Cinema Psycho

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Archive for November, 2004

Shaolin Soccer (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 30, 2004

Directed and written by Stephen Chow/starring Chow, Vicki Zhao/Miramax Home Video

A kung-fu master assembles a ragtag group of his old buddies for a soccer team that applies the principles of Shaolin to the sport. Much ass is kicked.

I know this disc has been out for awhile, but I finally caught up with it recently and was very impressed. After sitting on Miramax’s shelf for what seems like eons, they finally gave it a limited theatrical release earlier this year in a truncated U.S. version. The DVD contains both the U.S. version and the original Chinese version.

At the risk of sounding like a screaming fanboy, let me just say that this movie is really awesome, super fun! I’m very happy to have finally seen this, as I don’t have a region-free player (blasphemy, I know) and it didn’t play anywhere near me theatrically. If you like HK martial-arts movies, consider this a must-see if you haven’t already. It’s not the greatest movie of its kind ever made or anything, but it’s so much goofball fun and so well-done, it’s well worth a rental.

This is the first of Chow’s movies I’ve seen (as it’s the first to reach the U.S. in any kind of “official” release) and I definitely want to see more. Apparently he’s considered some kind of comedy god in China. But what impressed me is how accomplished his work as director is here. I know a lot of HK stars direct their own features occasionally, but I wasn’t expecting him to knock it out of the park the way he does. This isn’t just a “funny movie”; it’s a GOOD movie that happens to be very funny.

And what’s even more surprising is that he gives most of the laughs to his supporting cast. I just can’t picture any American comedy star being quite that generous, especially in a movie they also wrote and directed. There are a lot of original and quite hilarious characters here that I don’t even want to describe, because you really ought to discover them on your own. There’s also a genuine sense of pathos that would seem labored in other hands, but feels completely effortless here. And frankly, sports-movie clichés haven’t seemed so fresh in a long, long time.

I took the opportunity to watch both versions of the film, just for the sake of comparison. Obviously, if you’re only going to watch one version, the original Chinese film is the way to go. No question. But surprisingly, the “U.S. Theatrical Version” really isn’t that bad. Clocking in at a brisk 89 minutes, it’s a breezy, fun little action movie, and much of the coolness of the original remains intact. It seems like most of the cuts that were made (a good 23 minutes) were trims from scenes that remain in the movie, but were cut mainly for pacing reasons. A couple of short scenes are noticeably gone, but for the most part it’s pretty much the same movie content-wise. It’s not like they re-edited the whole thing and made it a completely different movie, so that’s something. This is the version to show your ADD-suffering kids or nephews.

Still, some of the choices made are pretty bizarre. What killed me throughout was that they apparently digitized over all the Chinese writing in the film with English words. So whenever you see a sign or a piece of paper on screen, you read it in English, rather than just have the Chinese symbols with English subtitles. That’s just plain weird to me. Surely they couldn’t have been trying to trick people into thinking they were actually watching an American movie, right? There’s no question that the film is set in China. Not even the slowest audience member could fail to recognize that. I guess the thinking was that any subtitles at all would hurt the film with American audiences (though nowhere near as much as Miramax’s own handling of the release), and it would be easier to watch for little kids who can’t read subtitles. But it just feels wrong, and a waste of time and money to do such a thing.

Yet at the same time, you can watch the U.S. version of the film in Chinese on the DVD. Which makes me wonder why they bothered having a U.S. version in the first place. Who would want to watch the U.S. version in Chinese? The only possible reason to prefer the American version is because there are no subtitles (which is dumb, but a lot of people still hate subtitles, even if they like foreign films). If you wanted to watch the film in Chinese, why not just watch the Chinese version? It’s really strange to have the option of watching the edited version of a foreign film…in its original language.

Any references to Chinese culture seem to have been removed or replaced – but the original version really doesn’t have that many references to Chinese culture in the first place. So again, it seems like a wasted effort. There’s very little in the original that American audiences “wouldn’t get” or would go over our heads. So why bother? There’s one scene that really hurts in this regard – a spontaneous dance number that erupts in the street early in the film. In the Chinese version, it’s set to what sounds like an Asian techno-dance song, and it’s quite funny. In the U.S. version, it’s set to…”Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. Ugh. Not quite the same at all, now is it? Just baffling. Do they think Americans have never heard electronic dance music before?

