Friday, March 03, 2006

OSCARS......(approx.) 2 days and counting (a hodgepodge)

Take our Academy Awards challenge
The 78th Academy Awards take place in Hollywood on Sunday, 5 March with Brokeback Mountain expected to walk away with the big prizes.

The Oscars is the most glamorous night of the film world calendar but how much do you know about the event?

Test your knowledge of Oscars past and present with our interactive quiz.

It all comes down to the perfect gown
By Donna Freydkin, USA TODAY
The red carpet is all about the "wow" factor for a star, which could mean "whoa" for the designer. Renee Zellweger's friendship with Carolina Herrera seals red carpet opportunities for the designer. Still, some dressmakers have yet to meet those wearing their gowns.

USA TODAY talks with three designers about dressing stars for the big night.

"Celebrities are the gods for our culture," says Zac Posen, who counts Claire Danes and Natalie Portman among his fans and adds he'd love to dress Reese Witherspoon. "They are a form of religion in the media, and they're who girls relate to. It's a wider form of exposure." EDITOR'S NOTE: DONCHA LOVE THE WAY DESIGNERS TALK? SO PRETENTIOUS...AND YET, MEANINGLESS!

If your dress ends up on an A-lister, that is. In the end, says designer Monique Lhuillier, "it's a chance that you take. You have to be willing to play the game."

The year she won her best supporting actress for playing a scruffy painter in 2000's Pollock, Marcia Gay Harden wore a gown by Randolph Duke. "She came to me and said she wanted to look like a movie star on her big night," Duke recalls. "We had little walking lessons. We had little train-kicking lessons. We had little sitting lessons. More goes into it than making the dress and putting it on somebody."

Not always. Before she wore Posen's figure-hugging coral gown to the 2006 National Board of Review gala in January, Huffman had never met the designer.

Posen wasn't even sure Huffman would wear his creation until the Transamerica star stepped on the carpet. Same went for Jennifer Garner, who wore a curve-hugging Posen dress to the 2004 Golden Globes.

For some A-listers attending a major event, Posen will create a one-of-a-kind gown that goes through the sketch and draping process, then moves into muslin and fabric fittings, taking up to four months to complete.

"But you don't know what a celebrity is wearing until she walks out the door," Posen says. "It's the job of the stylist to have as many options and pick the best piece possible, and that often depends on the weather and the light."

Usually, Lhuillier says, a star will have two options she loves but doesn't pick the winner until the morning of the event.

Hilary Swank shocked the entertainment world last year when at the Oscars she did not wear Calvin Klein, in whose ads she had been appearing. Instead, she chose a blue, back-baring number by Guy Laroche.

Duke, who dressed Swank when she won the Oscar for 1999's Boys Don't Cry, knows that sometimes it's just luck. "Hilary's original dress for that year didn't work out. I was standing in the wings," says the designer. "She put the dress on and her husband had a reaction to it, and that was the dress."

Still, the designer says, the red carpet is getting a bit drab. Actresses are afraid to be criticized, he says, and avoid "more dangerous, edgy dresses."

Free press, free dress
Designer Randolph Duke affirms that Oscar and Globes gowns are always gifts. "It's unspoken," he says. "Other awards shows, you generally do get them back. But you'll never be able to have anybody wear that dress again. I don't even do a dress in another color. "

Designers say they retire high-profile gowns so stars can be confident they aren't going to experience what Reese Witherspoon did after this year's Globes, when 2003 photos of Kirsten Dunst in the same Chanel frock surfaced.

If an A-lister dons one of Monique Lhuillier's designs, like the frothy black concoction worn by Ziyi Zhang to the 2005 Oscars, "it's done. For me, something like that garners so much press. You have to put it away and archive it."

If a star loves the dress she has worn, she might hang on to it, says designer Zac Posen. Or she might ask that it be given to charity. Actress Jane Kaczmarek founded Clothes Off Our Back with that in mind; gowns are auctioned off at to raise money for children's charities. EDITOR'S NOTE: TAKING SOMETHING RIDICULOUS AND FRIVOLOUS AND MAKING SOME GOOD COME OUT OF IT. BRAVA!

Oscar needs a high-tech remake
By David Thomson
Film historian and critic David Thomson is the author, most recently, of "The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood."
IF YOU HAVE made it to 78 in our world, then your future is rosier than you might think: Chances are you'll see 85, even if you may not like it altogether.

Still, I worry about the future of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which conducts its 78th annual awards celebration this year.

You see, I love the academy. I love the footage of Bob Hope in 1940, saying this must be a "benefit night" for David O. Selznick as "Gone With the Wind's" tide came in. I treasure those "moments" like Norman Maine tottering on to Vicki Lester's stage in "A Star Is Born." I even admire that weird deadpan guy, Oscar, the world's most famous bit of sculpture.

