellite businesses that generate money for that broadcast, propel the Academy Awards. The Guilds mostly influence the actual nominations and cast the most votes within the Academy. The Guilds honor their own. The Academy is only the conduit, which has turned the Academy Award broadcast into a big, brash, glittery financially rewarding circus.

As a former part-time member of the USC faculty of Cinema, and a sometime writer and producer, I know very well what craft people do and their importance to the industry. I was not slighting them, only suggesting some logistical changes.

And, yes, I know that star power is fading, but actors are still very relevant to movies and are paid well for what they do. I still think most people see a movie, either at a theater, on DVD, Internet streaming, etc., based on three things: who is in it, who directed it, and what is it about?

Also, I constantly promote independent films here. I picked 'Hurt Locker' as an Academy Award winner and Kathryn Bigelow to win best director as soon as the movie was released. I know first hand the discrimination women have experienced in both the movie and television industries for so many years, and Bigelow's win made history.

I promoted 'Slumdog Millionair' and 'The Kite Runner,' when few had heard of them, and the same for this year's 'Winter's Bone'. I also championed 'Hustle and Flow' and the song from that movie for best song, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," and the song won. Of course, I am a little partial as I have long-standing ties with Memphis. Over the years, there have been many others I have picked to showcase here.

The big films do not need any help. They soar or crash on their own merit, but the small films suffer for lack of financial support, good publicity and distribution.

When I wanted to study the technical aspects of television in undergraduate school, a professor said, "Oh, don't bother. They will never let a woman touch the equipment in a TV studio."

A few years later, I got the FCC license required at the time, and became a broadcast engineer. In that position, I worked at the transmitter site for a small station in Corpus Christi, TX, until it went remote. Then, I ran the entire studio single handily on Sunday mornings. So, I learned, and I touched the equipment. That laid the ground work for my association with the movie industry and as a teacher of cinema.

So, what I was basically trying to say in the previous posts is, if the Academy is going to do a TV show, then do a TV show. If they want to honor their own and have a major television show, they need to stop, re-evaluate their mission statements and adopt some newer approaches.

I really think the biggest problem is that The Academy-Award industry, and it is a huge industry, has grown so large it is impossible to successfully reach their mission statement for both offering an evening of spectacular entertainment (show), and generating revue (business), while honoring their own in a dignified way all at the same time.

It is not pleasing or dignified for everything during the show to be executed in a rush, rush, manner, clip, clip, hurry, hurry. It stresses the people involved, and it stresses the viewers to watch their favorites being forced off mike by music with ever increasing in volume. It is not dignified. They may as well get a stick with a hook on the end.

This year's broadcast was full of hurry, hurry, and awkward moments. The pace of the broadcast should be varied and the show progresses, ebbing and flowing, not jerking, racing at one moment and dragging the next.

There may be a way to increase ratings, revenue, and offer the viewers a more relaxed, pleasant and entertaining broadcast. Well, not only one broadcast. Perhaps, the Academy should consider three or four. Why not? The Emmy Awards have already done that, and successfully. I can't see why ABC would not like that approach. Again, think logistics, which is the hot current business buzzword.

Also, I agree that to watch the broadcast on Sunday is really an imposition on those working during the week. I once attended when I was working, and I feel your pain. What is wrong with a Saturday night?

Thank you all for your comments and I welcome more.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

EW Writes About Fixing the Oscars

It seems that one analysis of the 83rd Academy Awards will not suffice. I came to this conclusion after I read the article in the March 11th issue of Entertainment Weekly (EW). [#1145, March 11, 2011, “How to Fix the Oscars,” page 44]

Number one on their list was also my main suggestion in my previous post, which was to go back to five best picture nominees. Yes! See, Chewing the Oscars: Getting Down and Dirty.

Next, EW dealt with the hosts, and we are pretty much on the same wave length here. Franco and Hathaway were too young and inexperienced, and the material they were given was not up to the usual standard for hosts. It all showed, big time.

EW suggested that Tina Fey and Will Farrell host the show. Emphatically, I DO NOT agree. The Oscar broadcast should not be a circus joke fest, although the broadcast is listing in that direction.

I mentioned Billy Crystal as an example of a contemporary host of exemplary quality. They mention two others, which I should have but neglected to mention, Hugh Jackman and Steve Martin. All of them did an excellent job helming the Oscars.

In the suggestion “Stop Chasing Your Youth,” EW points out that people do not watch the Oscars to constantly be reminded as to how “hip” the Academy is with technology.  I took it much further in my post than they.

