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OSCAR: Oh, They Coulda Been Contenders

Pete Hammond

You know the oft-repeated phrase heard this time of year, “It’s an honor just to be nominated”? That was never more true for some who might have actually won the Academy Award but tripped on their way to the Kodak stage by failing to get to first base with a nomination this past Tuesday. This year, presumed frontrunners in different categories weren’t moved forward in the Oscar race because of their own peer group. In case you’re not aware, peer groups pick the individual nominees in their categories. In the final vote, the entire Academy votes for the winners. The membership at large, thought not to be as technically judgmental as the formidable peer groups (or, in some situations, as swayed by petty jealousies), usually tend to select the more obvious choices. But what should be an anomaly happens a lot when it comes to Oscar. In 1989, Driving Miss Daisy was the big winner with four Oscars including Best Picture. Its director Bruce Beresford almost certainly would have made it five except for one small thing: the Director’s branch didn’t nominate him so the Academy at large couldn’t vote for him. It was the first time since Grand Hotel (1931-1932) that a director was not nommed for a movie that won Best Picture. (Instead, Oliver Stone won for Born On The Fouth Of July.) Most famously, Hollywood was shocked when the actors branch didn’t nominate Bette Davis for 1934’s Of Human Bondage even though it was considered one of the greatest female performances ever and its omission  caused  such a stir that the Academy augmented their rules to allow a write-in vote. (The write-in didn’t work, and Claudette Colbert triumphed.) Out of embarrassment, the Academy tried to make amends and gave Davis the Oscar the next year for the much-lesser Dangerous.

For instance, this year in the Best Make Up category, Alice In Wonderland was considered the frontrunner among the seven finalists – but shockingly failed to even be nominated. Instead, the final three nominees were Barney’s Version, The Way Back, and Universal’s early 2010 dud The Wolfman, forcing Academy voters to choose from these far more obscure entries. Which is why I have to ask: Was Paul Giamatti’s disheveled hair in Barney’s Version really better than the Make Up artistry on the Red Queen or the Mad Hatter? It’s all a very closed club, and the answer may not lie in the work itself but in who did the work and who is a member of the club.

For instance, the critically drubbed The Tempest‘s Sandy Powell, a 3-time winner in Oscar’s Costumes category, can get nominated for just about anything she does because she is one of Costume branch’s inner circle. The same is true for the Music branch and John Williams who doesn’t score for movies as much anymore. But any time he does, he’s likely to get a nomination because he’s an icon among musicians.

Regarding the Best Documentary nominations this year, I heard that one Governor of the Academy’s Documentary branch told a consultant that if Waiting For ‘Superman’, Davis Guggenheim’s widely favored education doc from Paramount, received a nomination it would win Best Feature Documentary with the membership at large. But he wasn’t voting for it and neither were some other branch members he knew due to questions they had about the way some of the documentary was conducted. Specifically, objections were raised about one scene recreated for the camera after it happened in real life. The result is that Guggenheim won’t be getting that second Oscar this time around (he won for An Inconvenient Truth) since his documentary didn’t make the cut with his branch.

Christopher Nolan was now infamously passed over in the Best Director category, first for The Dark Knight and this time for Inception. Would he have won this time out for staying true to his passion project? We’ll never know. My guess is there’s a certain level of jealousy because he pretty much can do whatever he wants and wherever he wants. (I often say he could go in and pitch a remake of Howard The Duck and studios would say yes.) Steven Speilberg was famously not nominated as Best Director for the Best Picture nominee Jaws. (Worse, a TV show following around Spielberg that day the Oscar nods were announced showed him anxiously anticipating a nomination that never came.)

Lee Smith’s dazzling Editing for Inception was thought to be an easy winner in that category once it got to the general vote. Problem is, the editors themselves dissed it. No Oscar for Lee this year.

Diane Warren won a Golden Globe this month for the anthem she wrote for Cher in Burlesque called “You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me”. And she was considered a likely Academy Award winner this time after 6 previous Oscar nominations. Plus, Cher was expected to perform it on the telecast. Unfortunately, the Academy’s grumpy Music branch decided we had seen the last of Warren this awards season and nominated only four tunes, none of them from the critically reviled Burlesque. Talk about a backlash. (A publicist connected with Warren’s campaign even wanted to ask for a recount but knew the Academy would never allow it.) The same Music branch disqualified Clint Mansell’s soaring blend of original music and Tchaikovsky in Black Swan which almost certainly could have triumphed with the general Academy membership when voting starts on February 2nd. Read More »

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Producers Guild Unveils Documentary Noms

Mike Fleming

LOS ANGELES, CA (December 3, 2010) – The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced today the Documentary Theatrical Motion Picture nominees that will advance in the voting process for the 22nd Annual Producers Guild Awards.

The nominated films, listed below in alphabetical order, are:

* Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

* Earth Made of Glass

* Inside Job

* Smash His Camera

* The Tillman Story

* Waiting for ‘Superman’

Nominations for the other Producers Guild Award categories will be announced January 4, 2011, along with the individual producers. The 2011 Producers Guild Awards ceremony will take place on January 22, 2011 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

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Toronto Fest Finds Mavericks In Bill Gates, Bruce Springsteen And Steve Nash

Mike Fleming

The Toronto International Film Festival has rounded out its film roster, which has swelled to nearly 250 films. The fest filled out its Discovery, Masters, Contemporary World Cinema and Visions and Vanguard programs, but the additions that jumped out to me were the naming of the Mavericks who’ll take part in discussions about their work. Top of that list is Bruce Springsteen, who’ll be interviewed by Edward Norton when The Boss comes to Toronto for the world premiere gala screening of The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Springsteen will discuss the film and the making of his seminal 1978 disc, as well as the relationship between his music and filmmaking. His songs are fused to memorable moments in films that include Jerry Maguire and Philadelphia.

Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash will discuss his directorial debut on Into the Wind, an hour-long documentary about Terry Fox, a Canadian icon who, after losing his leg to cancer, tried to run across Canada to raise funds and awareness to battle the disease. Nash, one of Canada’s most famous non-hockey sports exports, made the film for ESPN’s 30 for 30 Series.

Bill Gates is among the participants in a panel discussion being held by An Inconvenient Truth director David Guggenheim … Read More »

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Davis Guggenheim Drops Justin Bieber Pic

Mike Fleming

Even though Justin Bieber these days might be a bigger deal than global warming, An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim has dropped out of directing the young singer’s 3D concert film for Paramount Pictures. Guggenheim withdrew last night. I’m being told  from all sides that Guggenheim decided he’ll be too busy promoting Waiting For Superman, which Paramount acquired right before Sundance. But I wonder if Guggenheim might have gotten too much razzing from all of his documentary peers who did spit takes when Deadline revealed Guggenheim was signing on. Paramount has begun interviewing directors for what is being viewed as a good gig, because Bieber has such a fervent following.

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