So obviously, if you’re a purist, the original Chinese film is the one to watch, and kudos to Miramax for including it on the disc. (I’m sure they realized that a lot of people wouldn’t buy it otherwise – but even that’s progress.) Even though it’s essentially the same movie, this 112-minute version feels fuller, richer and more developed. The film’s sense of humor comes out a lot more, and scenes that seemed odd in the American version make perfect sense now. It’s less of an action film and more of a comedy, which is obviously what it was meant to be in the first place. And it’s even more fun to watch.

Unfortunately, putting both versions on the disc apparently meant there was no room for extras. Even a trailer would’ve been nice. But even though I’m against making alterations to a foreign film on general principle, I’m glad Miramax eventually saw the error of their ways and included the original version on the disc. Now the philistines can have their version, and us film geeks can have ours. Everybody’s happy, and there’s no reason not to recommend this disc. Even if you’re just a casual HK-movie fan, you’d be doing yourself a grave disservice by passing on this massively entertaining film.

Original Chinese version: ***1/2. U.S. Theatrical Version: **1/2. 11/30/04

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Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 30, 2004

Directed by Chazz Palminteri/Written by David Hubbard/starring Penelope Cruz, Susan Sarandon, Paul Walker, Alan Arkin, Robin Williams (uncredited)/Flexplay

A group of lonely New Yorkers tries to find happiness at Christmastime.

I actually saw this on TNT. I’m reviewing it here because it’s also currently playing theatrically in limited release, as well as being available to buy cheaply on DVD in a special “Flexplay” edition that self-destructs 48 hours after you open the case. So it’s like I’m writing three reviews at once!

This is a very unusual release pattern for a movie, to say the least, but it appears to be working to get attention for this relatively small film. When I first heard about this, my initial impression was, “why in the bloody hell would anyone pay to see a movie that they can watch for free on cable two weeks later?” But the catch is, TNT only showed it twice, on one night. So if you missed it…you missed it.

So the question becomes, is this movie worth paying to see if you missed it on cable? The short answer is, it’s an OK movie, but not really. However, if you need to find a relatively inoffensive, non-threatening, somewhat charming movie to watch with your Mom or maybe your grandparents over the holidays, you could do a lot worse.

Noel is one of those ensemble movies with various storylines that interconnect at different points. The three main stories involve a middle-aged woman (Sarandon) who takes care of her sick elderly mother; a cop (Walker) who’s insanely jealous and paranoid that his gorgeous fiancée (Cruz, looking sexy as HELL here) might be cheating on him; and a guy who wants to land in the hospital so he can attend their annual Christmas party. Throw in a couple of mysterious gentlemen (Arkin and Williams) with secrets to reveal, and the fun begins, supposedly.

The first two stories are the ones that work the best. Thankfully, they also take up the most screen time. Sarandon’s story turns out to be very sad, and she plays it just right, making us feel sympathy for her character while remaining likable and interesting. I’ve never been a huge Paul Walker fan by any means (I mean, have you seen any of the guy’s movies? Well, Joy Ride wasn’t bad, otherwise…), but I have to say, he’s surprisingly good here. He actually comes off like a human being who could conceivably walk the face of the Earth, so that’s an improvement. His frustrations with Cruz and Arkin (whose big reveal is actually quite funny and unexpected) seem believable and understandable, even when they lead to increasingly bizarre situations.

Unfortunately, Noel is still a mixed bag. The third story doesn’t really work at all – it’s rather forced and obvious, and it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the movie. The level of acting isn’t really on par with the other stories either. There are occasional jarring gaps in logic and narrative coherence (I’m still wondering how Sarandon wound up in Cruz’s family’s apartment out of the blue – maybe I missed something, but how many people wander into total strangers’ apartments for no apparent reason? That was just odd). And some of the connections between the characters seem tenuous at best, without much thematic continuity to pull everything together.

Ultimately though, Noel’s big problem is its maudlin tone, which keeps it from being as uplifting as it apparently wants to be. Imagine a Christmas movie as directed by Ingmar Bergman, and you’ll get some idea of how this movie plays. I’m not saying every holiday movie has to be wacky and fast-paced like Christmas with the Kranks or something (does anyone actually WANT to see that movie? Willingly?), but the solemn feel never seems to let up, even when the happy endings arrive. While we’re obviously supposed to feel that the characters’ lives have changed for the better, the way it all plays out is curiously unmoving. And don’t look for Williams to liven things up in his uncredited supporting role – his character is as somber as a priest delivering last rites. Then again, his usual comedic shtick would’ve been decidedly out of place here. But a little more humor wouldn’t have killed anybody.

