Friday, February 25, 2005

OSCAR Week/Awards Report #10/Are We Ready for our Close-Ups?!



A scenic artist touches up an Oscar graphic near the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on Thursday for Sunday's Academy Awards

Oscar Nominees Johnny Depp, Clive Owen, Don Cheadle,and Leonardo DiCaprio Top List
GQ names the top ten greatest actors of our generation in its March issue (on newsstands nationwide February 22nd), including Oscar nominees Johnny Depp, Clive Owen, Don Cheadle, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Russell Crowe, Nicolas Cage, Benicio Del Toro, John C. Reilly, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Jim Carrey complete the first-ever GQ best actors list. EDITOR'S NOTE: ONE MAGAZINE'S OPINION. BUT A FUN LIST, NONETHELESS.

Russell Crowe: It is a blessing when a great actor just wants to make you feel: "You're watching something, and you're a cynical bloke or whatever, and you find yourself tearing up, and you've got goose bumps on your f***g skin, and you have a real f***g emotional reaction to what's going on, and just in the back of your mind when you walk out of the cinema, you go, 'Thanks, Russell-now I'll get back to whatever else I'm doing,'" he says.EDITOR'S NOTE: THANKS, RUSS. I'M GUESSING YOU'RE NOT GOING TO WIN ANY OSCARS FOR WRITING.

Clive Owen: Hollywood loves a tuxedo-clad Brit; some are Bond material, the others just filler between Bruckheimer explosions. Owen is something else entirely: a steely, charming screen presence that almost never was. "When I got into drama school," he says, "I really felt like someone plucked me out of the life I was in and put me on the path to somewhere else."EDITOR'S NOTE: YUMMY.

Nicolas Cage: A jazz actor whose bizarre, inappropriate choices are almost always the best thing in the movie. Says Cage, "I think everything I've experienced has left its imprint on my mind and my soul, and it comes out in the work, whether I want it to or not."EDITOR'S NOTE: YEAH. DUH.

Johnny Depp: It's tempting to see high-low calculation on Depp's resume -- a little art house here, a little Hollywood there -- but it's the lack of caution that continues to make him irresistible. Johnny does what Johnny wants to do. Want to move to France and start a family? Sure! Want to play Willy Wonka? Yeah! Want to make a Pirates sequel? Why not? In Johnny's hands, it all makes sense. EDITOR'S NOTE: WORKS FOR ME, TOO.

Benicio Del Toro: He has mastered the art of the early death (Snatch, The Pledge, and of course The Usual Suspects), and he's never pimped himself out to the romantic comedy. "I play wackos," he says. Why are they all wackos? "That's something you have to sit down for hours to make sense of."

John C. Reilly: The gut-level empathy Reilly quietly musters for his sidekicks, cuckolds, and second bananas defines his sixteen years on film. "I think of all the parts I play as the main characters in their own story," he says. "When you see great supporting performances, it's because people are committed to their little corner of the sky."EDITOR'S NOTE: I'M THINKING HE AND RUSSELL CROWE WOULDN'T HAVE A WHOLE LOT TO DISCUSS (SEEING AS HOW REILLY APPEARS LUCID. AND SOBER).

Don Cheadle: Whether he's undertaking the complex, profound lead in Hotel Rwanda or supporting roles in Traffic and Out of Sight or those NFL spots that made us reconsider the significance of five seconds, Cheadle demonstrates again and again that it's not what kind of billing you receive, it's what you do with the part once you've got it. "My career has never been like a jet taking off; it's a house built on sand," says Cheadle. "It's nervous-makingfor sure."

Gael Garcia Bernal: Bernal has eschewed crossover career moves in favor of riskier parts -- an amoral drag queen in Bad Education, the man who would be Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries -- and proved that talent always translates. "I want to have an actor's life," he says. "It's not about having a successful career. I don't believe in 'making it.'"

Leonardo DiCaprio: As the sweet, stunted Arnie in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, DiCaprio played the part as if he were in an altered state, from the first frame to the last. And with his intricate Howard Hughes, both swaggering and fragile, he overcomes his perennial boyishness and proves himself the wildly searching, inventive actor we'd always hoped he was.

Jim Carrey: Carrey will go down as our greatest clown, of both the exuberant and sad varieties; in The Truman Show, and particularly in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he's comically, heartbreakingly unaware of the malign puppeteers pulling his strings. Yet Carrey's ambitions lie beyond clowndom, and even the deep drama he's clearly capable of. As he says, "I will never be satisfied until I burst into a ball of flames on-camera and thedirector yells, 'He got it!'" EDITOR'S NOTE: OUCH. PAINFUL TEST OF WORTH. ME? I'D SETTLE FOR THE CASH, AND AN OCCASIONALY PAT ON THE BACK.

Restaurants Put Oscar Noms on the Rocks
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - The wine-country ramble "Sideways" may be the booziest Academy Awards nominee, but five restaurants are toasting all the best-picture contenders with their own cocktails.

Here's the scoop on the drinks available at Beverly Hills establishments, ranging from elaborate concoctions to a sturdy whiskey and Coke:

_ In honor of Martin Scorsese's Howard Hughes epic, the Blue on Blue restaurant at the Avalon Hotel has mixed up "The Aviator," whose ingredients include Hangar One citron and raspberry vodkas, lemonade and raspberry puree.

_ The Writer's Bar at Raffles L'Ermitage hotel offers the "Pixie Stick," inspired by "Finding Neverland," Marc Forster's tale of "Peter Pan" creator J.M. Barrie. The recipe features gin, Midori melon liqueur and 7-Up.

_ Pegged to Clint Eastwood
's boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby," the Kate Mantilini restaurant is serving the "Mantilini Knock-Out Punch," whose fixings include Absolut mandarin vodka, Triple Sec liqueur, lime juice and cranberry juice.

_ Mastro's Steakhouse is keeping things simple with "Hit the Road Jack," a Jack Daniels and Coke named after one of the Ray Charles hit tunes featured in Taylor Hackford's film biography "Ray."

_ For "Sideways," Alexander Payne's tale of two buddies on a wine-tasting spree, Enoteca Drago has created "Pinot Envy," made with Ferrari Rose champagne, vodka, peach schnapps and pineapple juice. EDITOR'S NTOE: THAT SOUNDS DELISH, BUT HERE'S A THOUGHT....HOW ABOUT SOME WINE?!

'Aviator,' 'Sideways' Have Most Curses
And the $@"! award goes to ... "The Aviator" has the most profanity of all the best-picture Oscar candidates, according to the entertainment ratings firm PSVratings, Inc.

There were 125 curses in the Howard Hughes biopic, the company said, followed by 118 in "Sideways," 95 in "Ray," 53 in "Million Dollar Baby" and a mere 4 in the Peter Pan tale "Finding Neverland." EDITOR'S NOTE: THAT ALONE SHOULD GIVE IT A SCREENWRITING AWARD. (I'M NOT AGAINST VEXING VERBIAGE BY ANY MEANS, BUT OVER-USE OF THE VERNACULAR, AS IT WERE, IS OFTEN A SIGN TO ME OF A DEARTH OF LANGUAGE SKILL OR A FAILURE OF CREATIVE SCOPE).

When it came to the gold standard of profanity, "Sideways" was tops with 70 F-bombs.

PSVratings (profanity, sex and violence, get it?) grades movies and video games for parents. It has tracked the number and kinds of curses in more than 2,000 movies. EDITOR'S NOTE: PEOPLE WITH TOO MUCH TIME ON THEIR HANDS?

The all-time record for a best picture winner, according to PSVratings, was "Platoon" in 1986, with 337 curses.

Play Oscar pools, but bet on Net

Ignore the hype about the sudden momentum that will propel "Million Dollar Baby" to a best-picture Oscar. "The Aviator" will take it, just as oddsmakers have predicted since the day nominations were released.

At least that's what Internet gamblers are betting on.

At, for example, "Aviator" is still a short-odds favorite, commanding a $200 wager just to win $100. Those who play the office Oscar pool would be wise not to dismiss the collective wisdom of thousands of folks who risk their cash on the outcome of the Academy Awards.

Last year, let players bet on the top six categories, and they correctly picked all six winners. Another Internet gambling site,, also has pegged "Aviator" as the favorite, as does Cantor Odds. At the latter, a $100 bet would return just $140 if "Aviator" wins (a $40 profit). By way of contrast, a $100 bet would return $300 on "Million Dollar Baby," $800 on "Sideways" and $4,000 on both "Finding Neverland" and "Ray."EDITOR'S NOTE: AND IN THE OTHER CATEGORIES?

The Oscars: Based on a True Story
History in the Movies/By Cathy Schultz

To get an Academy Award, Hollywood has learned that the truth is more powerful than fiction.

Biographical films-or 'biopics' in Hollywood lingo-have recently proven irresistible to Oscar voters. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND MORE IS THE PITY, IF YOU ASK ME. (MY LEAST FAVORITE GENRE. SOMETIMES MORE LOATHED EVEN THAN CHICK FLICKS).

In the last decade, at least one (usually more) of the Best Picture nominees has been a film focusing on real people or events. And in nine of the last 10 years, an Oscar has gone to an actor playing an actual person.

This year the trend has exploded.

Three best picture nominees-"The Aviator," "Ray" and "Finding Neverland"-are biopics, and eight of the acting nominations went to actors portraying real people, who range from the very famous-Ray Charles, Howard Hughes, Katharine Hepburn-to the not-so-famous-Senator Ralph Brewster (who?)

There's an undeniable power to the phrase "based on a true story." Historical reality lends biopics an emotional heft. These events really happened to these people, we think. His heart broke in just that way, she overcame that particular challenge and he triumphed (or self-destructed) just like that.That façade of realism is the attraction of biopics, but also their risk.

For even though we know (don't we?) that biopics tell many "white lies" to simplify the story and make it more cinematic, we still get annoyed when films alter the history they depict.

Biopics, then, have two hurdles to clear in their path to glory and profit-they must resonate as a film, but also pass muster as history. If a film is too cavalier with the facts, if the little lies add up to less justifiable "big lies," the resulting historical criticism can derail a film's potential faster than you can say "JFK."EDITOR'S NOTE: OH NOT FAIR. IN OLIVER STONE'S MIND, IT WAS ALL COMPLETELY REAL. (THE LITTLE MEN THAT LIVE IN HIS HEATING DUCTS TOLD HIM SO!)

Such was the fate of the 1999 film, "The Hurricane." Denzel Washington was nominated for an Oscar for his mesmerizing portrayal of real life boxer and convict, Rubin Carter. As a film, "The Hurricane" is a compelling drama. Its message-an indictment of America's racism-is powerfully conveyed. We watch, appalled, as racists destroy Carter's boxing career and send him to prison on trumped-up murder charges.Early buzz had "The Hurricane" pegged for multiple Oscar consideration. That is until critics began raising troubling questions about the film's use of history. A key antagonist in the film-a loathsome, racist cop-turned out to be fictional. Critics charged that Carter's character was misrepresented. And "Sports Illustrated" raised questions about the depiction of his boxing career, claiming that Carter lost bouts to legitimately better boxers, not because of racism. Under the onslaught of negative publicity, the film lost steam, and ultimately it, and Washington, were shut out of Oscar wins.

