Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oscar Sunday '06, aka "Quality is now a genre"

Finally awards season is wrapping up. I was invited to a viewing party but will be watching in my PJs.

I did go to a "very fab" pre-oscar party last night. It was so fab, this junior production company exec told me they weren't let her in because she had on jeans. She was confused by the door policy "It's LA!" The invite did said award wearing attire, so people did get a little more dressed up than usual. It was a mix of movie and music people.

I was so excited that I could actually walk to the party, very un-LA. The place was packed, I ran into some people I haven't seen in a while and hung out with some friends. Women were all over Terrence Howard and Mike Ealy "girrrrrl he has some pretty eyes". My friend said hi to Terrence but when I saw him he was surrounded. I talked Mike and his manager for a while. Anthony Mackie? Hello! I did not know.

The DJ was great, however my sling-back heels were so high (for me) I was trying to limit my movement. Not that many people were dancing until later in the evening. When DJ said " All you over 30s will know this one", and put on DeBarge, the crowd went crazy. Then he went into Biggie. He did not play the Ashanti song that the younger people on the dance floor think sampled Biggie. No young ones, it's a DeBarge sample.

This guy from NYC was flirting with my friend and it warmed my heart. He wasn't flirting for/because of work, he did not ask her "what do you do". I left them to do their thing, made a last loop around to say goodbye to friends then hobbled home.

Many people are freaking out about the potential low ratings for the Oscars, since all the movies are "small". Whatever. The Oscars are supposed to be about honoring excellence (or at least very good) in film not worrying about ratings or only picking films with the biggest box office. It's the studio's own fault. They used to make some movies that were great and commerical. Now the "independent" wings make those films, for a price. Ms. Dargis summed it up well today. Below are a couple paragraphs:

These days big studio movies do not, as a rule, excite the intellect or stir the soul: that's what specialty titles like "Brokeback Mountain" are for. In the last few decades, the American movie industry has become increasingly split between high-concept spectacles engineered to attract as many viewers as possible (think flypaper) and niche products pitched to specific audiences. In this climate, films released through a studio specialty unit, like "Capote" and "Good Night, and Good Luck," are just one niche among many, like horror or teen flicks. Their principal value doesn't come from ticket sales, but from the prestige and awards they confer on a parent company. In Hollywood, as a friend recently quipped, "Quality is now a genre."

The corporate independent, meaning brands like Fox Searchlight Pictures and Focus Features, may be as oxymoronic a term as high concept, but as this year's Oscars prove it's an oxymoron that has reaped important dividends for Hollywood. The absorption of independent companies into the system and the creation of specialty divisions furnished the industry with a much-needed infusion of new talent, from influential filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh to ubiquitous executives like Harvey Weinstein. Without corporate independents like Warner Independent Pictures, a specialty arm of Warner Brothers Entertainment, George Clooney might be home tonight instead of smiling for the camera on behalf of "Good Night, and Good Luck," for which he has been nominated for best director, and "Syriana," for which he received a nomination for best supporting actor. As the star of films like "Ocean's 12," Mr. Clooney makes money for Warner Brothers Entertainment; as a corporate independent player, he gives it class.

Mr. Clooney's dual capacity reflects Hollywood's tradition of giving us the same thing while making it seem somehow different. At the same time, he is part of a system that now reserves most of its smartest, most high-minded and ostensibly serious properties for its specialty divisions, the implication being that most moviegoers are not interested in smart, high-minded, serious films. Maybe they aren't. Or maybe they no longer have faith in the movies: witness Hollywood's recent inability to sell low-end garbage like "Stealth" or high-end kitsch like "Memoirs of a Geisha." Even the chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Michael Lynton, whose company released both titles, admits moviegoers aren't as stupid as the studios seem to think: "Audiences have gotten smart to the marketing, they can smell the good ones from the bad ones at a distance."

The crisis now facing Hollywood isn't unique to the movies; the atomization of the culture makes it hard to know what people want, particularly when they belong to a multi-everything society like ours. Still, something will be lost if Hollywood continues to downsize its ambitions and fails to make movies that connect with the mass audience, to make movies that speak to us as a unified whole rather than as a mass of self-interested egos, that give us a sense of collective identity and social cohesion. A nation of iPod-people, each staring at his or her individually downloaded film on the delivery system of his or her choice, seems a poor substitute for the oceanic feeling that comes with watching a film with a crowd, finding communion in the dark.

1 comment:

gibber said...

So it turns out Oscars were down 10% from last year. I mean really, Hollywood only has itself to blame. Make movies that everyone wants to see. Granted, I think that everyone should have seen Good Night and Good Luck, and Brokeback AND Crash (even tho i didn't like it soooo much). But let's be real - these aren't "commercial" movies in the traditional sense. That's not to say that the American people don't like quality. You CAN make quality films that are commercial (King Kong - the slow begining aside, was a critical and commercial success). I dunno ragazza. I'd like to hold out hope for your industry, but then you go and make movies like the new Wayans movie :)