I have friends at the academy — not least Sid Ganis, the producer who recently became the new president, and Frank Pierson, his predecessor. (Just like Louis B. Mayer, I have presidents for friends.EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL, TOUCH YOU!) And I absolutely revere and would defend to the death the academy's film and research library.

But I worry about the academy, and if I'm guessing right about Ganis, I suspect he worries too. I can't bear the thought that Oscar night could be revealed as no more necessary than the Golden Globes or the Grammys, as just a noisy, prolonged bore that demonstrates how far we the audience and many of the onstage performers are from what the academy was meant to represent. I worry that the night might not be able to compete with some future "American Idol," and that the ratings will slide and keep on going — as if they were attendance figures at movie theaters.

No, I'm not talking about last year's 6% drop at theaters. I'm talking about the way, once upon a time — in 1948, to be precise — 90 million movie tickets were sold each week in the U.S. And now, with nearly twice the population, it's almost a quarter that number. EDITOR'S NOTE: THE WORLD IS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PLACE THAN IT WAS IN 1948. AND THERE'S ABSOLUTELY NO POINT IN WISHING IT BACK IN TIME.

Of course, I'm repeating a big white lie in my effort to convey alarm: I'm trying to convince myself (as well as you) that the academy came into being as a natural result of a heartfelt search for quality. It wasn't so, and in thinking about how to reform the academy, it's important that we recall the real history.

Mayer and his fellow first academicians were afraid of the scandals (sex, murder, drugs — the same old stuff) then underway in Hollywood, afraid that they might draw national ire and federal intervention. So they wanted to put up a classy set for themselves — and prizes for virtue and art and science were a natural part of that. They were also afraid that unionization (if it came to pass, especially for actors, writers and directors) would steal too much of their loot, and they had a blithe hope that this new academy they were creating would serve as a forum for all grievances (but controlled by the bosses).

In other words, it was humbug and flimflam from the start, and so it has always been. EDITOR'S NOTE: THEN AGAIN, SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE.

The first awards were given out in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, but in the steadfast search for quality that followed, there was never a directing Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Robert Altman.

Yes, the academy acquired the grace along the way to make some amends by awarding honorary Oscars, often the most touching and meaningful part of the evening. And, yes, this year the honorary Oscar goes to Altman (thank God). But I noticed with interest that another of this year's extra Oscars, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for "technological contributions," goes to Gary Demos. I'm sure that many people, even in this town, don't know who Demos is.

I found myself thinking: Altman and Demos — there's an odd pair. For most of his long life, with famous ups and downs, Robert Altman has been struggling to put life up there on our screens, as much of it as possible. Real life, real light, real movement, real sound, real muddle, real beauty. It hasn't always worked, but at other times it has given us "M*A*S*H," "The Long Goodbye," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Nashville" and "Short Cuts." When I talk about light and life, I suppose I mean something called art, some arrangement of imagery, story, people and feeling that will stay with us forever.

And Gary Demos? Well, as far as I can see, he is a pioneering genius who did much of the theoretical work in computer-generated imagery, which now thrives on its ability to put a copy of life, light, etc. on our screens. I'm not knocking Demos, even if I generally dislike the victory of digital imagery over photography. He received his award on Feb. 18, but I would have handed it out on the real Oscar night, and I would have explained in detail what he has done because — for good or ill — that's where the mind of our movies is today.

But to reform the academy, that's just a start. I'd also throw out the awards for sound, costume and art direction, the dire songs, the shorts and the documentaries and the foreign films.

OK, throw your bricks this way — but I think the night of the Oscars has to restore the last few bonds of reality between film and the public. This is hard because the movies are not exactly a mass medium anymore. They belong to a few of us. But the academy will last only if we believe that movies can sweep us all up — movies such as "It Happened One Night," "Casablanca," "From Here to Eternity," "The Apartment."

So I'd push the technical awards and the science that has already changed the movies, because I think that's what "movie" means to kids now, and I believe that's the future we're headed for.

I'd treat Demos as a very important man — which he is. I'd also give Oscars for the best deal, the best promotion campaign, the most outrageous agent of the year.

I'd give a chutzpah award — while the term chutzpah is still understood. All because people are in love with the business more than the story.

I'd cut the show in half. I'd make it a dinner party again, instead of an awkward theatrical event.

These days, some of the better films being made in the United States are more like novels than like old-fashioned movies. They have the same weightiness, the same seriousness of intention (not to mention the same limited audience range). I rejoice in much of that, but I insist on saying that they are not quite movies. They are worthy, interesting, respectable. Movies need to be wild, sensational, visceral, overwhelming.

Otherwise, one day the audience is going to wake up and say, "Dad, why do we have the Academy Awards? Shouldn't they be in a home somewhere?" EDITOR'S NOTE: WOW. UNIVERSALLY DUMB IDEAS. MAYBE THE AUTHOR SHOULD BE IN A HOME SOMEWHERE?

