Notes on the Atrocities
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Wednesday, February 12, 2003  

Oscar Thoughts

Today's NY Times has a big article about the redemption of Harvey Weinstein, bossman of Miramax. His obits were apparently filling the Hollywood rags as recently as three months ago, but now he's got 40 Oscar nominations and is the king of the world. (Bully for him.)

Part of the analysis is that the big studios have given up on the Oscar race to the "independent" and (borrowing the college hoops phrase) "mid-major" studios. Well maybe. I think it's hard at this point to distinguish Miramax from the Hollywood "bigs" (Columbia, Fox, MGM et. al.). "Gangs of New York" may have been the independent vision of one man, but it was a $100 million movie, for cripes sake. "Chicago" had a budget of $40m, and the Hours (co-produced with Paramount)--the most self-consciously "independent" of the Miramax best-picture nominees, had a $25m budget. Let me tell you, 25 mil here and 25 mil there and all of a sudden you're talking about real money.

Other, smaller pictures were made for squat, and they were totally overlooked by the academy. Some movies that got good reviews that were made by seriously independent filmmakers were:

>Monsoon Wedding (a joint production of six companies, released by USA) - budget: $140k (I think--7 million rupees, anyway).

>Fast Runner (nine production companies, released by Lot 47 Films) - budget: $1.25 mil.

>Sunshine State (Sony Pictures Classics) - budget: $5 mil.

>Rodger Dodger (Artisan) - Gross: $1.26 mil (no budget details).

But of course, these got no attention by the awards folks because they didn't have the Miramax war chest to go out and get them. This notion that the indies are killing at the Oscars is nonsense. Hollywood has merely created a tier for Oscar films--they're full budget pictures, but made with more than a three-week hype-and-go in mind. Movies that got a lot of attention but which did not belong to this tier of filmmaking--"Far and Away," "Punch-drunk Love," "Igby Goes Down"--got squat.

This Oscar-tier of movies are solely a Hollywood institution--except for this year's "Lord of the Rings" neither fans nor critics were particularly thrilled. The collective gross of the four non-Rings movies is just $164 million (to date--it will of course go up).

And if we use Metacritic (cool site, incidentally) scores to gauge critics' reactions, most of these were good but not great. (Metacritic creates an aggregate score based on reviews from 30+ news sources.) Their scores, based on a 100-point scale, looked like this--Gangs of New York (72), Chicago (81), The Hours (82), The Pianist (86), and LotR: Two Towers (90). If the critics had selected the nominees, they would have chosen (according to Metacritic): Far From Heaven (88), Talk to Her (89), Fast Runner (96), Spirited Away (98).

On the other hand, the academy should be commended for selecting five solid pictures. After all, last year's winner ("A Beautiful Mind") got a 73 from Metacritic.

posted by Jeff | 3:00 PM |
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