I think most viewers tune in to watch the Oscars because their favorite movie star and/or one of the movies they saw during the year is nominated for something. They enjoy the “horse race” and want to be a part of it. Heck, they probably have 25 bucks, or more, in the office pool riding on their choices to win. They want to root for their choices, and gloat when they have picked a winner.

I was giving "Oscar Parties" in Los Angeles long before the Academy ever designated their Oscar Night Parties. Someone passed it on to them, and I am happy they did. We can all still enjoy our private parties with our friends and families.

EW suggests something to wake up the audience in mid-show. I agree. As I pointed out, after 20-something acceptance speeches all of which could be given for any winner simply by changing the names, we need something stimulating.

They suggest something like Woody Allen’s salute to NYC after 9/11. I suggested in my previous post, and still do, a mini salute to the individual given the year’s Lifetime Achievement Oscar at the un-televised Governor’s Ball. I’m still smarting because that has been completely removed from the Oscar Broadcast.

I suggest, no statue, no speeches. The receiver is introduced by some hot star of today, reminding the audience how great this individual once was, and the honoree takes a spotlight bow to hearty applause.

I do agree, and I missed writing about this in the previous post, that all short films should be removed and honored elsewhere. I go to commercial movie theaters fairly regularly and in different places. It has been decades since I have seen a movie short of any kind run at a theater. Perhaps in city art houses they still have one evening when they show the nominated short films, but not in Peoria.

For those not in the know, many years ago when a movie project was pitched to producers or a studio head, they would ask, “But, will it play in Peoria?” 

Someone, I have forgotten who, determined that Peoria, Illinois, was the perfect example of middle-class America. I doubt short films are shown in Peoria. Perhaps they should be included in the evening when the student film awards are presented.

EW suggests some other things, too, such as moving the broadcast back to January, but then they admit that the logistics, in relation to the awards season in general, would be a nightmare. That it would. Why did they suggest it in the first place?

EW thinks there should be a rule that costars do not present. I agree. I would add, unless the costar won the Academy Award the year before in the category he/she is presenting.

They urge the Academy pay attention to the Grammy’s which gives only 10 awards. I agree. There are too many awards that are not relevant to today's viewers.

In days gone by during the Golden Age of Hollywood (1920’s to mid-1950s) the Academy gave the awards at and for the pleasure of the Academy members, which were broadcast by radio. With the advent of national television. they began to give the awards to pleasure the entire nation. Now, in this century, they are taking on the world, and that is a huge responsibility. Are they living up to the task?

Personally, I do not think so. If the awards are going to be for the world to enjoy, there is big room for improvement, and it would not necessarily involve whiz bang technology. However, that is another post for another year.

EW did not mention the revolving producers in the last five years, as I did, but this is the last I shall write about this year’s Oscars. Promise! The first words for next year’s Oscars? Think:
Kevin Spacey.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Chewing the Oscars: Getting Down and Dirty

When I was a little girl there was a tradition in our small farming community. The minister/ preacher/ brother, the title varied, was invited to a parishioner’s home for dinner every Sunday after church along with his wife and children. We will use Preacher Man here, because the preacher was always a man, and he at least attempted to preach. The Preacher Man’s invitations were rotated among the members.

My grandmother was known for her chicken and dumplings, or fried chicken, fruit cobblers and chocolate banana pudding, but mostly her biscuits. That meant she cooked dinner, served shortly after noon, for the Preacher Man about every six months. When the Preacher Man was coming to Sunday dinner, we were assured of an interesting afternoon whether any children tagged along, or not, and it grew more interesting as I got older.

After the dessert, Preacher Man would loosen his belt and say something like, “Well, I guess it is time for us grownups to chew the sermon.” That was the children’s cure to skedaddle.

I never went into the hallway or out into the yard to play with the others. I hid behind the kitchen door and listened. Preacher Man would ask, “What did you think?” Sometimes, the conversation became heated but it never came to blows. After all, everyone at the table pretty much had the same religious beliefs.

Why am I writing this here? Because, after viewing the 83rd Academy Awards, I really feel like "chewing" the recent awards. For the winners, please read the previous post.

First of all, the hosts for the evening, Anne Hathaway and James Franco, have been taking a lot of flack from the critics for a boring show. In my post, December 4, 2010, “Not Thrilled with the Oscar Host Picks,” I wrote much less strongly than I felt about the choice of the inexperienced Hathaway and Franco. I decided to walk lightly, but I definitely had my doubts that either alone, or both together, could carry the show.

Franco and Hathaway were chosen and hired by the producers, Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer, and as Craig Ferguson said so emphatically on his show the following night, “The blame for their performances rests squarely on the people who hired them.” I want to add that some of that blame should also go to the writers for the lines and “stage business” they wrote for them say and do.