Oscar singers share the stage
By Anthony Breznican, USA TODAY

Terrence Howard says Oscar night will be nothing for him to sing about, at least in the literal sense.

The catchy rap song It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp, from his movie Hustle & Flow, has a nomination for best original song. And although Howard delivers the rhymes in the film and on the soundtrack album, the best-actor nominee says he has been out of practice too long to perform it on stage in front of tens of millions of TV viewers on Oscar night March 5.

"No, we don't have time in the schedule to work all that stuff out. It took me seven months to find DJay and find that voice," Howard says of his screen character, a pimp who aspires to be a musician. "I don't think I could give it the full service that I gave it in the film."

Select lyrics from the three Oscar-nominated songs:
It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp From Hustle & Flow
Music and lyric by Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard

You know it's hard out here for a pimp (you ain't knowin')
When he tryin' to get this money for the rent (you ain't knowin')
For the Cadillacs and gas money spent (you ain't knowin')

In the Deep From Crash
Music by Kathleen "Bird" York and Michael Becker; lyric by Kathleen "Bird" York

Thought you had all the answers
to rest your heart upon but something happens
don't see it coming now
you can't stop yourself now
you're out there swimming in the deep
Life keeps tumbling your heart in circles till you let go
till you shed your pride
and you climb to heaven
and you throw yourself off
now you're out there spinning in the deep

Travelin' Thru From Transamerica
Music and lyric by Dolly Parton

Well I can't tell you where I'm going
I'm not sure of where I've been
But I know I must keep travelin
'till my road comes to an end
I'm out here on my journey,trying to make the most of it
I'm a puzzle, I must figure out where all my pieces fit
Like a poor wayfaring stranger
that they speak about in song
I'm just a weary pilgrim
trying to find what feels like home Where that is no one can tell me,
a m I doomed to ever roam
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' on

Instead, Pimp will be performed by the Memphis-based trio Three 6 Mafia — Jordan Houston (Juicy J), Cedric Coleman (Crunchy Black) EDITOR'S NOTE: CRUNCHY? HIS STREET/RAP NAME IS CRUNCHY? and Paul Beauregard (DJ Paul) — who wrote it for the movie. They're causing a stir among rap fans as the first hip-hop group to perform their own song in the Oscars' 78-year history. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND I THINK WE CAN HEAR SELZNICK OR MAYER SPINNING IN THEIR GRAVE.

The question of who should perform the best-song nominees during the annual worldwide telecast has occasionally been problematic for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Last year, Beyoncé performed on three of the five nominated songs, though she didn't sing them in the films.

Uruguayan singer Jorge Drexler won for his Al Otro Lado Del Rio from The Motorcycle Diaries, and during his acceptance speech, he crooned a few bars — because producers chose actor Antonio Banderas over him to sing it during the broadcast.

Two years before that, Eminem refused to show up to perform Lose Yourself from 8 Mile. His song went on to win the Oscar.

This year, just as Howard was allowed to beg off, the artists who want to perform their own songs will be allowed to do so instead of being replaced.

Dolly Parton, the biggest celebrity in the category this time, has agreed to sing her ballad Travelin' Thru from Transamerica. Actress/singer Bird York will perform her ethereal In the Deep from Crash.

Parton didn't perform live when she was previously nominated in 1981. Instead, she says producers just played a snippet of her nominated title song, Nine to Five.

"I'll be a winner either way, just getting to be onstage with that great group of people," Parton says of this time. "I better look good and do good."

She's curious about her Pimp competitor. "I played a madam in a whorehouse once. They should let me perform that one!" giggled Parton, who co-starred in 1982's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

The broadcast will mean big exposure for the music of York, a character actress who has had recurring roles on The West Wing and The O.C. She just shot a music video for In the Deep, and her first major-label album, Wicked Little High, makes its debut Tuesday.

"If you've got the performer gene in your bones, it doesn't get any better than this," says York, who had to submit a performance reel before producers gave her the go-ahead.

"It's a triumph for any independent artist. I worked so long and hard on my music when there was absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel."


Parton's plea for tolerance
By Peter Cooper, USA TODAY

NASHVILLE — Dolly Parton has no trouble relating to outsiders. "I've always been a weird, out-there freak myself," she says.

Growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee, she was used to not being accepted. "My grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher. It was a sin to even pluck your eyebrows, and they thought it was a sin for me to be there looking like Jezebel."

Her ability to identify with outcasts helped her to an Oscar nomination for Travelin' Thru, a song she wrote for the movie Transamerica. The main character is a pre-operative transsexual (played by Felicity Huffman) traveling the country with his son.

"Some things are strange to me, and some things are odd," says Parton, 60. "But I don't condemn. If you can accept me, I can accept you." EDITOR'S NOTE: DOLLY IS 60?! (WELL...PARTS OF HER ARE 60?)