In his directorial debut, Palminteri delivers a solid, workmanlike effort, even if the movie suffers a little from lack of visual flair. He obviously has developed some impressive showbiz connections in his acting career (how he convinced A-listers like Sarandon and Williams, plus up-and-comers like Cruz and Walker, to appear in this low-budget, unassuming little movie is puzzling), but I’m afraid the result of his effort is just a step above your average Lifetime movie. In fact, if Noel were just a TV-movie, I’d consider it slightly above average, and not a horrible way to kill a couple of hours. As a feature film, I’d call it an OK first effort, but not quite worth handing over your hard-earned cash to see.

(If you’re wondering about possible editing changes made in the TNT version that may not be representative of the theatrical or DVD releases, the movie is so devoid of anything that might be considered “offensive content” that I seriously doubt there was much editing done to it for basic cable. In fact, I noticed one use of the word “bullshit” that, surprisingly enough, was left in the TNT version, so it’s possible that there was no editing done to it whatsoever. Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn’t review a movie based on an edited TV version, but considering the movie’s unusual release pattern, I thought it was worth making an exception.)

**1/2 (2 1/2 stars) 11/30/04

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National Treasure

Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 23, 2004

Directed by Jon Turtletaub/Screenplay by Jim Kouf, Cormac & Marianne Wibberly/starring Nicolas Cage, Sean Bean, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Justin Bartha/Walt Disney – Jerry Bruckheimer Pictures

A historian tracks down a legendary treasure across various American historical landmarks.

I have to preface this review by making a confession. It’s not pretty, and may in fact get me blacklisted from any future professional jobs as a movie critic. But it has to be said.

I like Jerry Bruckheimer movies.

OK, not ALL of them. The Bad Boys movies I can take or leave. And I wanted to strangle the guy after sitting through his and Antoine “overrated” Fuqua’s crushingly boring King Arthur movie this past summer. Who the hell wanted to see a King Arthur movie without all the magical stuff that makes the story interesting and cool? It’s as if they purposely took all the fun out of it, just to prove that Jerry could make a “serious epic”. Well, you did it, buddy. And nobody cared. Get back to blowing shit up.

But when he’s on a roll – and that’s pretty much all the time, since his partner Don Simpson died in 1995 – Bruckheimer has established himself as the go-to guy for pure dumb fun. He’s a showman, a carnival barker, a mutant cross between the disaster blockbuster extravaganza instincts of Irwin Allen in the ‘70’s and the macho-fantasy bullets-and-bombs insanity of Joel Silver in the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s. Bigger isn’t just better in Jerry’s eyes. Bigger is merely a good place to start.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone parodied Bruckheimer’s bombastic tendencies in Team America, but what I don’t think they understood is that Jerry’s movies are pretty much comedies already. Some people just don’t get the joke. I think JB’s fully aware of how ridiculous, blustery and overblown his movies are – and he likes them that way. As soon as that lightning-bolt logo comes up, you’re entering Jerry Land, a place where the rules of logic and physics no longer apply. It’s a place where anything can happen, no matter how ludicrous and unlikely, as long as it looks cool.

And isn’t that really what these kinds of movies are all about? Seeing things that couldn’t possibly happen in real life? You don’t go to a blockbuster to see subtle, understated character work and daring, controversial subject matter. Blockbusters, particularly the action-oriented ones, are about painting in broad strokes. For all of their gargantuan budgets, Bruckheimer movies are essentially old-fashioned morality tales. The heroes are reluctant but rise to the occasion. They might as well be wearing white hats. Evil is always vanquished (even if it’s in the form of a great big space rock). Order is always restored. And a lot of stuff gets blown up, shot and otherwise creatively destroyed in the process. It’s a lot of fun.

Come on, there’s nothing more quintessentially American than that. But it’s important to remember that these movies are fantasies, and should not be followed as foreign policy.

National Treasure finds Jerry at an interesting, crucial time in his career. It seems like he’s been trying to leave behind the violent tendencies of his past work and embrace the “family audience” (in other words, don’t just see the movie, bring the whole family! Buy even more tickets!). At the same time, he doesn’t want to disappoint his loyal audience who come to see fast-paced action, hot girls and character actors who need to pay off their mortgage. So he lightened up on the body count and prodigious swearing of his previous hits, and the result was the supermegahumongous hit Pirates of the Caribbean, the biggest smash of his career. While containing no swashbuckling or potential Oscar-nominated performances, National Treasure pretty much follows that formula.

