Riffing on today's Oscar nominations.

Inside the big picture show.
Jan. 22 2008 2:17 PM

The Oscar Nominations

Once again, there are lots of films that most people haven't seen and don't care about.

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The Oscar statue. Click image to expand.
Oscar nominations were announced today

The Oscar Nominations: Atonement?

Seriously, Atonement?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is predictable in some ways and mysterious in others. For example, the academy luh-luh-loves George Clooney. But Atonement was snubbed in awards nominations by the big guilds—which was OK with many critics—and there it is in the best-picture category.

Nothing for director Joe Wright, mind you, or his stars. Must be a bittersweet moment for him, and for Julian Schnabel, nominated for his brilliant direction of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. His movie is left out in best picture and knocked out of contention for best foreign-language film by the French because he is American.

The bottom line for these nominations is that once again, there are lots of films that most people haven't seen and don't care about. The only nominee in the best-picture category to generate real heat at the box office is Juno. Should commercial success figure into Oscar nominations? Of course not. But when it comes to generating big ratings for the telecast, this year's slate spells trouble.

Of course, there is the small matter of the writers' strike, which might provide a convenient excuse for the academy if it derails the usual type of show. That would be predicated on the strike continuing that long. We're feeling giddy and reckless today, so let's get into some predictions:

  1. The strike will settle in time for the show to go on.
  2. No Country for Old Men will win best picture.
  3. Best director? Let's go for the Coen brothers.
  4. Daniel Day-Lewis will win best actor.
  5. Best actress? A little tougher. Julie Christie or Marion Cottillard. The academy feels love for Christie but also adores celebrity-channeling, as in Capote, The Last King of Scotland, and many other cases. (It was a very pleasant surprise to see Laura Linney nominated in this category, although probably not to Angelina Jolie.)

These do not—repeat, not—represent choices that Hollywoodland would make. These are not necessarily what should win but probably what will win. And that's as much help (or harm) that we're willing to provide (or inflict on) the office pool at this point. Except for one more tip. Best animated feature: Ratatouille. Bet the rent. (link)

Jan. 18, 2008

Sundance Film Festival. Click image to expand.
Park City, Utah, hosts the Sundance Film Festival

Ice Follies: Your Hollywoodland correspondent is freezing off her extremities at the Sundance Film Festival. There has been a lot of talk that the festival would be even more frenzied than usual thanks to the writers' strike, with the idea being that a lack of product in the pipeline would lead the Weinsteins of the world to make crazy deals.

Now, of course, the Directors Guild of America might have upended that conventional wisdom. The DGA has settled with the studios, and the question is whether this means that the writers, too, will soon settle and end the strike. That doesn't seem like an unreasonable bet even though the directors' deal—while a big improvement in some respects over what had been offered to the writers—is not one that will cause the champagne to be uncorked at the Writers Guild.

Attorney Jonathan Handel, who's been watching the negotiations closely, says the DGA deal provides a bit more than double what the studios were paying for downloads. The writers wanted a much bigger bump than that. But more importantly, many writers won't like the deal on material that is streamed over the Internet. In simple terms, the studios are offering a formula that works out to about $1,200 a year for programs that are streamed. That is far more than the $250 figure offered in the Writers Guild negotiations. But the writers want the number of viewers to factor into the payment so that they benefit from success.

It seems that the directors' deal is just good enough and just bad enough that it could split the writers, which would probably mean that the Writers Guild will end up accepting it.

So, will the buyers at Sundance bank on that? Hard to say. But many claim to doubt that the buyers will overspend as much as expected. They say the hysteria peaked last year and that this will be a time for caution, given the fact that buyers fared so badly last year.

As Anne Thompson wrote in Variety, 2007 was the worst year ever in terms of box-office results for films that were snapped up at Sundance. Twenty films were bought for $53 million. So far, 14 have been released and grossed $34 million. Among the failures: Grace Is Gone, bought for $4 million. So, while it's easy to get caught up in festival hype, the buyers might remember that result. Maybe they should wear buttons reading, "Grace is gone and the money's gone, too." (link)

Jan. 11, 2008

Round 12: A quick check-in on the eve of the Globes that were flattened:

At this point, it seems clear that two options exist. The studios give a carefully calibrated deal to the Directors Guild that will allow the other unions to end the war. Or, the studios are on a march to the sea with the intention of breaking the Writers Guild. In this scenario, the idea would be that the directors get an unacceptable deal, the writers' unity crumbles, and the Screen Actors Guild, still under contract until the end of June, loses its nerve after contemplating the mangled corpses of writers at the side of the road.

A very articulate comment posted in the Fray by one Peter Noah (yes, the same one listed on IMDB with all those TV credits) states a point of view supporting the studios-crush-the-writers scenario. He writes:

What no one's factored in here is that [the networks' resorting] to cheap reality and game programming actually advantages their bottom line—they get the same paltry rating at a fraction of the cost. And as a bonus, forced into this, courtesy of the writers, they even get to do so without having to withstand critical opprobrium. … [This is] why the Guild leadership utterly miscalculated the effectiveness of this job action.

Jeez, Peter, are you after Hollywoodland's job?

In a Variety article on television ratings, our friend Josef Adalian would seem to underscore the point. He says, "[R]eality shows are doing as well as or better than the scripted shows they've replaced" and that ABC's Wednesday lineup hasn't skipped a beat despite losing Pushing Daisies, Private Practice, and Dirty Sexy Money.

On the other hand, Adalian notes that viewers could get sick of all reality, all the time. (You think?) And studios can't squeeze as much advertising and other revenue out of reality as they do out of successful scripted shows.

So, how long-term are the big conglomerates that own these studios thinking? Watch what happens with the Directors Guild to find out. (link)

Jan. 8, 2008

Thus Spoke Zucker: You would think NBC Universal president and chief executive Jeff Zucker is a busy man, trying to revive his network, dealing with the writers' strike, figuring out how to deal with the cancelled Golden Globes telecast. But is he too busy to attend to details?

Remember that Top Ten list—Demands of the Striking Writers—that David Letterman had on the air last week, on his first night back? It was presented by a string of scribes including The Daily Show's Tim Carvell, The Colbert Report's Laura Kraft, and Nora Ephron.

Several sources from various places claim that before the show, Zucker got wind that among the presenters were a couple of striking Saturday Night Live writers. In other words, writers for an NBC show were abetting the enemy when their loyalty clearly should have belonged to disadvantaged Tonight Show host Jay Leno! (Back with no writers except, of course, himself.) The writers were in the Letterman's lair, waiting to record the list, when someone at NBC got hold of them, our sources say. Zucker's displeasure was threatened and they were convinced to book out of there just before the cameras rolled. (Conan O'Brien writer Chris Albers stood his ground and did the list.)

An NBC spokesperson denies that Zucker made that call or caused that call to be made. "We would not want our people on Letterman but Jeff Zucker is not meddling," this executive says. "This is happening on a lower level." Someone at NBC simply invoked Zucker's name in trying to stampede the writers off the show, the spokesman contends, adding, "I do it all the time when I need clout."

This spokesperson took the hit for trying to block another NBC talent, Tracy Morgan, from being a guest on Letterman this Friday. (That's not working out—it's already taped.) Morgan is on NBC's 30 Rock but the Letterman appearance is to promote the upcoming First Sunday—a movie that has nothing to do with NBC Universal. But NBC's position is that if Morgan wants to promote something, he should do it on Leno's show. If he doesn't want to cross a picket line—which would be necessary if he were to appear on Leno's show—then he should stay home. (link)

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