A similar fate seemed in store for 2001's "A Beautiful Mind," starring Russell Crowe as mathematician John Nash. Pegged as an early Oscar leader, the film's prospects began to wither under attacks on its truthfulness. Critics charged that Nash was in reality an adulterer, father of an illegitimate child, possibly gay and maybe even anti-Semitic.The filmmakers fought back, enlisting Nash's wife, his biographer and Nash himself to buttress the film's credibility. For the record, they admitted to Nash's first marriage and child (claiming it wasn't important for the story) but vehemently denied that Nash was gay or anti-Semitic. The counter-offensive worked; "A Beautiful Mind" triumphed at the 2002 Oscars with Best Picture and Director wins. (Crowe, though, lost in the Best Actor race, ironically, to Denzel Washington.)

This year, with three biopics nominated, you might expect to find some controversy, some carrying on about truth versus fiction, some outrage over mangled historical records. But oddly, it's been very...quiet.

An occasional criticism has surfaced. Some have questioned whether the real J.M. Barrie ("Finding Neverland") liked boys less innocently than shown in the film. (His biographer claims otherwise.) It's the kind of criticism that would get more press if the film were considered a frontrunner for the Oscar, which it isn't.EDITOR'S NOTE: AND MORE IS THE PITY, SNIFFLE.

"Ray" has held up fairly well under historical scrutiny. It's been reported that the film fabricated the plotline featuring the state of Georgia's ban against Ray Charles. But that story, while true, didn't pick up much steam. And "Ray" probably inoculated itself against any charges of misrepresentation by giving such a warts-and-all portrait (addiction to heroin, frequent adultery) of the man.EDITOR'S NOTE: ANYONE ELSE NOTICE HOW MANY MORE CHILDREN ARE LISTED IN THE END CREDITS THAN WERE DEPICTED IN THE MOVIE? 'WARTS AND ALL', BUT ONLY A FEW OF THE WARTS. (YOU LEAVE OUT ENOUGH OF THEM, AND IT IS ALMOST A...PARDON THE PHRASE...WHITE-WASH, EVEN IF YOU SHOW SOME OF THEM).

Which leaves "The Aviator." It's hard to view that film as a whitewash of Howard Hughes during the scenes when he's in the full throes of his obsessive compulsive disorder, particularly when-in a cinematic first, I believe-we watch as he collects his urine in bottles.But a few lonely voices have attacked its history, shouting out their outrage to an uncaring world. Their criticism can be boiled down to this-Hughes was meaner than the movie shows.

Not much clout to that one.

The biggest reason biopics have had an easier ride this year is because a fictional story, Best Picture nominee "Million Dollar Baby," has played the role of lightening rod, generating controversy not over historical accuracy, but over a moral question raised toward the end of that movie (and, no, you won't get any more details than that since this is a spoiler-free review.) Attacked by some, praised by others, "Million Dollar Baby" is doing what the best movies can-generate discussion and debate over significant issues.But it is odd that in the year of the biopic, we don't have more historical criticism filling the media. Its absence leaves us simply discussing whether we like the Best Picture nominees as, well, movies.


Cathy Schultz, Ph.D., is a history professor at the University of St. Francis in Illinois.

Politics will take backseat to art at Sunday's Oscars
Two years ago, an actual war threatened to upstage the Academy Awards as the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq overshadowed Hollywood's annual exercise in glittering prize-giving.Last year, the Great Screener War -- a metaphoric war, but a war nonetheless -- turned the months that led up to the Oscar ceremonies into a pitched battle between the studios and their unruly specialty labels.

But this year, it's as if a truce had been declared.

With the 77th Annual Academy Awards set for Sunday night, somehow Hollywood finds itself at the end of a kinder, gentler Oscar season where, much to the press' disappointment, potential controversies evaporated into thin air.

Having spent much of his tenure as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences attempting to stomp out the excessive campaigning that sometimes has surrounded the awards, Frank Pierson couldn't have been more pleased. Meeting with the nominees this month, he congratulated them by saying that the recognition they had earned wasn't the result of any of the campaigns that might have been waged on their behalf but a reward for "opening us all to something that is fresh, unexpected and new."

Desperate to stir up an 11th-hour contretemps, some rabble-rousers trained their sights on producer Gil Cates' choice of host -- the irreverent Chris Rock.

In one interview, Rock had made some off-the-cuff remarks suggesting that watching the Oscars wasn't high on the leisure-time activities of most straight black men. Seeking to stir it up, some commentators tried to turn that wisecrack into an attack on both gays and the Academy itself. In response, Cates only laughed, "That's why we've chosen Chris -- he's a comedian."

But while some viewers might well tune into ABC's broadcast to see whether Rock crosses the line, as the 77th Oscars takes over the stage of the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland, most of the suspense probably will be the result of more predictable questions.

The evening's biggest showdown should involve those two lions in winter, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese, as they vie for the best directing prize. With five directing names and no wins to date on his resume, Scorsese probably would be considered the sentimental favorite in any lineup that didn't also include Eastwood. A nominee last year for "Mystic River," Eastwood is something of a Hollywood hometown hero for his rugged determination to stick to his artistic guns.However, Eastwood won both best director and best picture for 1992's "Unforgiven." So that could make it easier for Academy voters to decide to honor Scorsese.

The British Academy Film Awards, which took place this month, don't bode well for Scorsese, though. Since Eastwood's movie was ineligible for this year's BAFAs, Scorsese faced off against British director Mike Leigh, who is also an Academy nominee for "Vera Drake." In British film circles, Leigh is just as much of an individualist as Eastwood is in America, and it was Leigh who claimed the BAFA directing mask.Similarly, the best picture prize also appears to be up for grabs, with neither Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" nor Scorsese's "The Aviator" guaranteed to score the final knockout.But even though boxing cliches are sure to play a prominent part in the postshow commentary, this year's contest really hasn't been much of a slugfest.

In a year when the wine-soaked epiphanies of "Sideways" and the winsome, escapist fantasies of "Finding Neverland" set at least part of the tone, the Oscar battles were almost genteel.

When the season began to take shape -- back in September as the first of the fall releases began popping up at film festivals from Venice to Toronto to New York -- the common wisdom was that it was a wide-open race.What that really meant was that there was no "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" on the horizon.

As much as Hollywood came to love Peter Jackson's tripartite epic, "Return of the King" was a bit of a heavy last year, scoring in all 11 categories -- including best picture -- in which it was nominated.But with the "Rings" cycle out of the way -- and only a couple of would-be epics like Oliver Stone's ultimately short-lived "Alexander" on the horizon -- Hollywood's studios and specialty labels alike geared up for an Oscar season in which any movie that could curry critical support, a modicum of boxoffice success and the good favor of at least a fifth of the 5,808 voting members of the Academy could stake its claim for the gold.

As Oscar campaigners jockeyed for position at the starting gate, a few whispers popped up here and there: Could "Sideways," though a critical favorite from the start, be too lightweight for the august Academy? What about that J.M. Barrie, whom Johnny Depp portrays in "Neverland" -- wasn't he a bit of a pederast? And speaking of kinky guys, how about Alfred Kinsey, whom Liam Neeson portrays in "Kinsey" This season, though, the whispering campaigns seemed to fall on relatively deaf ears.

Late in the game, ideologically motivated critics aimed their guns at "Million Dollar Baby," painting Eastwood as a conservative turncoat who was promoting euthanasia. But most film journalists, leery of giving away the movie's plot twists, failed to take the bait.And the two movies that had generated the most controversy during the course of the year -- Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- proved not to be major Oscar players when the nominations were announced Jan. 25.

While "Passion" could claim three noms, Moore opted for a television airing, which, because of the rules in place for this year's documentary competition, meant his film couldn't compete in the docu category.

Among the films that were nominated, "The Aviator," buoyed by its crafts nominations, glided above the fray with its commanding 11 nominations. Its two nearest competitors -- "Finding Neverland" and "Million Dollar Baby" -- have seven nominations each. The remaining best picture contenders, "Ray" and "Sideways," had six and five noms, respectively.But the consensus has been that no one film towers over its competition.

"So many people perceived it as a weak year, but there were a lot of great contenders with only a few slots. So I feel that this year, the nominations are spread out over many more films than usual," Sony Pictures Classics co-head Michael Barker observed.

True, some of the performances and films that were touted as Oscar-worthy at the season's start fell by the wayside. The best actor field proved particularly crowded. And critically acclaimed work such as Neeson's performance or by Paul Giamatti in "Sideways," Javier Bardem in "The Sea Inside" and Jeff Bridges in "The Door in the Floor" all were overlooked.

Yet though this year's nominations might have occasioned disappointments, they didn't provoke outright condemnation, for, if anything, the Oscars have become more cosmopolitan.In a year that saw a number of subtitled features find favor in the art film market, there was actually a logjam in the foreign-language film category. Because the current rules permit only one entry per country, Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education" was left out in the cold when Spain chose to submit "The Sea Inside." The globe-trotting "The Motorcycle Dairies," whose creative team hails from Brazil, Mexico and the United States, also found itself a film without a country.

But Academy voters looked beyond the subtitles, inviting a number of foreign-language films into other categories. "Motorcycle Diaries" was rewarded with noms for adapted screenplay and original song. France's "A Very Long Engagement" caught the attention of art directors and cinematographers. And the official French submission, "Les Choristes" (The Chorus), also took a song nomination.

Equally heartening was the fact that this year, the Academy's acting awards looked diverse. Three years ago, when Denzel Washington and Halle Berry cracked the Academy's color barrier, winning both best actor and best actress, their story was impossible to ignore.But this year, the fact that so many black actors scored acting nominations hardly seemed to merit special mention. Certainly, there was no denying the talent involved with Jamie Foxx earning two nominations (for "Ray" and "Collateral"); Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo both representing "Hotel Rwanda"; and Morgan Freeman, scoring his fourth acting nom for "Million Dollar Baby."

And if there is one genuine upset Sunday night, it will be if anyone but Foxx is called to the stage when the envelope for best actor is opened.EDITOR'S NOTE: I LIVE IN HOPE....(NO OFFENSE TO FOXX, BUT ALL THE OTHER GUYS WERE BETTER. IMHO).Meanwhile, as the hours to showtime tick down, Pierson is hoping for just two things.

As he has put it, "May we be spared rain, and may the wardrobes function."


Race and 'Ray'
By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Watching 'Ray,' white America sees a biopic of a legendary performer. Black America sees a film that speaks intimately to a cultural zeitgeist. What does it mean for 'Ray' to succeed – or fail – in the Oscar race?

This weekend, a collection of well-coiffed, well-dressed, and well-endowed celebrities will stand on a Southern California stage in front of a glamorous, celebrity-filled audience and millions of television viewers, opening envelopes that announce the winners of the 77th Annual Academy Awards. For most Americans, it will be a one-night diversion, a meaningless opinion poll – the results of which would be quickly forgotten but for the millions of dollars of followup advertising hawking the prize winners.

For many African Americans, however, this year's Oscars will have a far different meaning: the awards will be a symbolic referendum on whether America has finally come to see and accept African Americans – the real African Americans, what and who we are when we go back to our communities at night and toss off our shoes and shut out the outside world – or if we will have to wait a little longer.

They will be watching what happens to the movie Ray, both in the Best Picture category, and in the nomination of Jamie Foxx as Best Actor.

This quiet vigil in black neighborhoods and bars and living rooms has gone largely unnoticed outside the black world. The mainstream media tends to paint race with the broadest of all strokes – are there minorities represented, or are there not? – often overlooking the subtleties that actually make up the American racial world. And so there was intense mainstream coverage of the selection of Sidney Poitier as best actor in Lilies of the Field in 1963, because no black actor had ever done that before. And 39 years later, after the sweep by Halle Berry (Monster's Ball) and Denzel Washington (Training Day) of the Best Actor/Actress categories, it was widely considered that black acting had arrived, that blacks were now fully appreciated in the movie industry, and that story line was dead.