The ceremony March 5 won't be Parton's first Oscar experience; her 9 to 5 was nominated in 1980. But this time, she gets to perform.

She'll walk the red carpet in a Robert Behar-designed dress with Duncan Tucker, Transamerica's producer and director. (Of her husband of 40 years, Carl Dean, she says, "I can't even get him to go for a Big Mac, much less the Oscars.")

Tucker was instrumental in offering Parton direction for the song. "He wanted the song to be about redemption and about people's feelings," Parton says.

She struggled until one morning on her tour bus she had the idea for a spiritual theme and a gospel feel. She wrote: "God made me for a reason, and nothing is in vain/Redemption comes in many shapes with many kinds of pain." She finished in a day.

Parton is considering putting the song on a gospel album and doing a dance club version.

"Having a big gay following, I get hate mail and threats," she says. "Some people are blind or ignorant, and you can't be that prejudiced and hateful and go through this world and still be happy. One thing about this movie is that I think art can change minds. It's all right to be who you are." EDITOR'S NOTE: RIGHT ON, SISTER WOMAN!

On March 5, the stars will come out in force and the red carpet will unroll once again. It’s Oscar® time in Hollywood and once again, Disney will be there.

The Disney Insider thought this would be the perfect time to look back at the illustrious history of Disney and the Academy Awards®, as we prepare to break out the popcorn and watch the fun on Oscar Night® on ABC. We spoke to Don Hahn, producer of "Beauty and the Beast" - the only animated film to be nominated for Best Picture in the history of the Oscars! And we also dug up some little-known facts about Disney and the Oscars, from Walt’s first statuette on.

Did you know that:
Walt Disney is the individual that has been awarded the most total Oscars with 32 Academy Awards over his lifetime.

MGM art director Cedric Gibbons is second with 11.

Costume designer Edith Head and composer Alan Menken are third with 8 apiece - Alan has won all of his for Disney films, from "The Little Mermaid" to "Pocahontas."

In 1932, Walt Disney was given a special Oscar® for the creation of Mickey Mouse.

In 1939, Walt Disney was given a special Oscar that consisted of one regular-size award and seven miniature ones to honor the creation of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the first animated feature film. EDITOR'S NOTE: LOL! OSCAR HAS A SENSE OF HUMOR! (WHO KNEW!?)

In 1942, Walt Disney was given the annual Irving Thalberg Memorial Award for "the most consistent high quality of production achievement by an individual producer."

In 1988, Mickey appeared on stage with Tom Selleck. But that’s not all -- Minnie, Donald, and Daisy were seated in the audience and seconds before the commercial break, a "seat filler" came in too early and "sat" on Donald and Minnie.

There have been many shining occasions over the years, but one of the proudest Disney moments at the Oscars has to have been the history-making nomination of "Beauty and the Beast" for Best Picture of 1991. It remains the only animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture honors - and now that the Academy has added a separate "Best Animated Feature" category, that record is likely to stand. EDITOR'S NOTE: I DON'T KNOW. IF ANY OF THE CURRENT CROP OF ANIMATED FILMS WERE AS GOOD AS "BEAUTY AND THE BEAST" I THINK THEY COULD MAKE THE LEAP TO BEST PICTURE.

"Beauty" producer Don Hahn remembers the experience vividly, from the moment he learned of the nomination.

"The nominations are announced early in the morning, so I got up and made some hot cocoa and turned on the TV. When they announced that ‘Beauty’ had been nominated, I spilled my cocoa and started to cry, in that order!" he tells us. "Then the phone started to ring with calls from insomniacs and well wishers."

Although the Academy singles out producers for Best Picture nominations and honors, Don stresses that many people earned it.

"Animation is such a team sport that all you can really think about is the great team that got the film to this moment in time."

The experience of a lifetime culminated for Don on Oscar Night.

"Our seats were great, about four rows back from the front, right behind Sylvester Stallone. There is a pervasive feeling of nausea at the thought that you might have to get up in front of a billion people on a moment’s notice and give a speech. I was really nervous beforehand and got dehydrated so I drank about 17 bottles of water in the limo on the way to the awards. About an hour into the awards, I was full of regret and fluid and had to excuse myself through rows of celebrities.

"The thrill of the evening, though, was having Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman read my name and call out "Beauty and the Beast" as a Best Picture nominee along with the other great films that year. The night ends with great relief, standing in the valet line with Paula Abdul and Quincy Jones, and a feeling that, at least once, animation was invited to be Cinderella at the ball!"

On March 5, we’ll be watching on ABC along with the rest of the nation as another crop of nominees feels those butterflies in the stomach - including the makers of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," which has been nominated for three awards. We wish them, and all the nominees, the best!

