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Movies - The Oscars posts

Sunday February 22, 2009

The Backwards Threats of Hollywood Execs

I'll live-blog the Oscars during our party this evening — stay tuned! — but the oddest of threats in this morning’s New York Times made me start early. Michael Cieply, whom I’ve written about before, has a piece in the Business section in which unnamed Hollywood executives grumble about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which, as we all know, didn’t nominate any of the critically acclaimed box-office hits from 2008 (“The Dark Knight” and “WALL-E”) for best picture. Then comes this odd threat:
Some executives, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect their relationships with those who vote for prizes, have said in the last few weeks that they do not expect their studios to make any movie in the foreseeable future as a specific Oscar bet.
If honors happen to come, as they came to “The Departed,” a Warner film that was a surprise best-picture winner in 2007, so be it. But few are looking to make the next “Frost/Nixon,” a smart, critically acclaimed film that got Ron Howard a nomination as best director this year.

Look, I enjoyed “Frost/Nixon” well enough. But threatening not to make the next “Frost/Nixon” is like, I don’t know, threatening not to serve a baked potato at your next dinner party. Not many people are going to lose sleep.

Read Cieply’s entire piece. On the one hand, the lament of these executives is part of my lament: In recent years, the Academy hasn’t been nominating box-office hits for best picture. Let’s trot out that stat again. Since 1944, when the Academy finally settled on five best picture nominees, there have only been seven years when not one of the best-picture candidates was among the year’s top 10 box-office hits: 1947, 1984...and the last five years in a row.

But blaming only the Academy for this is both dishonest and hypocritical. Me, I mostly blame the studios. Here’s the bigger problem: Best pictures are no longer perceived as movies for all of us. They’ve become, as in the language above, niche pictures, and one niche of many. Here’s your gory horror, your chick flick, your urban comedy. Here’s either your gross wish fulfillment (the superstrong and superpowerful) relased into 4,000 theaters in the heat of summer, or here’s your small, sad slice of reality (the superweak) released into select cities in the dark of December. The former’s fun, the latter’s “important,” and never the twain shall meet. Anymore.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the consolidation of these niches makes each niche more like itself. The gory horror film becomes more gory; the chick flick becomes pinker and fluffier; the serious film becomes deadly, sadly serious. And the idea of a best picture “for all of us” becomes just that: an idea.

Thus the primary threat above — that the majors will no longer make and/or target specific films as Oscar candidates — is amusing in two ways. One: the majors haven’t even been producing many best-picture-type movies in recent years — they leave that to the indies — so threatening not to do what they’re already not doing is, yes, not a viable threat.

More importantly, removing the "best-picture niche” may allow what elements are in that niche (seriousness, etc.) to bleed into other niches and create something that's both important and not limited. I.e., something for all of us.

It's not only not a threat; it might even be a solution.

See you in a few hours.

Posted at 11:06 AM on Feb 22, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars, Movies - Box Office
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Friday February 20, 2009

Much Ado About Oscar — Days 2 & 3

Here are links to Days Two and Three of the Oscar Symposium over at Nathaniel R.'s place. At the end of Day 3 we also lay out our will win/should win list. Turns out we agree with each other a lot — perhaps too much — and those choices also agree with our perception of what the Academy will do. I can't remember a year when so much of what I thought should win was what I thought would win. Chalk it up to the limited choices? Whatever, just don't confuse the agreeableness with any kind of passion. These really are the ho-hum Oscars for me. I'm not hugely rooting for anything, I'm not hugely rooting against anything. But I'll still try to liveblog the sucker.

Meantime, my friend Tommy directed me to this neat little Oscar quiz. I got 24 of 31. Please someone do better.

Posted at 05:47 AM on Feb 20, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Wednesday February 18, 2009

Nat & Tim & Kris & Karina & Ed & Erik

I recently participated in a three-day symposium about the Oscars over at Nathaniel R’s excellent Film Experience Blog. Make sure you check out the "chatty moviegoer" comments at the end, too. In some ways they're having a livelier discussion than we had in the symposium. Probably because they aren’t saddled with the word “symposium."

Posted at 02:47 PM on Feb 18, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Silver on Oscar Gold

One of the sites I turned to regularly, desperately, during the recent presidential campaign was Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com. In the run-up to the election, some friends felt that Silver leaned left too much, but, as it turned out, he didn’t lean left enough. He predicted 338 electoral votes for Obama, who wound up with 365.

