March 6, 2010
|Sandra vs Streep|
HOLLYWOOD,CA (RPRN) 03/06/10 — By Alex Ben Block
There are significant changes for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards, mostly designed to widen the audience for the show, after a decade of mostly declining ratings. The big problem was that as the mass audience was going to see more big comedies, sci fi, horror and action movies, the kind of dramas that have typically been Oscar fare have gotten more limited distribution. As a result, the nominates often were not pictures that had been widely seen by potential viewers around the world. No rooting interest translates into no interest for many viewers.
While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences likes to say it is interested in the art of movies, it is the ratings on ABC and networks outside the U.S. that determine how much it can sell the rights to the show for, and that money provides the bulk of the non-profit organizations revenues. So without a big audience, the Academy would be unable to celebrate all those arty movies.
To remedy that dichotomy of purposes, this past year the Academy has shaken things up as never before. The biggest change, announced this past June, was the expansion of the best picture category from five to ten nominees. In addition, the honorary awards have been relegated to a separate non-televised awards show (some highlights will be shown Sunday evening).
There are other changes as well. We are still learning what it all means and how it will change the show, the perception of the Oscars and the size of the TV audience.
So in an effort to prepare you for Sunday night and its aftermath, we offer up ten things you should know before, during and after the Academy Awards this year.
One – The expansion of the Best Picture category appears to have worked as hoped. The movies nominated are a nice mix of art films and commercial films, without any obvious groaners. It resulted in more genres being recognized, but the fear that it would include lowbrow fare like “Hangover,” or even highbrow comedies like “It’s Complicated” was not borne out. Half the movies on the best picture list are indeed the kind of blockbusters that have been widely seen, led by “Avatar,” the most successful movie in years; but also including the highly popular “Blind Side,” the hit animated movie “Up” and even one of the year’s most novel and acclaimed science fiction movies, “District 9.” As Academy President Tom Sherak likes to say, you may like or hate what they have done but it has lots of people talking about the Oscars again.
Two – Despite the expansion of the Best Picture race, the reality is that there are really only a few pictures with a chance of taking home the gold – “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Inglorious Basterds,” “Precious” and “Up In the Air.” What they all have in common is that their directors are also nominees for best director, a category that was not expanded. So while the Academy has recognized more movies, the winner will probably be the same as if they had not expanded the category.
Three – For the first time in years there will be two co-hosts sharing the M.C. duties, which is a choice made by the two co-producers, Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman, who have been working hard to try and freshen the show and add elements that will attract a younger, more diverse audience. Co-host Steve Martin has done it before but co-host Alec Baldwin has not. The two are pals and have personal chemistry between them. While Martin is known for his sly often dry wit, Baldwin can be a loose cannon who may make it more interesting.
There was a flap over the decision to eliminate a skit involving Sasha Baron Cohen that was a parody of “Avatar.” The press took this to mean the producers were afraid of offending James Cameron. However Cameron insists he can take the joke. What Mechanic says was the real reason is that these re the Academy Awards and not a skit on “Saturday Night Live,” so there clearly are limits to how much the Academy wants to change things. This may not please the snark set but is the right decision for a show that is meant to honor movies, not mock them.
Four – There are several races where the winners appear to be sure things. Every year there are a few categories where conventional wisdom dictates how it will go, and it is actually very rare that it doesn’t work out exactly that way. This year the number one sure thing appears to be Christof Waltz for his role as the Nazi baddie in “Inglorious Basterds.” Conventional wisdom also holds that Mo’ Nique will win best supporting actress for “Precious” and Jeff Bridges will be named Best
|George Clooney 78th Annual Academy Awards ®|
Five – The majority of the tech awards, like special effects and sound, are expected to go to “Avatar,” which is widely seen as a breakthrough movie in terms of its technology, even if there is a lot of waffling about the strength of the story. Script honors are likely to go to “Up In The Air” (adapted) and “Inglorious Basterds” (original) unless there is a true “Hurt Locker” sweep which would probably include script, editing, director (Katherine Bigelow) and best picture. In any case, Bigelow is likely to win best director, as she did at the Director’s Guild Awards.
There has never been a bigger difference between the two leading candidates in terms of content, production cost, style and performance at the box office. While “Avatar” is a space fantasy and the biggest movie of modern times, “Hurt Locker” is an intense, realistic drama that would be the lowest grossing movie to take home the prize if it wins. The Academy likes to say money doesn’t matter but at a time Hollywood is hurting, despite record grosses last year, making a lot of money is still impressive.
Six – What could really hurt “Hurt Locker” is a lot of last minute campaign nastiness. In the final days before the voting there were a spate of stories about how “Hurt Locker” may not be as authentic as it appears, with ex-soldiers saying they laughed at the portrayals of some characters, especially the cowboy style antics of the lead.
While some voters may have already sent their choices in early, others apparently did not. There were reports 500 ballots or more out of just over 5,000 arrived on the last day votes were accepted.
Seven – “Up” may well deserve best picture but the reality is it will probably win “Best Animated Movie” and have to be happy to get it. Voters tend to look at these things as spreading the wealth and “Up” has made a lot of money, gotten a lot of recognition and doesn’t need best picture to be remembered as a great movie. At least that’s how many voters are likely to see it.
Eight – Don’t expect to see performances of the nominated original songs this year. The producers have decided to relegate them to short (a minute or so) clips from the actual movies, which will be tied to a package of clips illustrating the movie as best picture as well. This was done to save time and say most sources because the nominated movies are not the kind of peppy pop tunes from big name singers that would boost viewership. So for the first time in many years, no songs will be performed live by the original artist or as has happened in some years, by other singers.
Nine – Although “Avatar” has nine nominations, which ties it for the lead among all nominees with “Hurt Locker,” none of those are for the actors. This has frustrated producer-director James Cameron who says his actors may be CGI but their performance is based on the actual actors who created the roles. That has raised multiple issues. The first is whether CGI actors, even with advanced technology, should be compared to live action actors (even though computers can manipulate their performances as well); and whether these particular actors, especially Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington, deserve nominations in any case for what is essentially being the leads in a big action sci fi movie.
Ten – With more comedy, young presenters, more nominees, faster pacing and lively graphics, look for improved ratings for the show, which will be seen as a sign that the changes were a success. So those who think the ten best picture list will shrink again are likely to be disappointed. Despite all of that the show is likely to go over its scheduled three hours because there is a lot to pack in, and there are still the acceptance speeches to live through. Ratings should also be up as part of a larger trend which has seen improved ratings for most of the big award shows over the past year including the Grammy’s and Golden Globes. So this is likely a year that Oscar will shine on the screen and when Nielsen announces the numbers.
Jeffrey Jolson is Hollywood Today founding editor-in-chief and a RushPRnews partner and contributor since 2006. Jeffrey, of the Al Jolson family, also founded HollywoodReporter.com and Grammy.com. Hollywood Today reporters have written for Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Forbes, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, AP, E!, Popular Science and Popular Mechanics.
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