Part of why black concerns over this year's Oscars have been overlooked is the obvious question: what could black folks possibly have to be concerned about this year? Foxx himself has two nominations – one for Ray, one for Collateral – while fellow black actors Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) and Don Cheadle and Sophie Okenedo (both for Hotel Rwanda) are also up for Oscars.

Among African Americans, however, Foxx's nomination stands out. And that is because Ray is a far different major-release movie than we have ever seen on American screens. In a combination of content, pace, and presentation, "Ray" is a black movie.

From the Spielberg-Oprah Winfrey Beloved collaboration to Carl Franklin's Denzel Washington vehicle Devil In A Blue Dress, John Singleton's Boyz n The Hood, and Spike Lee's entire body of work, black-themed movies with black lead actors and majority black casts are no longer an anomaly in American film. But in many ways, these movies were like Gershwin's 1920's era folk-opera Porgy: black themes showcased – sometimes highly successfully – in a white form. Ray, however, almost literally flips the script, blending content and form in a way that only can be described as "black." Only Charles Burnett's 1990 To Sleep With Anger comes close, and Anger, despite an all-star pairing of Danny Glover and Mary Alice, went unnoticed at the box office.

One of the major themes in Ray Charles' work was his combining of blues and gospel music into a single piece, bridging a secular-spiritual split that had divided the black community since the days of the slavery-time cotton fields. (That split is highlighted in the movie in the "all y'all going straight to hell" devil music scene, when a minister and his flock try to bust up one of Charles' club sets in the middle of his straight-out-of-gospel song "Hallelujah, I Just Love Her So.")
But an unstated theme of the movie is bridging the often-overlooked split between African-American Christian spiritualism and the older African spiritualism many thought was permanently discarded in the holds of the slave ships in the Middle Passage.

Photographer-historian Bill Steber, who has documented many of the older African practices in his blues photo essays on the South, says that "remnants of African culture and religion are woven into the fabric of American culture in so many ways, they often remain hidden in plain sight."

One visual symbol of that old African spiritualism – should we call it the real "old-time religion?" – is the tinkling, multi-colored bottle tree, first making its appearance in Retha Robinson's Greensville, Fla. yard, later recurring, periodically, in Ray Charles' remembrances of his childhood and the drowning death of his younger brother. Steber dates the trees back to ninth-century Congo, describing them as "colorful bottles (traditionally cobalt blue) ... placed on branch ends to catch the sunlight. When an evil spirit sees the play of light, it enters the bottle and, like a wasp, is thereby entrapped." There is something clearly both old African and non-Christian in the bottle tree images in the movie, even for those who don't know the details of its symbolism.

Another subtle slip into a black world view in Ray is the manner in which the movie looks at the death of Ray Charles' brother George, and Charles' relationship with his long-dead mother. Perhaps reflecting Christianity's divided views on the subject and American society's tendency to ridicule those who believe in such things, American motion pictures are generally uncomfortable with the subject of ghosts, most often either treating them as supernatural demons to be run from or destroyed, as virtual cartoon characters (such as in Ghostbusters) or seeing their appearance as aberrations – sometimes welcome aberrations – but nonetheless deviations from the normal order of things (such as in the movie Ghost).

For many African Americans, however, ghosts and spirits are not imaginary phantasms, but familiar beings whose makeup is so gossamer they can travel unhindered through the veil that divides this world with the other. Particularly in Ray Charles' pivotal conversation with his mother and George near the end of the movie, as he is trying to kick his heroin habit, Ray treats those spiritual beliefs with both a respect and a matter-of-fact naturalness that the usual behind-the-hand tittering is not possible when those scenes come on the screen.

Ray also steers closer to the black side of the water in its treatment of sex. For all the "wardrobe malfunction"-bared breasts and gyrating booties of rap videos, a majority of the African-American community is really quite conservative and modest at heart when it comes to issues of public nudity, and get particularly fidgety when it is black women who are doing the baring. There was an undercurrent of black grumbling – generally ignored by the mainstream media – when Halle Berry left little to the imagination in her Monster's Ball on-screen intercourse with her husband's executioner, and a quiet "Yeah, see what you open yourself up to?" when, a year later, actor Adrien Brody considered Berry as part of his prize when winning the 2003 Best Actor Academy Award.EDITOR'S NOTE: OK, THAT LAST BIT WAS A BIG OLE STRETCH. "MONSTER'S BALL" WAS LUDICROUS ON MANY MANY LEVELS, NOT THE LEAST OF WHICH HAVING TO DO WITH HALLE BERRY'S GRATUITOUS NUDITY. BUT SOMETIMES...ADRIEN BRODY, INCLUDED....A CIGAR IS JUST A CIGAR.

In Ray, Regina King plays one of the more pulsingly sexual singers of our lifetime – Raelette Margie Hendrix (after Foxx as Charles tells her his room number is "69," King's throaty "you're so nasty, that's what I love about you" goes down as one of them all-time sex line deliveries of movie history). And yet, amazingly for these times, King does it all without baring her body. That theme is carried throughout the movie, dealing with Charles' legendary womanizing without a single obligatory sex scene. That is one of the reasons why Ray bridges the black generation gap in a way most American movies do not – it is a movie where children, parents, and grandparents can sit in front of the same screen, and neither twitch with boredom or quiver with embarrassment.

It does not hurt Ray's attraction to younger black audiences, either, that the King line is encompassed within what is essentially an MTV-style music video within the movie itself, the story of the supplanting of singer Mary Ann Fisher with Hendrix as Charles' on-the-road lover, interspersed with nightclub performance scenes, all while Fisher sings "What Kind Of Man Are You?" While almost every American movie tries to attract young audiences, few of them have managed to tap into the hip-hop style and form of young viewers in such a way, while never disrupting the movie's flow. And that black generational bridging is not hurt either, of course, by the fact that Ray Charles' music looked both backward and forward, drawing from the hog-calling, barrelhouse blues of the early 20th century, participating in the founding of rhythm & blues, and (such as in the opening riff of "What'd I Say") anticipating rap.

Couple that with Sharon Warren's portrayal of Charles mother Aretha, an outstanding portrait of the intuitive intelligence and strength and suffering of African-American women (without the obligatory sex) in a medium that showcases far too little of that, and it becomes easier and easier to see why black audiences would see Ray as both special and vastly different from the usual attractions.

Still, few of these issues are being articulated even by African Americans themselves, either outside or inside the black community. It is doubtful that many black folks know why they like Ray so much, or even care.

Instead, during a TVOne interview with Ray stars Foxx and King, host Catherine Hughes describes scenes of black people coming out of the movie sharing thoughts with people they do not even know, feeling that they have shared a special experience, an honoring of black life with all its flaws, without pretense. Most often what you hear in black neighborhoods, in chatrooms, or over the telephone, from friends and cousins and acquaintances alike, is simply, "You gotta see it." Flying under the public radar, it is a bringing-black-folk-together phenomenon we have not witnessed since the 1970's, with the much-discussed and widely publicized reactions to the Roots television series.

And so, this weekend, even if they do not watch the actual ceremonies, large numbers of black Americans will pay special attention to this year's Academy Awards. In many ways, the results will not matter. The release of the movie Ray has already affirmed something for many African Americans – their secret selves, long-nurtured in dark corners, but kept from general public view. In years to come, we are going to see the coming out of this movie as a river crossed, and it is as yet unknown what will be found on the far bank. EDITOR'S NOTE: I HOPE THAT THE CREATION AND SUCCESS OF THE MOVIE IS VIEWED AS THE RIVER-CROSSING AND THAT THE AWARDS GIVEN WON'T HAVE ANY BEARING. (SINCE THE OSCARS ARE A CRAP SHOOT AND BOX OFFICE IS FAR MORE A GAUGE OF A MOVIE'S OUTREACH, YES?)

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor writes for the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Hollywood Catches Case of Oscar Blahs

In the days leading up to the movie industry's most glamorous night, the Oscars, the word heard frequently around Hollywood this year is not glitz, or hype, or excitement. It is fatigue. EDITOR'S NOTE: KINDA LIKE ALL THE READERS OF THE DWEEBLOG (WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF KRAZYKARLA) ARE FEELING ABOUT NOW VIS-A-VIS OUR OSCAR REPORTAGE?

Strange, perhaps, and unexpected.

The same millions of dollars as in years past have been spent on pitched Oscar campaigns, with their color, full-page newspaper advertisements and their earnest television spots.

The same publicity muscle has been put into cocktail parties and question-and-answer sessions led by Oscar nominees at the guilds and the movie industry's home for the aged.

But the fatigue is palpable nonetheless. A combination of lackluster box office and a certain awards overload, along with an underlying fear of prosecution for potentially pirated Oscar movie DVD's, seems to be contributing to a malaise.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters have taken less joy than usual in participating in the national movie ritual, which is being broadcast Sunday on ABC.

It hasn't helped that viewership for the Golden Globes plunged by nearly 40 percent this year, and that the Grammys, just two weeks ago, suffered poor ratings, too. What if Hollywood holds an awards show and America doesn't show up? EDITOR'S NOTE: WE'LL BE THERE, WE'LL BE THERE!!! (WITH PIZZA AND CHIPS, BABY!)

Awards fatigue "is always a concern, even when the ratings haven't dropped," said an academy spokesman, John Pavlik, who acknowledged an active discussion of the issue in his organization. "How often can you see the same person win the same award and not be fatigued by it?"EDITOR'S NOTE: IS IT SOMEONE WE LIKE? He added: "And it's not just the awards shows - it's 'E. T.,' it's 'Access Hollywood' and all the shows that have clips from the awards shows, and show people winning again and again. You see the same thing for a week at a time."

The shifting ground under the Oscars, with declining ratings and a rising thicket of competing awards events, was one reason for this year's choice of host, the irreverent and sometimes outrageous Chris Rock. Mr. Rock, whose fan base tends more toward an MTV demographic than the famously conservative one of the motion picture academy, seems to be making some Oscar voters nervous, judging from interviews about the awards with insiders, Oscar handicappers and academy members themselves.

The telecast producer, Gilbert Cates, seems to relish the debate over Mr. Rock and has said he intends to shake up the established order by having some nominees go on stage before the Oscar announcement and by taking cameras into the audience, where some awards may be presented.

Mr. Cates addressed skepticism about the format at a meeting this week with the academy public relations committee, one member who was there said, speaking on condition of anonymity because it was an internal academy matter. The member said Mr. Cates told the group: "Could it backfire? We're going to try it. If it works, the academy will do it again. If it doesn't, it won't."EDITOR'S NOTE: WHAT THE HECK!? (ON THE ONE HAND, IT'S MESSING WITH MILLIONS OF DOLLARS; ON THE OTHER HAND, IT'S NOT THE SPACE SHUTTLE LAUNCH).

But another challenge this year seems to be the best picture nominees themselves: none have crossed the $100 million mark at the domestic box office. In previous years when films like "Titanic," "Forrest Gump" or "Gladiator" ruled the box office and the nominations, audience interest seemed built in.

This year the leading contenders for best picture, handicappers and academy members say, are Clint Eastwood's quiet boxing drama, "Million Dollar Baby," and Martin Scorsese's epic about Howard Hughes, "The Aviator." Neither qualifies as a box office blockbuster.

"The Aviator," whose aggressive Oscar campaign has been led by Miramax, a co-financier of the movie with Warner Brothers and the Initial Entertainment Group, has taken in a relatively modest $89 million so far (it cost $112 million). Warner Brothers' "Million Dollar Baby" has taken in $56 million (it cost $30 million).