National Treasure is essentially an American history lesson without all those boring facts and information. Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) has been following this legendary treasure his whole life, preceded by his father and grandfather and several ancestors. He’s a great big history geek, and Cage plays this to the hilt and with obvious affection. When the movie starts, he’s on a roll with the clues, leading him to find a sunken ship in the Arctic (okay…), then steal the Declaration of Independence, with the aid of his stereotypical “tech geek” sidekick (Justin Bartha) and an impossibly beautiful National Archives official (Kruger) who looks like she just stepped off a runway in Europe. From here it gets even sillier than that, and is therefore a lot more fun than it deserves to be.

What results is basically a “race to find the clues to get to the next set piece” kind of movie, and as such works pretty well. Like most Bruckheimer productions, it’s smart enough to move fast enough that people don’t realize how dumb it is. Of course, there’s the prerequisite Eurotrash villain (Bean, who gets to snarl a lot) and an FBI guy (Keitel, not doing much here, but even a legend has to eat) on their trail. And don’t ask me to explain where the treasure came from – it’s something to do with the Freemasons and the Knights of the Templar and a bunch of nonsense like that. It’s all explained in the prologue, and it doesn’t really matter much anyway. Basically our Founding Fathers weren’t busy enough with establishing the country, they went to all this trouble to hide this big treasure, leaving clues on national landmarks so they wouldn’t get lost. Sounds plausible enough…I mean, no one’s going to erase the Declaration of Independence or tear down the Liberty Bell, right? Right?

This all apparently reminds people of a bestselling book called the DaVinci Code, but I’ve never read it and probably neither have you. So who cares?

What’s actually kinda cool about this movie is the way it takes American history and makes it seem like something other than a drag for bored junior-high students. It’s like our very own Raiders of the Lost Ark – why go to other countries to find lost treasure when you can stay right here? For once, our own homeland is actually portrayed as an exotic place, full of mystery and intrigue and goodies to dig up. (See, history majors, there’s a payoff for you after all!) Cage and Kruger’s characters are both huge American-history dorks (which, in a Bruckheimer movie, means of course they must fall in love, so they won’t bore anyone else to death) and their enthusiasm for material that even most Americans find arcane is really kinda infectious. Let’s face it, for many of us, this stuff is nothing but a bunch of vague, half-remembered “names and dates” we all had to memorize from countless history classes we suffered through. It’s about as relevant to our daily lives as trigonometry or the Canterbury Tales. So it’s kinda nice to see our history used in a way that reminds us of its importance.

Not to mention that the film’s heroes succeed by actually using their brains, figuring out clues and solving problems. That’s something you don’t see in your average blockbuster movie. And they succeed because they’re basically geeks (albeit Hollywood’s version of geeks), because they care about things that most average people really don’t care about. I don’t know about you, but I really dig that.

The cast is pretty good, for the kind of movie this is anyway. Cage could probably play this kind of role in his sleep, but to his credit he makes you really like this guy. People have accused him of “selling out” for doing these kinds of movies, but I think he actually really loves doing them. He certainly doesn’t have to make action movies to get by if he really doesn’t want to. I suspect he’s kind of a big geek himself. Kruger (Troy) is super-hot, but she actually seems intelligent enough to play this kind of character, so I guess she’s either really smart in real life, or she gives a really good performance. There are a lot of actresses you just couldn’t buy in a part like this, but she pulls it off. At first I was annoyed by Bartha’s “techie” character that we’ve seen in quite a few movies lately, but to my surprise he actually becomes likable and engaging as the movie goes on, and even gets the biggest laughs. I don’t think I’ve seen him before – I guess he played the retarded kid in Gigli, but I was wise enough to avoid that one, as were most people. Say what you will about Jerry, but he really knows how to cast his movies.