A little over half way into the show, there was video of the late, great Bob Hope, the best television host the Oscars ever had. It was meant to be a tribute, but I immediately thought, “Oh, gee, I wish we had Bob Hope tonight instead of . . .” The producers chose Billy Chrystal to give the tribute, pouring salt into the wound. I think Chrystal follows behind Hope and Johnny Carson in the pantheon of great Oscar hosts of all time. What were they thinking?

Then, there was the elementary school chorus at the end of the show. Why? Sure, they are cute and very talented, as is their director, but the pint-size YouTube sensations have a long way to go to earn the Oscar spotlight. It was a vaudeville moment and did nothing to enhance to show.

The most abhorrent thing to me about the recent Oscar broadcasts is the deterioration of the acceptance speeches. In this recent broadcast there were 30-something speeches and they were almost all exactly the same. Except for a couple, only the names of the thanked were changed. Early on, I was yearning to hear a speech from the likes of Charlton Heston, Elizabeth Taylor, David Niven, Bette Davis, Ben Kingsley, Maureen O’Hara, or Laurence Olivier. I did not.

It seems to be in vogue now that every person is obligated to thank their spouse or significant other. Plus, there is their agent, the director and cast of the movie, their co-nominees, their parents living or dead, their children, and sometimes, their favorite elementary school teacher. Heck, they may even praise their dog. Enough is enough. Really!

I think the best speech of the evening was that of the writer for the original screenplay, The King's Speech, David Seidler. He opened with, "I have been told that I am a late bloomer." The story behind Mr. Seidler's writing of the screenplay is almost as interesting as the movie. That story was not told during the Oscars, but it is worth a Google. 

There are two other problems that must be mentioned. The Academy opened the Best Feature Motion Picture up to 10 films in order to give more movies a chance and, hopefully, increase viewership in the process, but I do not see it working well at all.

One director friend quipped to me, “It is so much better to be ranked one in the five best films of the year than one in ten.”

I agree. I think they should go back to five. Ten are more expensive to showcase than five, and they are not gaining anymore viewers with those additional nominations, so adding five more films has not been cost effective. Also, more than five films muddles the nomination process since the supporting categories only allow for five each (director, etc.)

Neither has it been productive to change the voting process from what it was a decade ago. Two cases in point, the Best Foreign Language Feature Film and the Best Feature Documentary.

Starting with the foreign language film, the movie from Mexico, Biutiful, in Spanish, and starring the box office draw Javier Bardem, who also received a best actor nomination for his role in the movie. Biutiful was directed by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Amores Perrors). In the final vote, it was passed over for the movie In a Better World (Hævnen) from Demark.

In a Better World is in Danish, Swedish, and some English. It is directed by Susanne Bier, and rated R for language as well as violent and disturbing content, some involving preteens. I do not like the choice.

Bier has directed one American movie, After the Fire, and her Danish movie Efter brylluppet (After the Wedding, 2006) was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film Category for that year, but lost to The Lives of Others, a German film directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. I saw both movies and After the Wedding did not hold a candle to The Lives of Others. There, the Academy members made the best choice.

I have no idea how the Greek movie Dogtooth received a nomination in this category this year. It is the most vile and disgusting movie I have ever seen.

For one thing, I do not see Americans rushing to see In a Better World, or buying the DVD, so they can frantically read subtitles. I admit the Castilian Spanish and Catalan are not familiar to most Americans, but about 40 per cent of Americans can speak or understand the Spanish spoken in Mexico, the USA, and in the movie, Biutiful.

What is the reasoning for these seemingly irrational choices? For the Best Foreign Language Film Category, the actual selection up until the final vote is done by committees appointed by the Academy. One committee starts with X amount of films submitted to the Academy by countries around the world, and finally, it picks nine.

Then, it gets complicated, but somehow members in New York and Los Angeles vote for their choice, then, another committee picks five from which the nominations come. All Academy members may vote for this category on the final ballot, but only after being certified as having seen all five nominated films, or something like that.

The way I understand it, Academy members are not allowed to vote for the best feature documentary, even if they have seen all the documentary films. Only a small number of individuals form a committee, selected from Academy members who have been involved with documentary film making.

This select group starts with a list of 15 documentaries to consider, and finally narrows the field to five. Then, this committee votes for the winner. So, it is their own kind voting for their own kind, and I think it is wrong. If I am wrong, please enlighten me.