By David GermainAssociated Press

Bad Academy Awards puns are flying. There's the "Brokeback backlash" ... the little film that "crashed" the party ... the one about "Brokeback Mountain" peaking too early.

While the cowboy love story "Brokeback Mountain" has been established as a solid favorite for the best-picture Oscar, the ensemble drama "Crash" has an ardent following and some late-season momentum that could make it a surprise winner.

When there's a clear Oscar front-runner, that film almost always goes home with the big trophy, but upsets do happen and late-surging films have pulled off come-from-behind wins.

Just look back to the 1998 awards season.

"The year of ' Saving Private Ryan,' everybody was certain it was a lock," said film historian Leonard Maltin. "People thought it was a sure thing to win best picture given the subject matter (D-Day heroics) and the people behind it (Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks), until the middle of December."

That's when a little film called "Shakespeare in Love" showed up. Oscar voters, along with everyone else, fell in love with it, and while Spielberg won best director, "Shakespeare in Love" grabbed the top prize.

The previous 77 Oscar ceremonies have had their share of unexpected twists, mostly in the acting categories. The best-picture announcement often has proven an anticlimactic no-brainer at the end of the evening, yet a handful of unanticipated winners have shaken things up:

— For best picture of 1948, the poignant drama "Johnny Belinda," a homegrown Hollywood production, seemed to have the edge, only to lose to a British upstart, Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet."

— Three years later, the song-and-dance romance "An American in Paris" pulled off a best-picture stunner over dramatic heavyweights "A Place in the Sun" and "A Streetcar Named Desire."

— The next year, Gary Cooper's Western "High Noon" looked as though it would ride into the winner's circle, but the splashy circus tale "The Greatest Show on Earth" came out on top. EDITOR'S NOTE: OOPS. NOT OSCAR'S FINEST HOUR.

— The 1968 best-picture award went the musical route again as "Oliver!" became an upset winner over the more popular musical "Funny Girl" and the palace-intrigue saga "The Lion in Winter."

— And one of Oscar's biggest underdogs, the Olympics tale "Chariots of Fire," ran off with best picture for 1981 over the historical drama "Reds" and the family story "On Golden Pond."

This time around, most signs point to "Brokeback Mountain" — Ang Lee's tale of two rugged Western men (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) in a doomed love affair — as the likely best-picture champ.

Since it debuted in December, "Brokeback Mountain" has swept through awards season, winning best drama at the Golden Globes, snagging honors from top critics groups and earning prizes from guilds representing directors, writers and producers.

The film leads the Oscars with eight nominations, positioning it as the one to beat come March 5.
"Brokeback Mountain" has followed the same release pattern as 2004's Oscar champ, "Million Dollar Baby," starting in a handful of theaters and gradually expanding into wide release and box-office success on the strength of its awards buzz.

But "Crash" grabbed the prize for best overall cast performance at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, surprising some Oscar forecasters. Because of its supposed momentum, "Brokeback Mountain" had been considered a favorite there, too.

After the fact, though, the SAG honor made sense for "Crash" -- its huge cast and multiple story lines are the virtual definition of an ensemble film. Directed by Paul Haggis, a 2004 Oscar nominee for the screenplay of "Million Dollar Baby," "Crash" features Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton and supporting-actor nominee Matt Dillon among dozens of characters whose lives intersect over a chaotic 36-hour stretch in Los Angeles.

"The reason we believe we have a great chance of actually winning the best-picture Oscar is because people are passionate about the movie," said Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films, which released "Crash." "With all due respect to the other best-picture nominees, all of which are terrific and of great merit, there's a sense that people admire and respect the other nominees, but they are passionate about 'Crash.'" EDITOR'S NOTE: IT'S NOT THE KIND OF PASSIONATE THAT NECESSARILY IS A GOOD THING, THOUGH. IT'S MORE AN ANGRY TYPE THING, THAN AN INSPIRING TYPE THING.

"Crash" took an unusual route to the Oscars, emerging out of the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival, where Lions Gate snapped up the film. The movie hit theaters last May and came out on DVD in September, defying conventional wisdom that films released early in the year get forgotten by Oscar time.

Lions Gate took the singular step of providing about 100,000 DVD copies of "Crash" to SAG members to ensure that as many as possible had seen the film before voting for the guild's awards. Distributors generally provide about 20,000 to 30,000 DVD copies of awards-contending films to academy members, key critics groups and voters in other Hollywood honors, but this was the first time a group as big as SAG was blanketed with DVDs of a movie.

Tom O'Neil of the awards Web site said the SAG win was a sign that "Crash" could be picking up steam as a potential best-picture party-crasher among the Oscars' 5,800 voters.

"Brokeback Mountain" has become a cultural touchstone for Hollywood depictions of gay love affairs, yet the hubbub over the film may be growing stale as Oscar voters cast their final ballots, O'Neil said. And while "Brokeback Mountain" has become a solid box-office success, the gay theme may be off-putting to some Oscar voters, he said.