As for logic, well, forget about it. I’m sure there will be people who will sit there and pick apart the entire movie, as several critics have already done. But I actually feel sorry for those people, because they’re not capable of enjoying a movie like this. It’s not trying to be anything other than what it is, a fun piece of light, escapist entertainment, and on that level it works. But if you’re not willing or able to “suspend disbelief”, you should probably stay far away from this one. As well as pretty much anything with Bruckheimer’s name on it. On the other hand, I didn’t find it so insultingly stupid that I couldn’t have fun with it, and there are movies where I have that problem (believe it or not). I just don’t go to these movies expecting them to be something other than what they’re intended to be.

National Treasure may not be a great film. It probably won’t be remembered as a classic in years to come. But it is quite a lot of fun, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. If you’re looking for something else…you’re knocking on the wrong door. But if this is the kind of movie you enjoy seeing, then rest assured that Jerry has delivered once again. When he sticks to what he does best, he’s America’s volume dealer, and he brings the big, loud, goofy fun like nobody else out there.

*** 3 stars. 11/23/04

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The Hole (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 19, 2004

Directed by Nick Hamm/Screenplay by Ben Court & Caroline Ip/based on the novel After the Hole by Guy Burt/starring Thora Birch, Desmond Harrington, Keira Knightley, Embeth Davidtz/Dimension Home Video

Four British prep-school students decide to spend the weekend locked in an underground bomb shelter. A word of advice: don’t do that.

This is one of several dozen films that have been sitting on the shelves at Miramax/Dimension for what seems like eternity. A British production made in 2001, the film was originally going to be released theatrically in the US, until Dimension decided otherwise. They finally blew the dust off of it and released it on DVD Oct. 19.

I don’t know about you, but whenever a movie gets pushed off the release schedule for that long, it only makes me want to see it more. I can’t help but become curious about any film that’s treated so shabbily by its distributors – is it really that horrible, or did they just not know what to do with it? At a certain point my curiosity reaches a point that I really don’t care if it’s the worst film ever made, I just want to see it! Of course this has led to me seeing a lot of mediocre or really bad movies. But I’m happy to report that The Hole is actually…pretty good. Not great, but worth a rental.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that the story is told Rashomon-style. For those of you who have never seen Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, that means that the story is told from several different perspectives. First we get one person’s version of the story, then another’s, then finally we see what really happened. The reason to tell a story this way is basically to compare the different versions, and be surprised by the differences in each version. Even though it’s the same story, each version plays out differently, so it’s like we’re seeing it for the first time. Lots of movies have done this, but Rashomon was apparently the first, or one of the first. (If you still don’t understand what I’m talking about, track down a copy of Rashomon and watch it. Thank me later.) In this case though, there’s a specific reason why the story has to be told several times, which I won’t give away, but once the ending comes it all makes sense.

I mention this because before seeing it, I was under the impression that the entire film was going to be set in that underground bunker, and I was surprised when that wasn’t the case. 40 minutes into it I’m thinking, “OK, what’s going to happen now?” and that rarely happens to me anymore. Despite what seems like a rather limited premise, this is actually a pretty clever and compelling little psychological thriller.

Director Hamm kinda struck out this year with the muddled thriller Godsend, which I thought had some interesting ideas and good performances, but didn’t seem to know what to do with any of them. The Hole shows a lot more promise. Hamm manages to do quite a bit with the claustrophobic setting, so we never get bored with seeing the same set over and over again. The bunker actually looks a little different in each telling of the story, shot from different angles, different lighting, etc. Plus he really knows how to crank up the tension when it counts, and that’s not a bad thing.

It also doesn’t hurt that he gets some excellent performances from his cast. The four main characters quickly establish themselves as individuals, without falling back on the typical stock teenage clichés you usually find in movies like this. Each of them is likable at times, and each of them is a complete asshole at times. You can’t boil them down to easily identifiable stereotypes like “The Slut”, “The Jock”, “The Smartass”, etc. Maybe it’s because they’re British. I don’t know, but it’s great that you can’t predict what’s going to happen to them, who’s going to do what to who, or which one of them might be hiding a secret, until well into the picture.

Thora Birch is particularly terrific here as the emotionally needy “outcast” Liz. She’s completely believable from the start, but as we discover new things about each character that change our perceptions of them, Birch is especially adept at playing all sides of a surprisingly complex character. Keira Knightley is also very impressive in a pre-stardom performance as the popular, mischievous Frankie (and her male fans will find a brief reward here, and will surely put their Pause buttons to good use). Desmond Harrington, who’s become something of a horror/thriller specialist lately (Ghost Ship, Wrong Turn, Love Object) is virtually unrecognizable as the spoiled son of a rock star. And Embeth Davidtz is sharp and sympathetic as the psychiatrist who’s given the task of trying to sort everything out and find out what really went on down there.