In the best actor and actress categories, only a few major movie stars made the list, Leonardo DiCaprio and Annette Bening among them. But Americans are probably more familiar with Jennifer Aniston than with the rising favorite for best supporting actress, Sophie Okonedo ("Hotel Rwanda").

Indeed, at the box office last weekend, the No. 1 movie was "Hitch," a romantic comedy starring Will Smith, which took in $37 million.

The best picture nominees - the director Alexander Payne's wry comedy "Sideways," the gentle "Finding Neverland" and the biopic "Ray" in addition to "The Aviator" and "Million Dollar Baby" - took in just $20 million, combined, according to

"This year, 'Ray' has done very well with its sector, 'Aviator' did well with its sector, but none of them have crossed over," said the publicist Tony Angellotti, who worked on the "Ray" Oscar campaign for Universal. "Most of these five pictures have not been wildly successful attracting more than their core target audience."

The veteran producer Peter Guber, an academy member, agreed. "Generally I think you'll find the ratings go down this year," he said. "It doesn't have those kind of big, visible icon films. It's just the nature of the thing. Why are people watching? Because of the noise of the film, the stars of the film, the media attention, what they're wearing. We in the academy like to think it's a cultural experience, but it's really a collection of stars and what they're wearing that gets the viewing audience."

As every year, the studios have done their best to compete for the Oscars. Universal has taken care to release the DVD for "Ray," about the singer Ray Charles, in recent weeks, as academy members vote.

For "The Aviator," Miramax, led by its co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein, has bought extensive television advertisements featuring comments from Alan Alda, nominated for best supporting actor, and the co-producer Michael Mann explaining the film's importance and Hughes's significance. Bloggers have noted that in some television spots, the studio paired "Aviator" images with music from the opening credit sequence of Mr. Scorsese's boxing masterpiece, "Raging Bull." The music, from the opera "Cavalleria Rusticana," is a detail that older academy members would be likely to notice, though the average television viewer might not. Mr. Scorsese, a nominee for best director, has never won an Oscar.

Meanwhile, "Million Dollar Baby" has been running promotional segments several minutes long on New York cable channels about the making of the film and its importance to the director and star, Mr. Eastwood. A dispute over the movie's treatment of assisted suicide, with conservative commentators and disability rights advocates attacking the film, seems only to have increased academy members' affection for Mr. Eastwood, who has portrayed himself as a Hollywood outsider in making this project. He is a nominee for best director and for best actor.

And while Fox Searchlight's "Sideways" seems a longshot for best picture, the movie has been a ringing success for the mini-studio, taking in $58 million so far and winning a Golden Globe for best movie, comedy, as well as the Screen Actors Guild's best ensemble award.

But it all remains confusing, truth be told.

Historically, the movie with the most Oscar nominations wins best picture, and in this case that would be "The Aviator," which snagged 11. But the sentimental favorite seems to be "Million Dollar Baby," whose director won the top award from the Directors Guild of America, a good predictor of the best director Oscar.

Take your pick. As Mr. Guber put it, "Tradition's great, as long as it works."

I'd not like to thank...
Not everyone's happy to win an Oscar.

Jennifer Rodger recalls some of the stars who've stuck to their guns and said no
The award season is traditionally fertile ground for the attention seeker - the red carpets, the dresses, the tears - and nowhere more so than at the Oscars. But some stars grab the limelight by refusing an award rather than by accepting one. It's the gong-giving ritual nobody likes to talk about.

Perhaps they don't like what the award represents (the accolade "best actor" is promising, but an honorary Oscar is like your career's premature end credit). Or perhaps it's down to that old favourite, that they don't want to play along with a "media-hyped" event that's completely unrepresentative of their lives on the edge as a highly paid movie star/celebrity.

Whatever their excuse, though, when a star turns down an Oscar it ultimately tells you as much about them as any tearful acceptance speech ever could.

The screenwriter Dudley Nichols was the first to refuse an Oscar, back in 1936, to support a screenwriters' dispute. Few would doubt his sincerity, but it was Marlon Brando who first did it with panache. When Brando sent an Apache girl called Sacheen Littlefeather to turn down an Oscar in 1973 for The Godfather on his behalf, he wanted to draw attention to the plight of the Native American. "You are probably saying: 'What the hell does this have to do with the Academy Awards?'" said Brando, via his spokesperson. "The answer is that the motion picture community as much as anyone has been responsible for degrading the Indian." A heartfelt sentiment, and only slightly undermined when Sacheen Littlefeather was later discovered to be B-movie actress Maria Cruz. EDITOR'S NOTE: OOPS. I NEVER HEARD THAT TIDBIT.

There are easier ways of making your point, as George C Scott demonstrated. He was nominated four times in total and always refused to attend, because he believed that artists shouldn't be in competition with one another. In spite of his remarks that the Oscars were "an annual orgy of self-adulation, a mere meat parade, offensive, barbarous and innately corrupt,"EDITOR'S NOTE: YES, BUT OTHER THAN THAT, MRS. LINCOLN, HOW DID YOU LIKE THE PLAY?! so good was his performance in Patton that the Academy refused to strike him from the 1970 nomination list. Fittingly, however, after his portrayal of a great military man, Scott won the stand-off. He stayed at home watching ice hockey while his producer picked up the statuette. The latter returned it to the Academy the next day, and there it remains.

Scott's no-show tactic caught on. In 1978, Woody Allen failed to collect his Oscar for Annie Hall, though the audience in Michael's Pub in New York were lucky enough to have him playing the jazz clarinet for them that night.

Dustin Hoffman, too, has sporadically shunned the Oscars, describing them as "obscene, dirty and grotesque, no better than a beauty contest". EDITOR'S NOTE: LIKE THAT'S A BAD THING?

Sometimes, though, the stars' impassioned arguments backfire. When the surrealist film-maker Luis Buñuel's Tristana was nominated for best foreign film in 1970, he remarked: "Nothing would disgust me more, morally, than receiving an Oscar. I wouldn't have it in my home." He wasn't forced to make the choice: after that, he didn't win it. EDITOR'S NOTE: FAR BE IT FOR THE VOTERS TO DISGUST HIM MORALLY. (THEY WERE JUST BEING CONSIDERATE)

Recently, nominees have developed a less risky method of upsetting the Academy - namely, by causing offence during their acceptance speeches.

The documentary-maker Michael Moore used his thank-you time at the 2003 Oscars to condemn the invasion of Iraq, a few days after it was announced. He was greeted by a chorus of boos. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND APPLAUSE.

However, it did get the public's attention - arguably his goal. And Moore would later say that his reception motivated him to make Fahrenheit 9/11. He said: "Someone told me that this is the first movie made to justify an Oscar speech. In essence, it's true. When I gave that speech, it wasn't embraced by majority opinion. Maybe I needed to clarify myself. That probably had a lot to do with making this [Fahrenheit 9/11] film."

In the end, the star who turns down an Oscar has their eye on a bigger prize - that of reminding everyone that their talent and principles are so exceptional they don't bear comparison with anyone else's. But sometimes, doing nothing is the most effective protest of all. Jane Fonda, dubbed "Hanoi Jane" by her detractors for her anti-Vietnam activities, won a best actress award for Klute in 1972, and kept her speech to the point. "There's a great deal to say," she said, "but I'm not going to say it tonight." EDITOR'S NOTE: ALMOST BRITISH IN ITS BREVITY AND WIT. (NEITHER THINGS I THOUGHT FONDAS WERE KNOWN FOR).

When it comes to some of the awards, you can see the refuseniks' point. This weekend, the 81-year-old director Sidney Lumet, who made Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men, will receive an honorary Oscar.

The bestowing of honorary Oscars is a murky business and not everyone is happy to get one. In 1986, Paul Newman didn't turn up for his. In taped remarks, Newman sarcastically observed how grateful he was that the statuette didn't come "wrapped as a gift certificate to Forest Lawn [a Hollywood memorial park]", going on to complain that his "best work is down the pike in front of me".

Peter O'Toole, too, resisted his honorary award - writing to the Academy in 2003 to say that he was "still in the game and might yet win the lovely bugger outright". He caved in, though, and took it anyway.

The institution is usually a way for the Academy to fill embarrassing lacunae in its voting.

Neither Newman nor O'Toole had won any of their nominations. Barbara Stanwyck and Greta Garbo were nominated - and overlooked - four times; Deborah Kerr missed out six times before picking up her consolation prize. Robert Altman - nearly as old as Lumet and with more nominations - is a likely future candidate. Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant only ever got honoraries.

Not everybody is a popular choice, however. In one of the most infamous decisions in Oscar history, Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront) was given an honorary in 1999. Kazan, a willing participant of the McCarthy purges of the 1950s, remains reviled by the liberal left. TV cameras zoomed in on Nick Nolte, Richard Dreyfuss and Ed Harris conspicuously not applauding during the standing ovation. Theirs was not the only protest.

Luckily for Lumet, his career is not yet over. His last actual nomination may have been back in 1982 with The Verdict, and he's just finished a courtroom drama with Vin Diesel. Find Me Guilty should go on release later this year.

Academy Bashes, 1929 to Now

How did an intimate dinner for 300 turn into Hollywood's most exclusive extravaganza? An excerpt from the new book Oscar Night looks back across the glittering arc of 75 enchanted evenings.

On a quiet Sunday evening in January 1927, producer Louis B. Mayer went prospecting for daydreams and, inadvertently, struck Oscar gold.

That night, so the story goes, Mayer was playing an idle game of solitaire at his home in Santa Monica and half listening to an exchange between two of his guests, actor Conrad Nagel and director Fred Niblo. Suddenly, Mayer—the emphatic second M in MGM—stopped his game and cut in. Enough talk. What if they were to actually form a fraternity of their peers, as the two men were suggesting? A fellowship of filmmakers? Such a society could engender studio unity and promote the motion-picture business. And, quite conveniently, it might just help give them leverage in anticipated labor negotiations. (In other accounts, there was no game of solitaire, plenty of brandy and cigars—and it was Mayer who first broached the idea.)

Whatever the initial scenario, their flight of fancy—and what some might call anti-union maneuvering—swiftly took wing.

The following week three dozen studio stalwarts attended a brainstorming dinner at L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel. By May, Mayer, Douglas Fairbanks, and eight others were addressing several hundred in black-tie and ball gowns at Hollywood's Biltmore Hotel.

Fairbanks presented the big picture, Mayer hit them up for $100 a head, and, lo and behold, they had forged an academy (Nagel's term) of cinema's elite. Little did L. B. Mayer suspect that two years later his simple notion would spawn a splendid offshoot: the first Academy Awards dinner dance, held on May 16, 1929, in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel. (Early on, Mayer had supposedly regarded both the banquet and the trophies as extravagant, and urged his colleagues not to waste funds on a showy ceremony—to no avail.)

At that historic party, 300 enjoyed fillet of sole or chicken on toast, and reveled as the movie colony's movers and shakers issued special "awards of merit" for cinematic achievement, including a prize for a remarkable new breakthrough: the talking picture. The trophies dispensed that night—statuettes of a naked swordsman cast in gold-plated bronze (now electroplated Britannia metal with a touch of gold)—were designed in a sleek, modernist style by MGM's art director, Cedric Gibbons. And they were handed out in mere minutes; recipients were dissuaded from offering more than perfunctory speeches.

In time, the awards became known as Oscars, a nickname coined—depending on which swath of hooey one abides—by columnist Sidney Skolsky or actress Bette Davis (since the figurine's rump supposedly resembled her husband's) or Academy executive director Margaret Herrick, who was said to have remarked, "It looks like my Uncle Oscar!"