"Statistically, we know the vast majority of Oscar voters must be straight if they're at all representative of the general population," O'Neil said. "As much as they admire this movie, it may not feel like it's their movie. If there is homophobia in Hollywood, it could manifest itself there. Or they could just be sick of gay cowboy jokes."

James Schamus -- a producer on "Brokeback Mountain" and co-president of Focus Features, which released the film -- declined to comment on his movie's front-runner status or the prospects of "Crash" becoming an underdog spoiler.

Schamus, previously involved with such Oscar contenders as "The Pianist" and Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," said it's impossible to calculate a movie's awards fate based on such insubstantial notions as "momentum and peaking."

"That allows us to actually pretend we have some clue of what's going on," Schamus said. "But if you go back and do a statistical analysis of all that talk about momentum and whatever, then line it up against the outcome of the Oscars themselves, you'll find the relationship of those things is completely and utterly serendipitous. There's no cause and effect. There's no science to it."

And of course, there are three other worthy films in the best-picture race, the Truman Capote drama "Capote," the Edward R. Murrow tale "Good Night, and Good Luck." and the political thriller "Munich."

Along with "Crash," any one of those movies could pull off a win over "Brokeback Mountain," Maltin said.

"Anyone who says that someone is a sure bet for an Oscar is a fool," Maltin said. "There's no such thing as a sure thing, least of all in a five-way vote."

Study: Movie Critics Speak Even When They Don't Utter a Word
Research finds that many film critics, faced with far too many movies to write about, tend to avoid writing reviews of bad films they’ve seen

Durham, N.C. -- As Oscar season gets into full swing, new research indicates that what movie critics don’t say about a film appears to matter as much as what they do.

The research, conducted by marketing professor Wagner Kamakura of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Suman Basuroy, assistant professor of marketing at Florida Atlantic University, and Peter Boatwright, associate professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, examines the meaning of silence by professional film critics.

It finds that many film critics, faced with far too many movies to write about, tend to avoid writing reviews of bad films that they’ve seen. At the same time, a few critics, faced with the same overwhelming choice, tend to avoid reviewing good movies that they’ve watched.

As a result, moviegoers might infer the likely opinions of their favorite reviewers, even when those critics don’t actually write about a movie. The study will appear in the June 2006 issue of the journal Quantitative Marketing & Economics. EDITOR'S NOTE: ON SALE NEXT TO VOGUE AND US WEEKLY.

"Our results show that critic silence is actually quite informative about movies, a valuable source of relevant information that should not be overlooked," the authors wrote. "Our model demonstrates that the fact that an expert is silent about a product may imply a positive or a negative review, depending on the expert."

The researchers studied what 46 top critics wrote about 466 movies released between December 1997 and March 2001. Using information drawn from Variety magazine, Hollywood’s leading trade publication, the authors sorted the critics’ opinions into three categories -- pro, con and neutral -- and assigned points for each type of rating.

Controlling for such factors as an individual reviewer’s biases, they then used a statistical model to develop a composite scale of "movie acclaim," a consensus measure of movie quality.

In developing their scale, the researchers found that most critics passed on films that generally fell within the neutral range. But 13 of the 46 critics in the study showed a greater tendency to be silent about movies that their colleagues disliked. On the other hand, three critics -- Hazel-Dawn Dumpert of LA Weekly; Elvis Mitchell, formerly of The New York Times, and Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today -- seemed more likely to pass on films that won a "thumbs-up" from other reviewers. EDITOR'S NOTE: YES, BECAUSE ELVIS MITCHELL IS A PISSY LITTLE TROLL. (HE SEEMS TO THINK NEGATIVITY IS THE SAME THING AS INTELLECTUALISM).

"Our results showed that silence has a large impact on the precision of predictions, especially for highly acclaimed movies," the authors wrote. "Simply put, silence allows one to more confidently identify those movies that are of the highest acclaim."

The study also identifies the critics who are most informative about different types of films.

Some reviewers divulge more about potential Oscar winners, while other critics reveal more about films with less appeal.

For instance, the researchers found that critics Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, Jack Mathews of the New York Daily News, Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune and Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today provide the most information about poorer movies. At the other end of the spectrum, David Ansen of Newsweek, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times, J. Hoberman of the Village Voice and Mike Clark of USA Today supply the most information about the finer flicks.

The authors contend that the same kind of consensus quality scale could cover other "experience" products for which consumers rely heavily on expert advice, including financial investments, restaurants, theaters, books, wines and music. For example, the authors envision such a scale to rate stock picks by financial analysts and to detect general biases in their choices.

"The approach outlined in this paper extends beyond movies to other product categories," the authors wrote. "The method can be applied to any situation where multiple experts provide opinions on the same products/services."