The only major problem I had is that about halfway through, we’re kinda tipped off as to who’s really manipulating the whole thing and why, so the ending seems anti-climactic. But despite that, this is a smart and interesting movie that’s well worth a shot. I can see why Dimension didn’t know what to do with it – it’s certainly not your typical thriller, and it probably would’ve been a little difficult to market, especially to fans of their Scream-style teen genre movies. But their loss is our gain, and hopefully this odd little gem will find its audience on DVD.

While it’s not an especially “scary” movie in the traditional “cat jumps on the windowsill” sense, I think that often the movies that reveal what human beings are capable of doing to each other are the most frightening. On that level, at least, The Hole is quite a chiller that’s not easily forgotten.

Now how about pulling more of those movies off the shelf, eh Miramax?

*** 3 stars. 11/19/04

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“Nobody knows anything” – William Goldman

Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 19, 2004

OK, we’ve been having some technical difficulties lately, but now we’re back on track and everything’s running smoothly. There’s a new review up and there should be more coming shortly. If anyone’s visited the site in the past couple of days and had some problems with the links, I’m sorry, but these glitches are unavoidable from time to time. Anyone who’s ever worked on a website knows what a pain in the ass it can be, especially when you’re first starting out. Still, I hope you guys keep coming back.

While we’re on that subject, this seems as good a time as any to give special thanks to Paul Hill, who’s been doing all of the technical work on the site (‘cause I don’t know what the hell I’m doing) and has been working tirelessly to keep this site up and running. So if you enjoy reading these reviews and rantings, give all the credit to him for making it possible. Eventually we want to get to the point where I can run it on my own, but we’re both learning the process and trying to get through all the early problems now, so that at some point even a dumbass like me can do it. So again, thanks Paul!

All right, on with the show…

If you browse the movie sites regularly, as I do, you’ve no doubt noticed that several well-known film critics, journalists and pundits have already begun giving their Oscar predictions. What’s going to be nominated, what’s going to win, who’s going to get some after the ceremony. However, don’t expect me to weigh in on my thoughts and opinions, at least not until the actual nominations are announced. Why?

Because it’s too damn early to care.

Despite what certain people in the industry want you to believe, nobody knows ANYTHING yet. All of the “insiders” are desperate for us lowly filmgoers to think that they know exactly what’s going to happen come the end of February. That’s how they justify their paychecks, after all. Can’t blame ‘em for that.

Every year, they write tons of articles in newspapers, magazines and on the Net, months in advance, giving their predictions. Then the Oscars finally come, the winners are announced, and all of those articles are forgotten. They usually get a couple of the categories right, and the rest are “big surprises”. OK, whatever.

Here’s the problem: most of these industry insiders don’t seem to understand the nature of the Academy. If a movie sweeps the major awards, it’s because “the Academy chose to reward mainstream Hollywood or indie Hollywood”. If a well-regarded film gets no awards or even nominations, it’s because “the Academy chose to ignore good work”.

This kind of thinking is just absurd. The Academy doesn’t “choose” to agree on anything. These writers act like the Academy is this secret organization that gets together in a soundproof underground chamber and says things like, “let’s honor Lord of the Rings this year”. It just doesn’t work like that. That’s the Golden Globes.

Seriously though, the Oscars are simply a popularity contest. And like any popularity contest, whoever gets the most votes wins. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. That’s simply democracy in action. Whatever your opinion of the awards’ validity, that’s just how it works. Just like the elections for Class President in junior high, it’s just that simple.

Take for example, last year’s Best Actor race. Before the ceremony, most of the pundits believed that Bill Murray was a lock. All of the so-called “signs” pointed to that happening. But as we all know, Sean Penn won the award. How did that happen?

Well, common sense will tell you that Penn got the most votes. Let’s say that the race came down completely to Murray and Penn. Murray had a strongly vocal contingent who supported him. It’s possible that Penn just squeaked by with, I don’t know, 51 percent of the votes. In that scenario, it’s also possible that Murray got the rest of the votes with a strong 49 percent. (Is this sounding familiar?)

