The Voice of Independent Artistry

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Queen Latifah — former host of The Independent Spirit Awards, celebrating cutting-edge, low-budget filmmaking (not to mention, although I’m about to, a former Grammy host) and onetime political firebrand — is now the spokeswoman for big-box discounters Wal-Mart, whose public-relations woes are fairly well documented at this point (which is why Inglewood voted a while back to keep it out). In one spot, she fairly bullies a “friend” into using the Wal-Mart gift-card she gave said friend to buy one of her crummy movies on DVD (probably “Taxi,” though I must confess to not paying great gobs of attention to TV commercials). Now that’s the Independent Spirit. Wal-Mart declines to sell even mainstream books, DVDs and CDs it deems controversial. Wonder how many Independent Spirit winners (not to mention nominees) are available in Wal-Mart’s DVD bins?

Awards for these gentlemen, please

Tom O’Neil is the guy who almost single-handedly transformed awards season from a glowing consideration of artistic merit into nothing more than a crass horserace, sort of the way network news steamrollered issues in favor of mere polling during Presidential elections (ONeil was ably assisted by the folks at the Golden Globes, though). His breathless website (camping over on the competitions bandwidth) virtually hyperventilates after each and every screening he attends, and he handicaps all the major races again and again, after every little twitch that signifies a potential sea change, and then he thoughtfully spams you with his impressive insights — I wonder, even if you’re not in or covering the entertainment industry, does he track down your Email and send his every prediction to you, too? Anyway, congrats to Tom for a sterling array of predictions this year — he’s guaranteed to be right somewhere, because by my (admittedly addled at this point) estimations, he’s predicted that practically every film will win some award. Another guy who’s annoying like this is Roger Ebert (whose 2005 Top-10 list features, no fooling, a whopping SIXTY-THREE MOVIES, one of which he calls one of the most delightful films EVER MADE? and yet its not even in his Top, Top-10). Ebert trolls the red carpet on Oscar night and tells anyone he can get within spittle-flinging distance of that he KNEW the very SECOND he saw their film that they would get nominated. (Pretty safe bet to mention it at that point, no?) His Channel-7 red-carpet co-hort, George Puppethead or whatever his name might be, is even worse, his tiny little over-caffeinated noggin unfettered by any actual useful knowledge about film history or aesthetics. Others who cover awards season at least admit theyre there simply for the glamour and the gowns these three pretend theyre bringing hefty discourse to the proceedings, but all theyre really doing is perpetuating the giddy idiocy.

See Eberts Top-63 list:

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051218/COMMENTARY/512180302

Answering the question: Where will you put your trophy?

There was a short-lived TV series a few years back called “City of Angels,” about an inner-city hospital. As such, the show was far more earnest than it needed to be (and, given the talent assembled — Paris Barclay was an EP, as, I believe, was Steven Bochco, and Blair Underwood starred — it wasn’t quite good enough) — apparently on TV if you have a predominantly white hospital like on “House” you can just mouth off all day long but if your hospital is in the inner-city you have to be all serious. Except for this one episode — this one scene, really — in which a guy is admitted to the hospital and he has something stuck where the sun refuses to shine and it just happens to be his Golden Globe and someone cracks, “Good a place as any for it.”

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You will be unsurprised to hear that “City of Angels” received zero Golden Globe nominations during its brief run on CBS.

From Bad to Worse to…Award

Time was, the Razzies were the only “worst of” list jumping on the awards season bandwagon in any notable fashion. Now you can’t turn around without getting blindsided by newfangled institutions such as The Notable People of 2005 That Miu von Furstenberg Would Love To Bitch Slap and the Biggest Turkeys of 2005. The latter trophy-fest, drummed up by LoveFilm (England’s answer to Netflix), bestows gobbles upon “XXX2: Another Level,” “Fantastic Four” and “Dukes of Hazzard.” Blockbusters weren’t the only targets; Indies “Revolver,” Ma Mere” and “Crash” were also raked over the (roasting) coals.

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One of the cluckers clunkers from the list. Don’t you just love leftovers?

Globes: A History of Hygiene (spoilers!)

I generally get where critics are coming from, even if I disagree with their assessments. But there was one movie this year whose reviews still having me scratching my head, and now that it’s figuring into the Awards picture, I’ll let my lone-voice-in-the-wilderness (or my revealing-my-ignorance) riff out into the ether and see if anyone else agrees or can at least explain what I apparently missed. The movie: David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence,” AKA “A History in Which the 62-Year-Old Auteur Proves He’s All Grown Up Because He Doesn’t Display Any Disfigured Sexual Organs For Once, but He Does Display William Hurt, Which Arguably is Worse.”
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Awards Overload

A new book posits that there are about 9,000 movie awards given out in a given year. Thats more than the number of actual movies that come out, according to The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards and the Circulation of Cultural Value, by James English. The exponential growth in kudo-fests began in the 1970s and continues unabated, he writes, and theres an intriguing paradox to it all. New Yorker critic Louis Menaud says in a review of the book that scandals over who gets awarded what, and brouhaha over whether the awards mean anything in the first place actually underscore the importance of such institutions:

His theory is that when people make these objections they are helping to sustain a collective belief that true art has nothing to do with things like politics, money, in-group tastes, and beating out the other guy. As long as we want to believe that creative achievement is special, that a work of art is not just one more commodity seeking to aggrandize itself in the marketplace at the expense of other works of art, we need prizes so that we can complain about how stupid they are.

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The entertainment industry is certainly satisfying that need.

Crushed under the Awards Campaign Machinery

Why do you suppose studios campaign hopelessly for yet bury small films in the middle of awards season? Yes, one imagines its to stoke the egos of the films participants, but by all but ensuring that these movies never emerge out from under an avalanche of other bigger-noisier-often-crummier movies, youd think those egos would be pulverized under all that detritus by the idea of their work not being seen by anyone. Im thinking specifically of a handful of films that were allowed to die in limited release, never given even the chance to strike out with a larger audience: “Shopgirl, “Bee Season and “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. Im not saying any of these films are particularly accomplished Im suggesting theyre probably not good enough to earn significant awards support but good enough to find larger audiences than they were allowed to. I wonder at what point did the studios behind these movies decide/realize they were going to dump these things, that they werent really even going to try to find them audiences?

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Awards overload

So now they’re going to have an Emmy for material you can watch on your phone. Which means some bit of flash animation a kid cooks up in his bedroom could share televsion’s most prestigious award alongside David Chase or Steven Bochco. This democracy-in-action is all very nice, but what’s next? A Grammy for Outstanding Ring Tone? A Writers Guild award for best idea cooked up in someone’s head but never subsequently pursued?

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