In a follow-up study, the researchers are now exploring the relationship between a movie’s critical acclaim and its box office sales. Among other things, they aim to pinpoint the critics who have the biggest impact on ticket sales.

10 Awards They Missed
The Oscar categories we wish the Academy would recognize
1. So Those Acting Lessons Finally Paid Off Award
—Pierce Brosnan: O.K., so he didn't get nominated. But thanks to a Golden Globe nomination for The Matador, this ex-Bond man finally got a license to act.

—Matt Dillon: 23 years later, he finally gets past the "Let's do it for Johnny" scene in The Outsiders, with a best supporting actor nod for Crash.

—Keira Knightley: This Brit can't skate by being mistaken for Winona Ryder forever. Thank God she earned a best actress nomination for Pride & Prejudice before she turned 21.

—Heath Ledger: From teen girl heartthrob to honorary gay icon, we vote this best actor nominee most improved.

—Michelle Williams: This Dawson's Creek alumna has not only hooked up with a Hollywood hunk and become a new mom but found time to make serious movies —take that, Katie Holmes!
2. I Directed A Big Studio Picture and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt Award
—Ron Howard: Cinderella Man(Universal, Miramax)

—Peter Jackson: King Kong (Universal)

—James Mangold: Walk the Line (FOX)

—Rob Marshall: Memoirs of a Geisha (Sony)

—Susan Stroman: The Producers (Sony)

3. Best Job Staying in Character Off Screen Award
—Russell Crowe: Duck! This thespian threw punches as boxer James Braddock in Cinderella Man, then threw a phone at a hotel clerk in New York City last spring.

—Scarlett Johannson: The movies' current reigning hottie, she seduced Jonathan Rhys-Meyers away from Emily Mortimer in Match Point, and would give straight male viewers a reason to tune in on Oscar night.

—Joaquin Phoenix: Should method acting require a 12-step program? This best actor nominee hit rehab after playing Johnny Cash in Walk The Line.

—Rachel Weisz: The best supporting actress nominee must have really dug that fake belly she wore as a pregnant aid worker in The Constant Gardener, cause she and director Darren Aronofsky are now expecting a child; does Armani do maternity?

—King Kong: He fell off the Empire State building — and the Academy's radar screen—earning only technical nominations.

4. Most Supportive Spouse Award
—Bill Macy: Being married to a Desperate Housewife is emasculating enough. Try it when she plays a man, as Macy's honey, best actress nominee Felicity Huffman does in Transamerica.

—Ryan Phillipe: Mr. Reese Witherspoon endured his wife learning to sing for Walk the Line. That deserves a hee haw.

—Jesse James: Mr. Tattoos and leather, the custom motorcycle builder, will have to scrub up to escort wife, Crash's Sandra Bullock, who will be a presenter.

—Fran Walsh: Imagine having to put up with King Kong director Peter Jackson when he's filming his multi-year epics, much less when he's sulking without a nomination.

—Michelle Williams: Yes, she's nominated, too, for best supporting actress in Brokeback Mountain. But really, when her sweetie Heath Ledger said he wanted six kids, wasn't that a prize of its own?

5. Cast Most Likely To Get Rowdy at the Awards Award
—Cinderella Man
: Nobody disses Opie (overlooked director Ron Howard), especially when that pugilist Russell Crowe is in his movie.

—Hustle & Flow: Imagine a cast sing-a-long to nominated tune "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp". Think Dame Judi Dench will join in?

—Murderball: The quadriplegic rugby players in this nominated documentary make Hollywood action stars look like girlie men. Arnold, beware.

—Walk the Line: Joaquin Phoenix fit in great when he gave a show at Folsom Prison. 'Nuff said.

—March of the Penguins: They came all the way from Antarctica for this and they want their stinkin' gift bags! EDITOR'S NOTE: I JUST HAD A MENTAL IMAGE OF A BUNCH OF BELLIGERENT PENGUINS HANGIN AT THE BAR WITH RUSSELL CROWE. (GIGGLE).

6. Ubiquity Award
— George Clooney: The former Sexiest Man got serious, earning nominations in multiple categories for Syriana and Good Night & Good Luck.

—Jake Gyllenhaal: Showed he's the real deal in Jarhead, Proof and Brokeback Mountain. Hollywood can't quit you, Jake.

—Terrence Howard: As a director who lets his wife down in Crash and a pimp who raises his prostitutes up in Hustle & Flow, this best actor nominee showed range and red carpet stamina.

—Catherine Keener: Deflowered a 40-Year-Old Virgin, safeguarded The Interpreter, disrupted The Ballad of Jack and Rose and earned a nod for playing prim Harper Lee in Capote.

—Ludacris: Also appeared in Crash and Hustle & Flow, while keeping his day job as a rapper. It can be done well, 50 Cent.