The ceremonies were formal and elegant, the mood sometimes spirited when it came to liquor flow. Tables were graced, on occasion, with Oscar centerpieces, champagne glasses (during non-Prohibition years), and cigarettes. (Plenteous Chesterfields were supplied gratis by the Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company.)

From 1929 until 1944, in fact, the Academy Awards dinner was the party. Amid speeches and song and dance (to the strains of Duke Ellington and others), honorees were summoned to collect their baubles from eminent M.C.'s in white-tie (George Jessel, Bob Hope). For a time the voting results were massaged by Mayer and an inner circle of judges;EDITOR'S NOTE: QUELLE SCANDALE! for a dozen years the winners were pre-announced to accommodate press deadlines. (The famously close-lipped accounting firm of Price Waterhouse & Co. first tallied the ballots in 1936. Four years later came "The envelope, please.") EDITOR'S NOTE: SO PRICE WATERHOUSE HAS BEEN DOING THE ACCOUNTING THE ENTIRE TIME? WOW.

Official histories portray those gatherings as dignified and congenial. "It was more like a private party … than a big public ceremony," said Janet Gaynor, winner of the first best-actress honor, for 7th Heaven, a sentiment which the press would soon inflate with gusts of hype. Alta Durant, for example, would write in her 1940 "Gab" column in Daily Variety that the "entrance of Vivien Leigh on the arm of David O. Selznick into the lobby of the Ambassador last night was a signal for near riot."

Some of the most stylish female stars, however, began to shun the event as stuffy and clubbish.

"It's the fashion among many actors and reporters out here," confessed Hollywood correspondent John Chapman in 1942, "to regard the dinner as a bore and to avoid it. Me, I love it."

In the view of fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave, "It wasn't cool—it was an obligation.

Louis B. Mayer and Adolph Zukor had to twist arms. The chic women didn't go. Hollywood bred rebels in the 20s and 30s who didn't want to hang out with V.I.P.'s in penguin suits. The moguls had been chasing them around the desk since Hollywood began.

Indeed, neither Greta Garbo nor Louise Brooks, two of the screen's trendsetting renegades, ever attended.

A few winners (Claudette Colbert and Luise Rainer, for example) had to be corralled at the eleventh hour and brought in to pick up their presents. Marlene Dietrich showed up only once, to confer an award, as did Katharine Hepburn, despite a lifetime haul of 12 nominations and four wins. (Hepburn took the podium at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1974 wearing a schleppy pantsuit and clogs.) EDITOR'S NOTE: YOU GO! GOTTA LOVE HER.

The tony banquets of the 30s turned less festive once the Second World War began. By 1944 the ceremony, then hosted by Jack Benny, had been relocated to a theater (Grauman's Chinese), and the parties, held after the main event, became private matters, hosted by studio chiefs or Academy officials at posh nightclubs and restaurants—Ciro's and Romanoff's, Mocambo and Chasen's.

Come 1958, in a bid to accommodate more partygoers, the Academy instituted its Board of Governors Ball, a sumptuous dinner dance for nominees and motion-picture brass that helped revive some of the pre-war glitz. At the same time, in a curious parallel universe, Oscar "viewing parties" became the rage in Beverly Hills and across the country (the awards were first telecast in 1953), where neighbors, famous and otherwise, would come together in front of their smart new cathode-ray tubes. Such gatherings, and post-Oscar parties, took place at the homes of Milton and Ruth Berle, Charles and Doris Vidor, Billy and Audrey Wilder, and other Hollywood hosts. EDITOR'S NOTE: SEE! WE ARE CONTINUING A VERY GRAND TRADITION!

And then, along came Swifty. The Napoleonic agent-impresario, as bald and incandescent as a newly buffed Oscar, Swifty Lazar muscled his way onto the scene in 1964. He convened the first of his storied Academy Awards–night bashes at L.A.'s Bistro, later moving the venue to the Bistro Garden, and finally settling in at Wolfgang Puck's balloon-festooned Spago. The party went on through the swinging 60s, through the decadent 70s, through the go-go 80s.

Upon Lazar's death at age 86, in 1993, there was a disturbing stillness in the Hollywood night, and Vanity Fair swept in as Swifty's natural heir. The magazine of the 20s and 30s had been a cultural bellwether of the Jazz Age. Its editor, Frank Crowninshield, and publisher, Condé Nast, had helped create Manhattan's "café society" via the parties they threw for their acquaintances in the newly intersecting spheres of literature, the arts, sports, politics, cinema, and so-called high society.

The current Vanity Fair, revived in 1983, maintained a comparable mandate as a chronicler and arbiter of the modern age. So the magazine chose to expand upon the decades-old tradition with its own event, which would become the evening's capstone—"the Royal enclosure of Oscar night," in the words of The Daily Telegraph of London.

Oddly enough, a viewer can glean the history of American elegance and ego by browsing through Oscar-night pictures, a wonderfully arcane subspecies of Hollywood images, all shot on a scant 75 evenings, from 1929 to now. (To explain the math: no formal parties were held on Oscar night 1968, six days after the assassination of civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.)

While most of the photographs have a candid spirit, the subjects depicted in them are clearly conscious of the camera. Many have literally dressed for the night—and the lens—in hopes that their glamour and cultivated candor will be witnessed. In picture after picture, one can chart the subtle shifts of politics and war, of pop culture and popular fashion—from flapper-era dresses to 40s frocks, from postwar sophistication to modern glam. One can also gauge the buffeting fortunes of celebrities (for one evening in 1955, Ernest Borgnine ruled) and the absurd escalation of Celebrity itself.

"Oscar night is a prism," observes producer George Schlatter, who has enlivened Academy Awards bashes for half a century. "It's all of movie history distilled into one evening.
he says wistfully, "was a town at one time. Then it became an industry. Now it's a friggin' philosophy."EDITOR'S NOTE: FASCINATING QUOTE. TRUE? PROBABLY SO. NEAT.

David Friend, who runs Vanity Fair's Web site, is the magazine's editor of creative development. Along with Graydon Carter, he co-edited Oscar Night: 75 Years of Hollywood Parties (Knopf).


A Few Misc.Items before we go back to Oscar'izing


Straczynski Wants To Reboot Trek
Inspired by a recent SCI FI Wire poll, Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski posted a message to a newsgroup urging fans to write to Paramount, owner of the rights to the Star Trek franchise, in support of a new Trek series that he and Bryce Zabel (Dark Skies) developed last year.

Although the studio originally passed on the treatment due to "political considerations," EDITOR'S NOTE: 'POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS'? NOT WANTING TO RUFFLE BERMAN ET AL'S FEATHERS? SHEESH....Straczynski feels that they might reconsider if they knew that fans were eager for such an idea.

"I'm taking the unusual step of going right to the source ... right to you guys," Straczynski said in the message. "Fueled in part by a number of recent articles and polls, including one at in which nearly 18,000 fans voted their preference for a new Trek series, and 48 percent of that figure called for a [J. Michael Straczynski] take on Trek."

Straczynski said that he and Zabel share an affection for the original Star Trek series, and a disappointment in the later iterations of the series. Together, they created a new treatment and a five-year story arc with the intention of returning to the roots of the world created by Gene Roddenberry.

"If you want to see a new Trek series that's true to Gene's original creation, helmed by myself and Bryce, with challenging stories, contemporary themes, solid extrapolation, and the infusion of some of our best and brightest SF prose writers, then you need to let the folks at Paramount know that. If the 48 percent of the 18,000 folks who voted at sent those sentiments to Paramount, there'd be a new series in the works tomorrow," Straczynski said.

Straczynski added that he felt that the current stewards of the series have been too cautious in their stories, and the franchise has suffered as a result. EDITOR'S NOTE: YA THINK?!

"Over time, Trek was treated like a Porsche that's kept in the garage all the time, for fear of scratching the finish," Straczynski said. "The stories were, for the most part, safe, more about technology than what William Faulkner described as 'the human heart in conflict with itself.' Yes, there were always exceptions, but in general that trend became more and more apparent with the passage of years. Which was why so often I came down on the later stories, which I did openly, because I didn't feel they lined up with what Trek was created to be. I don't apologize for it, because that was what I felt as a fan of Trek. That's why I had [Roddenberry's widow Majel Barrett] appear on B5, to send a message that I believe in what Gene created EDITOR'S NOTE: JMS HAS HAD HIS BAD DAYS AT THE OFFICE, BUT BY AND LARGE HE REALLY KNOWS WHAT HE'S DOING. AND A 5-YEAR ARC IS EXACTLY WHAT TREK NEEDS. (APART FROM THE JMS WORDS OF WISDOM ABOVE, THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT HAS DERAILED TREK OF LATE...THE GENERAL AIMLESSNESS OF IT. IT ROBS IT OF MOST OF ITS HEFT).

Tarantino bloodying 'CSI' team
Call it "Kill Gil."EDITOR'S NOTE: SMIRK.

Quentin Tarantino has signed to direct the season-finale episode of primetime's most-watched series, CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

Tarantino also has come up with an original story for the episode, which is expected to shoot in early April and air May 19, according to "CSI" executive producer Carol Mendelsohn.

Tarantino has long been a fan of the stylish forensic drama as series creator/executive producer Anthony Zuiker learned when he bumped into Tarantino at an awards show during

"CSI's" first season. They have pursued him to direct an episode for some time, and after members of the "CSI" crew ran into Tarantino a few weeks ago while the show was doing some location shooting in Las Vegas, the stars finally aligned for him to helm the show's fifth-season closer, Mendelsohn said."He knows everything there is to know about 'CSI,' and he is into the whole mythology of 'CSI,' " Mendelsohn said. "Quentin came in a couple of weeks ago. We had a story meeting with the writers. He had a great idea, and it was so much fun to have him in the room. ... We are positively giddy." EDITOR'S NOTE: WHAT FUN!

Zuiker, in particular, "worships Quentin," she added. Mendelsohn said the story will involve a plot that finds one of the key members of the CSI team, led by Gil Grissom (William Petersen), in serious jeopardy. The teleplay will be penned by Mendelsohn, Zuiker and Naren Shankar.

"There will be more bugs and blood this time," Mendelsohn joked.

Tarantino, who earned an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay to his 1994 smash "Pulp Fiction," directed a 1995 episode of "ER" and appeared as a guest actor on ABC's "Alias" in 2002 and last year. His other features include the "Kill Bill" films, "Jackie Brown" and "Reservoir Dogs."


Sci Fi Renews Battlestar Gallactica
Sci Fi Channel has renewed drama series Battlestar Galactica for a second season that will begin production in March.

The network ordered 20 more episodes of the series, which has averaged about 3 million viewers per episode since its January launch and has continued to capture a strong audience of 25-54-year olds on Friday nights at 10EST, the network said.

The new season is expected to premiere this summer with most of the original cast returning, including Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell and Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck. EDITOR'S NOTE: I HAVEN'T HAD TIME TO SEE ANYTHING BUT THE PILOT MOVIE, BUT I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO CATCHING UP WITH THE TAPES, SINCE SEVERAL OF YOU HAVE BEEN TOUTING IT HIGHLY. (AND THE PILOT WAS GREAT).


More "Die Hard 4.0"
Empire Online talked with Bruce Willis about the fourth "Die Hard" film and he had a few more tidbits to throw out.

Willis says that, Doug Richardson took a shot at "Die Hard 4.0" and it’s a good idea. McClane’s retired, he’s not a cop anymore. The script will be done by summer and they want to shoot it in the fall.