Silver started out as a stats-head for one of my loves, baseball, and now he’s entering another: movies. Specifically: the Oscars. New York magazine asked for his predictions on the six major categories and he obliged:

Picture: Slumdog Millionaire (99% chance)
Director: Danny Boyle, SM (99.7%)
Actor: Mickey Rourke (71%)
Actress: Kate Winslet (67.6%)
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger (85.8%)
Supporting Actress: Taraji P. Henson (51%)

For most of these, of course, you don’t exactly need to build statistical software and use logistics regression. But his choice, or his software’s choice, for supporting actress is intriguing. I read deeper but the rationale didn’t make much sense:

Penélope Cruz, who won the BAFTA for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, would seem the logical default. But computer sez: Benjamin Button’s Taraji P. Henson! Button, which looks like a shutout everywhere else, is the only Best Picture nominee with a Supporting Actress nod, and Best Pic nominees tend to have an edge in the other categories.

Except we’re not talking about the other categories, we’re talking about this category. And in the last 10 years, say, how often has a supporting actress winner been the sole best-pic representative in her category? Once. Ten years ago, when Judi Dench won for “Shakespeare in Love” and none of the others had best-pic cred. And how often has the winner not come from a best-pic nominee when a best-pic representative was available? Five times: Angelina Jolie for “Girl, Interrupted” in 1999, Marcia Gay Harden for “Pollock” in 2000, Rene Zellwegger for “Cold Mountain” in 2003, Rachel Weisz for “The Constant Gardener” in 2005, and Jennifer Hudson for “Dreamgirls” in 2006.

So why is the best pic nomination for “Button” a trump card for Henson? I don’t get it. If anything, this category has always read as the “babe” category:

1999: Angelina Jolie, “Girl, Interrupted”
2000: Marcia Gay Harden, “Pollock”
2001: Jennifer Connelly, “A Beautiful Mind”
2002: Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Chicago”
2003: Renee Zellwegger, “Cold Mountain”
2004: Cate Blanchett, “The Aviator”
2005: Rachel Weisz, “The Constant Gardener”
2006: Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”
2007: Tilda Swinton, “Michael Clayton”

The question for this category isn’t “Who’s in a best picture nominee?” but “Who do the mostly old, mostly male members of the Academy want to fuck this year?”  Talent aside, that’s why most of us are guessing Penelope Cruz.

Of course crunching fuckability into an algorithm may even be beyond the scope of the man who predicted such a sure victory for Obama.

Posted at 07:37 AM on Feb 18, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Tuesday February 17, 2009

The EW Fall Preview Issue: A Look Back

Last night I found the Fall Movie Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly under a pile of more recent magazines and thought it worth looking at if only to examine the worth of preview issues. A kind of look back at when we looked ahead. Similar to this.

First, “Harry Potter” is on the cover, and of course that film got pushed ahead to a summer release date so no one's even seen it. Then, month to month, here’s the big movies they target and anticipate:
  • September: “Miracle at St. Anna”; “Burn After Reading”; “Appaloosa”
  • October: “High School Musical 3”; “Body of Lies”; “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”
  • November: “Australia”; “The Road”; “The Soloist”
  • December: “Revolutionary Road”; “Marley & Me”; “Doubt”
In other words, of the top 13 films they played up, three were never released, most bombed, and not one was nominated for best picture.

And what of the best picture nominees? “Milk” and “Button” and “Frost” get middling write-ups, while “The Reader” and front-runner “Slumdog” aren’t mentioned at all. It took a second to remember that, oh yes, “Slumdog” had distribution difficulties. From the August 31st New York Times:
“Slumdog Millionaire” was originally a Warner Independent Pictures release, but last May, Warner Brothers closed its two independent divisions, PictureHouse and Warner Independent, in an effort to cut costs. Now the company will work with Fox Searchlight Pictures to distribute Mr. Boyle’s film in North America. ... Jeff Robinov, president of Warner Brothers Pictures Group, said Warner was working with Fox Searchlight to release the film because of the studio’s crowded calendar. “With the recent additions to our slate, it became impossible for us to release ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ in this calendar year,” Mr. Robinov said. “Danny very much wanted to get it released this year,” said Peter Rice, president of Fox Searchlight, “and we have a long relationship with him.”
It’s easy to forget how quickly a non-entity can become an inevitability. And vice-versa.
Posted at 10:00 AM on Feb 17, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars
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