The final choice of the committee was Inside Job, directed by Charles H. Ferguson and produced by Audrey Marrs. Inside Job takes an extensive look at the financial meltdown, starting with Wall Street in 2008, and the causes. Three years ago, Ferguson was nominated for No End in Sight, about the American occupation of Iraq.

This year, he addressed the audience with the statement, "Not a single financial executive has gone to jail and that is wrong." He received a substantial round of applause with the statuette.

What about the documentary feature directed by Davis Guggenheim, Waiting for Superman? It was released to good reviews. It did not make the final list for a nomination.

One major problem with the Academy Awards broadcast is that for almost five years, the Academy has been giving tryouts to various producers and hosts. Few, if any, have passed the test. Each year the producers have gone overboard trying to come up with irrelevant stage business and everything else other than aiming for a sophisticated, interesting, cultural experience.

The Academy dream machine has developed a hiccup by trying to be all things to everyman and every woman. Plus, this year they desperately tried to prove how hip they were with social media, and the set was much too "busy," and distracting. In addition, perhaps someone will have the sense to at least introduce the recipient at the Governor's Ball of the Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in Film. That would be a very kind thing, and I miss it.

Therefore, I would like to nominate a producer for next year whom I think has the talent and know how to right the ship of Oscar before it takes on too much pompous bombast and sinks. I think he can not only right the ship, he has the skills to produce a sophisticated first-class show.

That person is Kevin Spacey. He has proven himself at the Old Globe in England, as well as his guiding hand at the Sarajevo Film Festival, and in many other endeavors. I urge the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences’ Board of Governors to ask him to produce next year’s awards show. I encourage them to make the offer immediately. He is a busy man.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The 83rd Academy Awards: Winners, Losers, Numbers and Quirks

Colin Firth in The King's Speech
The King’s Speech (TKS) received 12 nominations and won four. Of course, they were four very important ones: Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler), Best Director (Tom Hooper), Best Actor (Colin Firth) and Best Feature Motion Picture of 2010, the really big one! For some reason, TKS did not win the cinematography award. That went to Inception.

The Social Network (TSN), which came out of the gate the strong favorite, began to recede after TKS was released. It received eight nominations and won three, Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin), Film Editing, and Original Score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross).

In the final analysis, TKS bested TSN in all three of the major categories where they competed -- Best Actor, Best Director, and, of course, Best Picture. Also, David Seidler, writer of the best original screenplay for TKS, made the best acceptance speech of the night, followed by Colin Firth. The Brits definitely won the night.

It was no surprise that Natalie Portman won Best Actress for her performance as the anorexic, neurotic Lesbian ballerina in Black Swan. Out of five nominations, that was the only win for the movie, and score one more point for the Brits.

The Oscars for Best Actress and Actor in a Supporting Role both went to The Fighter's, Melissa Leo and Christian Bale, and those were it for The Fighter. It was nominated for seven.

Inception received eight nominations and walked away with four technical awards: Cinematography, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing. The director of Inception, Christopher Nolan, did not receive a best directing nomination. Nominating 10 films for best picture and only five in all of the other categories skews the overall results.

For instance, nominating five movies for best picture, means all five directors of those films stand a good chance of getting a nomination, but only five out of 10 can get nominated with 10 films in the running, and all the other categories are affected as well. So, one or two deserving nominations tied to a best picture win, such as best director, cinematography or screenplay, will not happen. Do the math, people.

Toy Story 3 received five nominations and received two statuettes, one for Best Animated Film and the other for Best Song, “We Belong Together,” music and lyrics by Randy Newman who performed it on the broadcast. It was a foregone conclusion that TOY STORY 3 would not win best picture, although it was nominated. I think that nomination was a salute to the franchise, which it deserved. There will be no more Toy Story movies, at least for now, but the trilogy will endure.

True Grit received 10 nominations but did not win a single award, so it will have 10 loses for its lifetime reputation. I think that might be a record, and I cannot even begin to speculate about the cause. The film's Box Office results indicated it was better than that, I think it deserved more, and so did Roger Ebert.

Likewise, 127 Hours scored zero wins out of four nominations, as did Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right. The Best Documentary Feature, Inside Job, was directed by Charles Ferguson and Audrey Mars. I do not track the short films.
Alice in Wonderland did not receive a best picture nod, but did receive three nominations and two wins, Art Direction and Costume Design. It lost Visual Effects to Inception.

No question about the fact that the big studio productions won the night. Also, did anyone notice there was not one nomination for a black anywhere? I believe that is the first time in years.

To see the list of all the nominees and the winners, click the title of this post. The next post "Chewing the Oscar Broadcast,  Best of 2011."