"It’s completely different from the other three films." He went on to say that, " has something to do with computers…”

Oscar-nominee Portman infuriates religious Jews over kiss scene
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Hollywood star Natalie Portman, nominated for a best supporting actress award at this month's Academy Awards, stirred a scandal over a kissing scene by Jerusalem's Wailing Wall -- the most sacred spot in Judaism, the top-selling Israeli daily said.

The Israeli-born 23-year-old, was on location in Jerusalem for the shooting of "Free Zone", an Israeli-directed film, Yediot Aharonot reported.

But a kissing scene with co-actor Aki Avni in a car park next to the Wailing Wall infuriated religious Jews praying at the site, who slammed the smooch as an act of "lewdness" before chasing the pair and the crew off the set.

The paper said director Amos Gitai had not asked for permission prior to shooting the scene, but reached a compromise after the incident that he and his crew could come back to the site at a later hour. EDITOR'S NOTE: OOPS. NOTHING MORE TERRIFYING THAN AN ENRAGED BUNCH OF GUYS IN LONG BLACK COATS AND BIG HATS.

Fandango, IMDb team on ticketing
Fandango, one of the two primary companies offering consumers an Internet destination for purchasing theater tickets to feature films, will put its service on, the database that is the most popular Web site in the movies category.

Fandango, which announced the relationship Tuesday, has a similar deal with Yahoo! Movies, the No. 2 destination for movie fans on the Internet, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. boasted 2.39 million unique users to its site for the week ending Feb. 6, while Yahoo! Movies was at 2.13 million., which stands for Internet Movie Database, contains information on more than 430,000 movies and television shows searchable by title, cast and crew.

The site, while still largely independently operated, was acquired by in 1998

Summer blockbusters spur big toy success
With "Batman Begins," "Fantastic Four" and George Lucas' sixth and final "Star Wars" feature film, "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," all hitting theaters this summer, boys action, adventure and role-play toys were out in full force at this year's Toy Fair.


Warner Bros. Pictures' "Batman" and Lucasfilm's "Star Wars" are proven boxoffice and merchandising properties, while "Fantastic Four" is based on one of Marvel's most successful comic book series, which has sold 250 million copies worldwide to date.

"It is a very big year for action, for boys in particular," said Joyceann Cooney, editor-in-chief of License! a licensing industry trade magazine. "I can't remember a time when three major action movies that are very boy driven came out within six weeks of one another. 'Star Wars,' 'Batman Begins,' and 'Fantastic Four' will be the three big wins in terms of entertainment for retail and toys." EDITOR'S NOTE: I HAVE LOTS OF COOL TOYS AND THE BOYS CAN'T PLAY WITH THEM. SO THERE!

Songwriters Hall welcomes Fogerty, Cropper, Sherman bros.
John Fogerty, Steve Cropper, Isaac Hayes and David Porter, Richard and Robert Sherman, and Bill Withers will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame this year. EDITOR'S NOTE: THERE'S A GROUP OF FOLKS THAT WOULDN'T LIKELY HANG IN THE SAME CIRCLES, HUH?!

The 36th annual induction is set for June 9 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York. As the leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fogerty penned such classics as "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising" and "Who'll Stop the Rain." Cropper, a founding member of Booker T & the MG's, was involved in nearly every record issued by Stax from 1961 to 1970. Hayes and Porter, songwriting partners in the '60s, wrote such Stax hits as "Soul Man" (for Sam & Dave) and "B-A-B-Y" (Carla Thomas). The Sherman brothers wrote music heard in "Mary Poppins," "The Jungle Book" and many other children's films. Withers' classic soul compositions include "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lean on Me," "Lovely Day" and "Just the Two of Us."


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Star Wars Spoiler links





OSCAR Week/Awards Report #9/LOOK, We're on TV!!


Oscars on TV: Leading the Way for Award Shows
Producer Cates Promises a Special 'Something' for ABC Broadcast
Oscar night will look a little different this year. Just how different is still up in the air, but the Feb. 27 telecast on ABC will have its share of unique moments, producer Gilbert Cates said.

"I enjoy surprising the audience with something they have never seen before, which, of course, predisposes me not to reveal what I am planning this time around," he said.

Mr. Cates, who is producing his record 12th Academy Awards telecast, did drop a few clues.

Look for best picture candidates to be highlighted as a group, going against the grain of recent Oscar programs.

"We decided a few years back to divide it up and do each film separately during the show, but now all the awards shows are doing that, so we are not doing it this year," Mr. Cates said.

He also hinted that this year's event would revert to a longstanding tradition of having a male announcer as Oscar's offstage voice.

"We had the first woman announcer [Los Angeles DJ Randy Thomas] a few years ago. Now all the [awards] shows do it," he said. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO INSTEAD OF CHANGING THINGS CAUSE YOU HAVE A GOOD IDEA, YOU'RE CHANGING THINGS JUST TO CHANGE THEM? SIGH......

Mr. Cates said he is saving the biggest surprises for Oscar night, when more than 1 billion people across the globe are expected to tune in. The telecast is huge for Hollywood and for ABC, which has carried the annual gala since 1976.

"How can you not be thrilled about having the Oscars on your network? It is far and away the most prestigious, most respected and most watched awards show on television," said Andrea Wong, executive VP of alternative programming, specials and late-night for ABC Entertainment.

ABC executives would not comment on the amount of ad revenue the network expects to rake in, but media buyers said the price of a 30-second commercial remains roughly equivalent to last year's estimated $1.5 million. With about 60 spots in the show, the potential revenue of $90 million makes Oscar a pretty lucrative one-night stand. A big money night for the network is even more rewarding for ABC affiliates.

"This will be our single biggest billing night for the first half of the year, and for some stations, it's their single biggest night of the entire year," said Frank Biancuzzo, general manager at WISN-TV in Milwaukee.

Local stations will receive 16 to 20 positions to peddle at plum prices, but that's only the beginning.

"We can sell the surrounding programming at a premium, including our newscasts, 'Good Morning America' the next day [and] 'Entertainment Tonight' the night before," Mr. Biancuzzo said.

Oscar night also presents stations with an important promotional vehicle, especially with upscale female viewers, who are likely to tune in in droves.

But Oscar's coattails are not as strong as they once were. Gone are the days when the broadcast would draw two-thirds of all television households. Ratings have declined in seven of the past 10 years and fell to an all-time low of 33.1 million viewers in 2003, a year marred by the advent of the war in Iraq. Last year's telecast recovered nicely, drawing 43.5 million, still far short of 1998's record 55.3 million.

Still, traditionally it's television's biggest ratings grabber each year after the Super Bowl.

"It is one of those shows that kind of defies all the media choices and fractionalization, and one of the few shows that will deliver a 20 rating this season," said Brad Adgate, senior VP of audience research at Horizon Media.

Mr. Cates has a new host to work with this year. Comedian Chris Rock has been tapped in an attempt to attract younger viewers, particular males. He will also likely draw some video voyeurs who check in just to see how his sometimes ribald humor goes over in an era of heightened concern over broadcast indecency. ABC used a five-second delay for the first time on last year's broadcast, a move Mr. Cates said he hopes the network will not repeat.

"It's a damn shame," he said. "I am against it, and the academy is against it. How do you distinguish between a delay for a joke versus a delay for a political observation? Whoever has their finger on that button is going to have a real serious responsibility."

Mr. Cates declined to reveal the program's production budget, saying only that the range for awards shows of this scale goes from a "low of $4 million and up." He also refused to speculate about how long he intends to keep working on the Academy Awards telecast. The founder and former dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television, he remains artistic director and president of the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. While he said he tries to reinvent the program every time he's involved with it, Mr. Cates will retain one post-Oscar tradition-a "postmortem" breakfast with key staff members at a deli near the Kodak Theatre, where the ceremony takes place.

He said he's also fairly certain about his plans for the following couple of days."I hope to be sleeping in," he said. EDITOR'S NOTE: HIM AND ME BOTH.

'The 77th Annual Academy Awards'
Host: Chris Rock
Producer: Gilbert Cates
Broadcast date and time: Feb. 27, 8 p.m. (ET)
Network: ABC
Production budget: At least $4 million
Cost of a 30-second commercial: About $1.5 million
Size of production crew: About 60 nontechnical plus around 250 technical people
Number of countries tuning in live: 150 (estimated)
Number of expected viewers: More than 1 billion worldwide

Golden Memories
Gil Cates has produced more Academy Awards broadcasts than anyone else.

Here are a few of his most memorable moments:
· Technical glitches bedeviled Mr. Cates' first Oscar telecast in 1990. The program was to include a series of live cut-ins from venues around the world, marking the recent fall of the Berlin Wall. On one involving the late Jack Lemmon at a Moscow hotel, a technician neglected to kill an audio feed, resulting in irritating feedback. "It seemed like it went on for hours, but it was only for about 40 seconds," Mr. Cates said.

· The 1992 telecast got off to a rousing start when 73-year-old Jack Palance celebrated winning his first Oscar by dropping to the floor and doing a one-armed pushup. Later, astronauts aboard the orbiting shuttle Atlantis saluted producer/director George Lucas, recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg Award for Lifetime Achievement, with a statuette. "You could see the Oscar floating weightlessly across the screen," Mr. Cates said. "It was a surreal moment." EDITOR'S NOTE: EQUALED ONLY BY THE FIRST TIME WE HEARD JAR JAR SPEAK.

· For Oscar's 70th anni-versary in 1998, Mr. Cates brought back 70 past winners, including Luise Rainer, a two-time best actress winner in the 1930s. Described by Mr. Cates as "an extraordinary event," the salute prompted a 16-minute standing ovation from the audience.EDITOR'S NOTE: THAT WAS VERY COOL!

Academy defends Oscar host Rock
Producers of the Academy Award show have said US comedian Chris Rock will not be made to step aside as host despite poking fun at the ceremony.

A recent interview saw Rock liken the Oscar ceremony to a fashion show and claim no straight black men watched it.

But producers of the ceremony have downplayed Rock's comments, calling them "humorous digs". EDITOR'S NOTE: UMM...YA THINK?!

Rock was described as the best of a "new generation" of talent when he was chosen to host the 77th Academy Awards.

'Idiotic' show
Stand-up comedian Rock, whose films include Head of State, Bad Company and Down to Earth, will host the Oscar ceremony on 27 February.

Rock, 40, told US magazine Entertainment Weekly in a recent interview that he had rarely watched the Oscars, and called award shows "idiotic".

He said: "Come on, it's a fashion show. What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars? Show me one. And they don't recognise comedy, and you don't see a lot of black people nominated, so why should I watch it?"


'Funny evening'
But Oscar producer Gil Cates issued a statement saying he and the Academy were standing behind him and denied there had been any calls for Rock's removal.

He said: "The Academy is excited about Chris Rock hosting this year's Oscar telecast and looking forward to a very funny evening with him. Chris's comments over the past few weeks are meant to be humorous digs at the show that some people, obviously including Chris himself, think may be a bit too stuffy."

Meanwhile, the Academy has announced that actor Al Pacino will present an award at the Oscar ceremony.

Pacino, who won a best actor Oscar in 1992 for his role in Scent of a Woman, joins Gwyneth Paltrow and Halle Berry on the growing list of stars lined up to present a statuette

Rock is Academy's flavor of month -- Rocky Road
By Martin A. Grove

Rocky road: By casting Chris Rock to host the Oscars the Academy hopes to bolster the show's ratings, particularly among younger television viewers who are prized most by Madison Avenue.

But despite Rock's controversial comments about the Oscars and who watches them on television, the show's ratings are more likely to be impacted by who's nominated in key categories this year than by anything Rock says or does.