But it probably didn’t happen that way. There were 5 nominees, so basically all anyone has to do is get more than 20% of the votes to possibly win. For example, Penn could’ve received 32% of the votes, and Murray 28%. The other 40% of the votes would be divided up among the other 3 nominees. Let’s say Johnny Depp got 25%, for the sake of argument, that leaves maybe 7.5% each for the other two (who I can’t remember offhand, no disrespect intended).

Under that potential scenario, that means that the winner was someone who only 32% of “The Academy” thought gave the best performance. That gives Penn the majority of the vote, absolutely. But that also means that 68% of “The Academy” voted for someone else in that category.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? It’s not that hard to speculate that “The Academy” doesn’t necessarily agree on anything. The idea that 100% of this organization supports any particular film, actor or creative artist is completely ludicrous. The winner is always whoever gets the biggest slice of the pie. That doesn’t mean they got the whole pie.

Not to mention the fact that 100% of the Academy doesn’t vote in every single category. We all know how it works – actors vote for the acting categories, directors vote for Best Director, screenwriters vote for the screenplay categories, etc. Best Picture is the only category that EVERYBODY gets to vote on, and even then, the same rules above still apply. Not that we’ll ever know, but I sincerely doubt there has ever been a unanimous 100% vote winner in the history of the Academy Awards. That many people could not possibly unanimously agree on anything.

And I won’t even go into how the studios’ ad campaigns affect the votes. I’ll be writing this all night.
But based on the way these “veteran insiders” think and write about the Oscar race, you’d think the Academy was like a jury that had to agree on a unanimous verdict, and went over the “evidence” with a fine-toothed comb until they came up with it. It just isn’t so.

So when the nominations come out, I’ll be happy to give my opinions, both on who I think will win, and who I think should win. It’s something I do every year, purely for my own enjoyment. I’ll get some of the categories right, and I’ll get some of them wrong. But nobody has a crystal ball, no matter how many screenings they get into (in my case, none) or how many “unnamed industry insiders” they know (ditto). Let’s all get over ourselves, shall we?

Until that time comes, here are my so-called “early predictions”. Feel free to take them with a grain of salt. Miramax will get a Best Picture nomination for a film that doesn’t really deserve it, while their best films of the year will get nothing;

The awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress will go to the most physically attractive nominees;

The winner for Best Actress will embarrass herself with a tearfully emotional speech, and will further embarrass herself with her future career choices;

No one on the planet will get to see the nominees for Best Documentary Short Film and Best Animated Short Film, except for maybe 15 people at a film festival in Des Moines, Iowa;

The Best Song winner will be the biggest piece of crap you’ve ever heard (I’m betting on “Car Wash” from Shark Tale);

Someone, either a winner or a presenter, will say something inappropriate about the 2004 Presidential election;

The show will run at least 45 minutes long, probably longer. Deal with it.

On a different topic, can I just say that Paramount’s position that Alfie bombed because of “the conservative wave in America” is pure and total bullshit? Come on guys, you opened it the same weekend as a huge Pixar movie. You know that’s not going to work, even as “counterprogramming”. Think about it – every kid in America wants to see the new Pixar movie. Lots of women who go to movies are also parents. Parents have to take their kids to the new Pixar movie. Most parents can’t afford to go to movies twice in the same weekend. Face it, you screwed up and picked the wrong release date. You guys have been doing that a lot lately. Sky Captain would’ve done much better in the summer, and Manchurian Candidate could’ve been HUGE in the fall. Stepford Wives – well, I don’t think anything would’ve saved that one. Did you ever consider that you might want to release your romantic comedy, I don’t know, closer to Valentine’s Day? Or that Jude Law is in too many damn movies this fall, and you might want to space this one out a little bit, to separate it from the pack? Don’t pass it off on politics – conservative-minded people were never going to come out and see a movie about a so-called “womanizer” at any time of year. But I’m sure there are several million single women out there who DID go see Alfie, and made up its $6.5 million opening weekend. (That may seem low to you, but millions of dollars in ticket sales don’t come out of nowhere.) You just picked the wrong time to get anyone else interested. Considering that your original release date was Oct. 22 (just what people want to see around Halloween, right?) you probably would’ve been screwed either way. But don’t blame politics – you might as well blame the economy, the Iraq war or global warming. Blame your own bad timing. Your statements just prove that you had no clue who your movie was supposed to appeal to in the first place. I’m no Hollywood insider, but even I can tell that someone over there isn’t doing their job.

That’s it for now. Talk to you later!

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