—7. Thank God Someone Has That Old-Fashioned Hollywood Charisma Award
George Clooney
George Clooney
George Clooney
George Clooney
George Clooney

8. Toughest Job on Oscar Night Award:
—Jennifer Aniston's publicist: Has Jen seen Brangelina's sonogram? Will she attend the shower? Red carpet chatterboxes have many rude questions for this presenter.

—Isaac Mizrahi: The grabby E! co-host must keep his hands in his pockets, and off of starlets

—Dolly Parton's stylist: O.K., we're not sure she has one, but heck, fitting a gown on this buxom Best Song nominee for Transamerica's Travelin'Thru would be a real achievement.

—Host Jon Stewart: Really, will there be any original gay cowboy jokes left by March 5?

—Reese Witherspoon: Acting surprised when she wins best actress for Walk the Line will surely require Witherspoon to channel more of that June Carter-style class.

9. Been-There/Done-That Award:
—Woody Allen: This is his 21st nomination, for his Match Point script; Allen won two for 1977's Annie Hall and one for 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters

—Judi Dench: She earned her 5th nod this year for Mrs. Henderson Presents EDITOR'S NOTE: AND BOY, HOWDY, DID SHE EARN IT! (MARVELOUS, CLASSY DAME)., and won for 1998's Shakespeare in Love.

—William Hurt: Snagged his 4th for History of Violence, won for 1985's Kiss of The Spiderwoman

—Frances McDormand: Got her 4th for North Country, won for 1996's Fargo.

—Steven Spielberg: This is his 11th, for director of Munich; he won two for 1993's Schindler's List and one for 1998's Saving Private Ryan.

10. Most Talented Nominee You've Never Heard Of Award
—Amy Adams: Without even suffering through he over-exposed starlet phase, this Best Supporting Actress nominee shines in Junebug. EDITOR'S NOTE: WHATEVER YOU THINK OF THIS STRANGE LITTLE MOVIE, ADAMS' PERFORMANCE IN IT IS CREEPY/FUNNY/WONDERFUL.

—Colleen Atwood: This six-time nominee, who already won for her costumes in 2002's Chicago, made covering up in a kimono look super-sexy in Memoirs of a Geisha

—Hayao Miyazaki: Considered the best in the animation biz, this Japanese filmmaker won for 2002's Spirited Away, and his Disney import Howl's Moving Castle, is up for Best Animated Feature. Yes, another reason to outsource.

—David Strathairn: Finally people will know how to pronounce this actor's actor's name, after a nomination for his Good Night & Good Luck performance. EDITOR'S NOTE: PITY THIS IS A YEAR WITH SUCH AN OVER-ABUNDANCE OF GOOD BEST ACTOR PERFORMANCES, BECAUSE THIS IS A PERFORMANCE THAT IN OTHER YEARS WOULD HAVE TAKEN STRATHAIRN ALL THE WAY TO THE PODIUM.

—Focus Features: With 16 nods for its films and Pride & Prejudice, Brokeback Mountain, Constant Gardener, this indie arm of Universal Pictures proves size doesn't matter.

And the Extended Life Span Goes to . . . the Oscar Winner!
When it comes to the Academy Awards, winning is, in fact, everything.

The actors and actresses who take home one of those statuettes can count on living 3.9 years longer than the losers.

This, as Donald A. Redelmeier is fond of pointing out, is a big deal -- a 28 percent relative reduction in death rates, and the statistical equivalent of "curing all cancers in all people for all time."

So if you were wondering why Katharine Hepburn (96) lived so long and Richard Burton didn't (58), now you know. She won four Oscars. He was nominated seven times and won zip. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND I'M SURE THE BOOZING AND CAROUSING HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT? (UMMM...BURTON'S, I MEAN. NOT KATE'S. GIGGLE).

Researchers have long known that higher social status can indicate longer life. One famous study of British civil servants found that mortality rates declined as pay grades rose. An analysis of a 19th-century Irish cemetery showed that longer lives won taller gravestones.

Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, tried the analysis on the Oscars after watching the awards ceremony. "I was struck by just how vivacious the people looked," he said. "The way they gestured and walked seemed so different."

And it was. Beginning with a paper published in 2001, Redelmeier has run the numbers for every actor and actress ever nominated for the award, counting each nominee once for his or her highest achievement. Paul Newman, who is 81 and had one win in nine nominations, ended up a "winner," while Burton died a "nominee."

The pattern was clear. Life expectancy for winners -- men and women in lead and supporting roles -- was 79.7 years, vs. 75.8 years for losers.

Redelmeier suggests that winners bump up their social status, enabling them to live longer "in the shadow of past accomplishments," a luxury not afforded losers, who, he speculated, "are only as good as their last picture." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND FOR THE REST OF US WHO WEREN'T EVEN NOMINATED?......HAVE FUN OSCAR NIGHT, DWEEBAPLS!


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