In speculating about how the Oscars are likely to perform in the ratings, it's important to note that many of this year's nominees for best picture or other key categories are small films made on modest budgets that moviegoers who don't live in New York, L.A. or a handful of other major markets couldn't even see until recently. In some cases these films haven't generated nearly as much enthusiasm with audiences as they have with critics.EDITOR'S NOTE: IS IT OUR FAULT (OR THE ACADEMY'S) THAT ALL THOSE RED STATES ONLY RECENTLY GOT INDOOR PLUMBING, RUNNING WATER, AND THE ELECTRICITY TO POWER A MOVIE PROJECTOR? (SMIRK....)

When we're talking about what kind of ratings the Oscarcast is likely to get the answer really doesn't have much to do with whether the nominees are good films or not. What matters is how familiar the television audience is with these pictures and whether they are personally invested in seeing any of them win. In the past, crowd pleasers like "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" helped Oscar attract big ratings because moviegoers loved those movies and wanted to see if Academy members would endorse them, too.

The fact that the critics groups put their stamp of approval on several of this year's nominees in December and that other awards givers subsequently climbed on board the same bandwagons doesn't really make much difference when it comes to Oscarcast ratings. For television viewers to spend time watching the show they have to care about the nominees. And it's hard to care about pictures you haven't seen. Many of the films that are competing this year not only for best picture but in the acting categories, too, are pictures that were in very limited release from December until the Oscar nominations were announced Jan. 25.

Looking at the best picture nominees, we see that "Million Dollar Baby" expanded from 147 theaters to 2,010 the weekend of Jan. 28-30. The same weekend saw "Sideways" go from 696 theaters to 1,694. "Finding Neverland" actually lost theaters the weekend following the noms -- going from 1,000 to 869. "Ray," which had opened late last October, had pretty much ended its theatrical run by then and was approaching its DVD release. It had 293 playdates, up marginally from 286 a week earlier. Only "The Aviator" had a truly wide flight plan going for it when the nominations came out -- 2,261 theaters versus 1,956 runs the prior weekend.

The films generating the best actress nominations were in even more limited release at the time. "Being Julia," for which Annette Bening is a nominee, went from 25 to 65 theaters. "Vera Drake," for which Imelda Staunton is a nominee, had 52 runs, up from 41. "Maria Full of Grace," for which Catalina Sandino Moreno is a nominee, had been out of theaters since Nov. 7, when it had had only 51 runs. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," for which Kate Winslet is a nominee, was already in DVD release, having opened theatrically last March. It had been out of theaters since July 25 when it had only 19 playdates. "Baby," for which Hilary Swank is a nominee, was only playing in 147 theaters when the Oscar nominations were announced. "Baby" didn't go wide until Jan. 28 when it expanded to 2,010 playdates.

On the best actor front, it's the same story in terms of how few theaters the films were in when the nominations came out. "Hotel Rwanda," for which Don Cheadle is a nominee, was playing in 310 theaters Jan. 21, up from 192 a week earlier. "Neverland," for which Johnny Depp is a nominee, had 869 runs. "Baby," for which Clint Eastwood is a nominee, was in 147 theaters. "Ray," for which Jamie Foxx is a nominee, had 293 playdates. Only "Aviator," for which Leonardo DiCaprio is a nominee, was really wide with 2,261 runs.

The fact that the public hasn't really seen the nominated movies is the real problem Oscar faces in drawing ratings this year. Chris Rock will get the blame if the numbers are down from last year -- as they have been for this year's Golden Globes and Grammys -- but it won't be entirely his fault. While I think he's not the best choice to host the program -- the Academy chose him knowing it would be a controversial choice. If Rock is the Academy's flavor of the month, the flavor is Rocky Road. Rock's known for being provocative and that's why his fans love him.

Unfortunately, his audience really isn't the audience that traditionally watches the Oscars and the traditional Oscar audience may find Rock's material a bit startling, to say the least. In recent interviews with Ed Bradley on "60 Minutes" Sunday and with Jay Leno last night, Rock has been busy pointing out that he really can perform on television without cursing. I don't doubt that he can. In both of those interviews, as a matter of fact, Rock showed his softer side to great effect. He seemed very likable and funny and with a pleasantly self-deprecating sense of humor. That's quite a difference from his longstanding image as a rough language performer.

Between Rock's recognition of the need to speak differently on the Oscarcast and with the cushion of knowing that ABC does have a taped delay to fall back on if necessary, there shouldn't be any monumental problems Sunday night.

It remains to be seen, however, if Rock's audience will respond to him doing something other than the bad boy act he's become celebrated for doing so well. At the same time, the traditional Oscar audience may find even a toned down Rock too rough for its taste.

If both groups decide to watch something else Sunday night, Oscar's ratings are going to suffer.The Oscarcast's host has a challenging role to perform when it comes to making the show work in the Kodak Theater for its live audience. If the host doesn't generate the right sort of in-theater response to the show, the telecast isn't likely to work well either. Probably the best example of that was David Letterman's ill-fated stint as Oscar host. Neither his live audience nor his television audience found Letterman's now famous Uma-Ophra routine amusing.

Now before anyone starts e-mailing me complaints, let me point out that I like Dave a lot and think he's terrific at doing what he does night after night. But, to be honest, Dave just wasn't a great choice to host the Oscars. They shouldn't have asked and he shouldn't have told them yes.

In Rock's case, controversy comes with the package so it shouldn't surprise anyone that he's been making headlines, particularly on the Internet, based on some of his comments about the Oscars and who watches the show. While the television audience needs to be on board with the show's host, I don't believe that they're tuning in because of the host. The Oscars have to be the main attraction for most people to be willing to commit three or more hours of viewing time. In other words, people tune in to the Oscars because they are interested in seeing the Academy honor films and filmmakers for excellence. Television viewers know they're not going to see a three hour Chris Rock comedy show or concert style performance. They know that whoever is hosting the show will do an opening monologue or performance and after that will function simply as the glue that holds the evening together. That means brief lines here and there that, hopefully, will draw laughs from those in the theater as well as those at home as the show goes in and out of the commercial breaks.

With those commercial breaks reportedly generating about $1.6 million per 30 second spot, there's lots at stake for both ABC and the Academy. In fact, since most of the Academy's annual revenues stem from licensing fees for the Oscar telecast the show's ratings are particularly crucial. Putting all that on Rock's shoulders isn't just unfair, it's unrealistic. The audience at home has to care about the movies and the fact is you don't care about films you haven't seen.The problem the Academy faces is evident when you consider this year's five best picture nominees. The most successful of the films is "The Aviator," which has grossed about $89 million. Its 11 nominations are more than any other film in the race. With an average ticket price nationwide of about $6, that means nearly 15 million people have seen "Aviator." Last year "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" had grossed just over $364 million by Oscar time, which translated into ticket sales to nearly 61 million people. Clearly, the core audience for "Rings" was out there. They were invested in the film and eager to see if the Academy would reward it with the best picture Oscar that moviegoers felt the picture deserved. When we look at the cumes for the other best picture nominees this year it's evident that very few moviegoers have seen them (although some are nicely profitable for their distributors because they didn't cost a lot to make). "Ray" has grossed about $75 million to date, which works out to about 12.5 million people. "Sideways'" cume is about $59 million, which means nearly 10 million people have seen it. "Baby's" ticket sales of about $56 million translates to almost 9.5 million admissions. "Neverland" has taken in about $46 million, which is nearly 8 million admissions. To put it in perspective, all five of this year's best picture nominees have been seen by about 55 million people -- or about 10 percent fewer people than saw "Rings" alone last year. EDITOR'S NOTE: THAT IS A VERY INTERESTING WAY OF LOOKING AT THE POTENTIAL AUDIENCE DRAW. I HADN'T EVER THOUGHT OF THAT. ON THE OTHER HAND, DON'T A LOT OF PEOPLE WATCH CAUSE IT'S AN EVENT? AND ONE OF THE FEW LEFT, WITH THE DIFFUSION OF MASS CULTURE. (I MEAN, I WATCHED THE SUPER BOWL WITHOUT GIVING A FIG ABOUT THE SPECIFIC TEAMS PLAYING IN IT).

That Oscarcast, hosted by Billy Crystal, drew a 15.3 rating in the key adults 18-49 demographic and 43.5 million viewers overall. It was up 18 percent from the previous year in terms of the 18-49 audience and it was up 24 percent in terms of overall audience. With so few people across the country having seen the films Academy members chose to honor this year, is it realistic to expect bigger ratings for the Oscars? And is it fair to expect Chris Rock to be a magician? EDITOR'S NOTE: NO, AND NO. BUT IF I WERE ADVISING A CLIENT ABOUT THE WHOLE THING AS A MEDIA BUY, I WOULD NOT SUGGEST BUYING IT AS A STRICTLY COST-PER-RATING-POINT PURCHASE. YOU BUY THE OSCARS BECAUSE IT IS THE OSCARS. IF IT DOES A 15 RATING VS. AN 18 RATING (OR A 12, FOR THAT MATTER), IT IS STILL THE BIGGEST THING ON WHEELS OTHER THAN THE SUPER BOWL. AND IT IS ONE OF THE FEW PLACES WHERE PEOPLE ACTUALLY OFTEN WATCH THE ADS.

Oscar moments to remember

What's more fun: tuning in to Hollywood's big night to see the stars, the clothes, the glamour... or tuning in hoping to see something go terribly, terribly wrong?

With the bad, blue Chris Rock in charge at next Sunday's Oscar ceremony, things look slightly more promising for accidentally-on-purpose entertainment -- even with a five-second tape delay squeezing out any spontaneity.

Hard to imagine, but strange stuff used to happen all the time at the Oscars -- before movie stars showed up as spokesmodels for designers and producers tightened the choke chain around actors spewing politics.

For a few decades, there was actually something of a free-for-all vibe.That was then.

Bjork's swan costume and Michael Moore's Bush-bashing (2003) notwithstanding, you just don't get many surprise moments anymore on an Academy Awards broadcast.

One hopes that Rock will blow some fresh air into the room or that someone's clothes will come undone, but till then, we can look back and remember.

1992: Jack Palance, 72, picking up a best supporting actor award for "City Slickers," drops and gives the audience a series of one-armed pushups, later adding in a quién es más macho flourish that "As far as two-handed pushups are concerned, you can do that all night."

1986, 1988: Cher arrives attired as a Vegas showgirl.

1973: When it's time for Marlon Brando to pick up his best actor Oscar for "The Godfather," Sacheen Littlefeather, a member of the Apache nation, instead takes the stage in full American Indian garb and announces that she is there on his behalf to protest the treatment of Indians by the film industry and that he will not accept his award.

1974: In an "unplanned" stunt, naked ceremony-crasher Robert Opal runs across the stage flashing a peace sign behind host David Niven, prompting the British actor's famous line: "Just think, the only laugh that man will probably ever get is for stripping and showing off his shortcomings."EDITOR'S NOTE: BRITISH PEOPLE ARE JUST WITTIER THAN WE ARE. WE MUST ACCEPT THIS. (AND EVEN WHEN THEY'RE NOT, THEY SOUND WITTIER).

1976: Elizabeth Taylor leads the audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in a rousing rendition of "America the Beautiful." It soon becomes apparent, however, that she doesn't know the words.

1978: Collecting her best supporting actress statue, Vanessa Redgrave launches into a diatribe denouncing "Zionist hoodlums." EDITOR'S NOTE: PROVING....IF WE EVER NEEDED IT...THAT ACTING SKILL AND LUCIDITY DON'T GO HAND IN GLOVE. She's later denounced by presenter Paddy Chayefsky and by protesters outside, who burn her in effigy.

1985: Sally Field accepts her best actress Oscar for "Places in the Heart" and delivers her notorious, made-for-parody speech: "... This time I feel it, and I can't deny the fact that you like me! Right now, you like me!"EDITOR'S NOTE: NOT A BRITISH PERSON.

1969: Ingrid Bergman, Sidney Poitier, Paula Kelly and the UCLA Marching Band perform the title song to "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Later, Frank Sinatra sits dangling his feet over the edge of the stage runway -- part of the extra-hip, late-'60s staging -- to present the best supporting actor award.

Early '70s: Flouting tradition and taste, a tide of young earth-mother actresses takes to the stage in dowdy housedresses and funny hats.

1974: Katharine Hepburn shows up in a frayed Mao jacket, white slacks and gardening clogs to present the Irving G. Thalberg award.

1989: Brat Packer Rob Lowe submits to a painful opening duet of "Proud Mary" with a faux Snow White. Disney later sued the Academy for unauthorized use of its cartoon character.

The Loser Is: Ratings for Awards
More than 16 million people saw Jamie Foxx come close to breaking down at the Golden Globe Awards last month. Mr. Foxx, accepting the award for best actor in a film (as Ray Charles in the director Taylor Hackford's "Ray"), tried to say that he believed his grandmother was looking down on him from heaven but had to stop to compose himself. The people who missed that speech included about 10 million who had watched the Golden Globes in 2004 but didn't bother tuning in this year.

In the world of awards-show ratings, this is hardly an isolated case. The Grammys, broadcast this month on CBS, attracted roughly 19 million viewers, a 28 percent decline from last year. Even the Oscars have been steadily dropping in viewership. The 1998 telecast, when "Titanic" won 11 awards, was the last big success, with more than 87 million viewers in the United States. Last year about 43.5 million watched. This Sunday night, when the 77th annual Academy Awards are shown on ABC, the numbers are not expected to soar.

This ratings decline has been attributed to a number of factors, from a dearth of big stars in the presentations to the sheer number of awards shows. Where once the Academy Awards was the only big televised movie-awards show, viewers now have the Golden Globes on NBC, the Screen Actors Guild Awards on TNT, the Critics' Choice Awards on WB, the People's Choice Awards on CBS, the MTV Movie Awards, and the Gotham Awards and Independent Spirit Awards, both on IFC. Not to mention the British Academy of Film and Television Awards on BBC America. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND THE EUKANUBA AND WESTMINSTER DOG SHOWS!

What most of these shows have in common is an assortment of glamorous presenters, nominees and dates: Annette Bening, Warren Beatty, Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese, Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett.

"If you're just showing people stars, that's not enough," said Gil Cates, the producer of this year's Oscars telecast and of 11 others since 1990. "Yes, there is a certain allure to watching a movie star. But the more often you see them, the more accessible they become, and there's a slight diminution of interest. The context is what supplies the interest."

For Mr. Cates, the only context that matters is the Academy Awards themselves. "People watch the Oscars for three reasons," he said in a telephone interview from a Los Angeles recording session. "First, it's a news show. They watch to see who's getting the Oscar. They watch it to see fashions and entertainment. And then I think they watch it for whoever the host is and whatever the host contributes to it." EDITOR'S NOTE: IT'S A PARTY. I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY DON'T KNOW THAT WE ALL CONSIDER A SOCIAL EVENT! This year's host is Chris Rock, whose well-known irreverence ABC can only hope will draw new viewers.

Mr. Cates said he considered it unfair to compare subsequent shows' ratings with the "Titanic" year, because moviegoers' emotional investment in that film was such a rare phenomenon. Ken Ehrlich, the producer of the Grammys, says he feels the same way about comparing his show's 2005 viewership with 2004. "Last year I credit a great deal to the Super Bowl Janet Jackson incident," he said. The Grammys, on which Ms. Jackson appeared but did not perform, were held one week after her infamous wardrobe malfunction. In other years with particularly high ratings, he said, "there was more of a horse race."

This year, for the first time, there was also "Desperate Housewives," ABC's Sunday night hit soap, which earned higher ratings than the awards show broadcast opposite it. Mr. Ehrlich plays down that factor.

"The reality is that 'Desperate Housewives' or not, the normal audience that comes to the Grammys year to year really wasn't there in the numbers that it has been," even at 8 p.m., before the ABC show started, he said. "I think this was a less compelling year."

"The core audience who really love music watch the Grammys because they're interested in the performers they like," Mr. Ehrlich said. "They're less interested in what the awards are. Maybe the ratings differential is tied to those people who aren't hard-core fans."

One cable executive thinks the problem is much simpler.

There's no spontaneity," said Evan Shapiro, general manager of the Independent Film Channel and an executive producer of the Independent Spirit Awards broadcast. "There's no chance of anything interesting happening on these awards shows. If you go online, the one word you see over and over again is 'boring.' With lots of O's. Big capital O's."

Not surprisingly, Mr. Shapiro sees the Independent Spirit Awards, which are presented the day before the Oscars, as far more interesting.

"They're wearing jeans and flip-flops," he said of the actors and filmmakers who attend the oceanside ceremony in Santa Monica, Calif. "They're drunk oftentimes." EDITOR'S NOTE: BOTH CONDITIONS MIMICING HOW THEY ARE WHEN THEY'RE ACTUALLY FILMING.

But since these are awards for independent films, some nominees are not that well known. It may not be as exciting for audiences to see Jared Hess or Kimberly Elise let their hair down as it was for Mr. Shapiro to see a major movie star so distracted that she forgot to read the nominations before opening the envelope on the Golden Globes a few years ago.

"I loved it when Elizabeth Taylor got up there and gave that presenting speech," he said. "I called people and said: 'You've got to turn on the TV right now. It's a car wreck.' "EDITOR'S NOTE: BITCH.(HIM, NOT HER)

Both Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Ehrlich describe themselves as big awards-show fans. Mr. Cates says he does not normally watch the shows. Shari Anne Brill has to.

As vice president and director for programming at Carat USA, a media services company, Ms. Brill subscribes to a modified version of the celebrity-fatigue theory. It's not that the public has become bored with the rich and famous; it's just that seeing them on screen isn't the hallowed experience it once was.

"Celebrity is in our face all the time," she said in an interview from her New York office. "Do I really care about Paris Hilton's phone book being hacked? We're preoccupied with them, because they're always there. You can get your helping of celebrity any time you want. You don't have to go to the Oscars to get that."

Ms. Brill did say she believed that "the glut of awards shows cannibalize each other," but she sees the Academy Awards as above the general fray, even if its flaws are a subject of popular debate.

A recent report on the CBS News program "Sunday Morning" referred to the Oscar acceptance speeches as the best part of the show and took Mr. Cates to task, partly tongue in cheek, for cutting them off. Mr. Cates says that he enjoys a well-done speech but does look back nostalgically on the day when "Oscar winners only said thank you."EDITOR'S NOTE: JOEL AND I WERE DISCUSSING THIS LAST WEEK. RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU THINK THE OSCAR TELECAST IS GOING TO LAST LESS THAN 3 HOURS? ISN'T THAT PART OF THE 'EVENT' EXPERIENCE? SO FOR PETE'S SAKE, LET THE WINNERS SAY THEIR PIECE.

Mr. Ehrlich agrees that viewers are tired of unimaginative acceptance speeches. "Too often it's agents and publicists and labels" who are being thanked, he said. EDITOR'S NOTE: MAYBE THEY SHOULD THANK MYTHICAL BEASTS AND IMPORTANT DEITIES?

So maybe awards shows would be better television if actors and musicians had speechwriters.

"You've got kids and they don't have a context, but they're great mimics," Mr. Ehrlich said. "When a winner says, 'This is the most exciting moment of my life,' you don't have to be a very sophisticated viewer to say, 'Oh, come on.' "EDITOR'S NOTE: SPOKEN LIKE SOMEONE WHO'S QUITE CYNICAL AND BITTER BECAUSE HE NEVER WON ANYTHING.

Coming out of closet as proud Oscar junkie
By Ray Richmond

I am a man who isn't gay, and I love the Oscars -- and I don't care who knows it!

There. That felt good.

Chris Rock can say what he wants about how only gay men and women watch it, how he had never seen the Academy Awards himself until he landed this Sunday's hosting gig, and how it's really just an extravaganza serving gossipy women and the masculinity-challenged.

But I have fathered three children, and the Oscarcast has never been less than Must See TV for me.

Of course, I always thought I hated musicals but then loved the movie "Chicago," so perhaps some personal re-evaluation is in order.

Having given this some thought, I realize the Oscars is the only show that, as far as I can recall, I have never missed since I was a toddler. Not once.

I have passed up entire Super Bowls but not the Oscars. I would sooner miss my next birthday.

So while I am well aware that the Academy Awards are considered "the Super Bowl for women" by the ad communityEDITOR'S NOTE: THE AD COMMUNITY SHOULD KEEP QUIET, CAUSE WHEN IT GETS QUOTED IT SOUNDS PRETTY STUPID. (THE SUPER BOWL VIEWERSHIP IS ABOUT 50% WOMEN. SO...UMM...THE SUPER BOWL IS THE SUPER BOWL FOR WOMEN). , I can't get enough of the thing. If this puts me in closer touch with my feminine side, so be it.

Watching it remains -- in my book -- just about the most fun one can have outside of a bedroom.

Here are 10 reasons why the Oscar telecast remains a great way to kill three hours-plus:
1. The possibility that at any given moment, someone could emerge dressed as a swan and carrying an egg purse -- No one does wretched excess like Oscar attendees. It isn't a fashion show so much as a masquerade party. Sitting at home in our underwear, we can all harbor our own designer dreams.

2. Scrutinizing the heartfelt words of someone sharing the biggest moment of their lives in front of an intimate gathering of several hundred million people -- We're all hoping that someone embarrasses himself in his acceptance speech because it makes great gossip fodder.EDITOR'S NOTE: SEE, AND I'M HOPING THEY DON'T. (BETTER YET, I'M HOPING THE WINNER IS BRITISH. CAUSE THEN, THEY NOT ONLY WON'T EMBARASS THEMSELVES, BUT THEY'LL BE BOTH POIGNANT AND WITTY).

3. The glory of witnessing celebrities opening envelopes that contain no party invitations or subpoenas -- There is no greater suspense than those fleeting seconds when the presenter goes off TelePrompTer.


5. Watching the faces of those who don't win for telltale signs of wrenching misery -- If the Academy Awards have taught us nothing else, it's that a smile is just a frown turned rightside-up.

6. Watching the faces (and upper torsos) of everyone for telltale signs of cosmetic surgery -- Enough with the "Who are you wearing?" stuff. It's time attendees are asked upon arrival, "Who injected your lips?"

7. Understanding the host's "in" jokes and feeling smugly superior as a result -- Being plugged in means never having to say "Sorry?"

8. That exciting element of unpredictability -- The fact that it's live allows for the possibility some clown may climb up on chairs screaming, "I'm Roberto Benigni, and I am so happy, I have lost my mind!"

9. Bonding with a roomful of like-minded movie nuts and feeling a sense of immense pride while saying stuff like, "I didn't read the book ... but I saw the movie." -- Books are so, like, 1985.

10. The knowledge that someone is relishing the Oscars at that very moment half a world away in Qatar or Tanzania -- Yes, someone's watching, using rabbit ears in a straw hut, mashing corn and beans for dinner and declaring, "You can't tell me Clint gave a better performance than Jamie." EDITOR'S NOTE: LOL!!! THIS ONE'S MY FAVORITE. AND I NOW HAVE A WONDERFUL IMAGE TO PICTURE FOR SUNDAY NIGHT.