Film & TV: December 2005 Archives

Behind the scenes at the Oscars

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I've been enjoying Carpetbagger's take on Awards season. Obviously, a New York Times film critic doesn't need me to direct traffic to his site, but people might well miss a gem that was tucked away in the comments to one of his entries--a brief but funny behind-the-scenes look at the Academy Awards ceremony from Oscar-nominated screenwriter Julian Barry.

Syriana

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I went to a screening of the excellent and thoughtful Syriana last night, followed by a Q&A with writer/director Stephen Gaghan, and I'm pleased to report that Mr. Gaghan--who also wrote Traffic--speaks the way he writes screenplays. That is, when asked a simple question, he launches into a lengthy and intelligent narrative that cuts back and forth between several seemingly unrelated anecdotes before finally bringing them together in an ending that makes you feel better informed, even if it raises as many questions as it actually answers. At most of the Q&A's I've attended, the subject ends up answering five or six questions from the moderator, and roughly as many from the audience. Last night, given the same amount of time, Gaghan only got through two questions from the moderator and three from the audience, and he still managed to run over.

Oh, and by the way, to the British lady who turned to her husband on the way out of the screening and said, "Of course, the Americans won't understand that movie," I would just like to say: You're absolutely right. The country that gave you The Sopranos, West Wing, The Simpsons, and, oh yes, THE FREAKING MOVIE YOU JUST WATCHED can't possibly provide the same sort of sophisticated mass audience that makes The Sun your country's most-read newspaper, but we do our best to muddle through somehow.

Golden Globe nominations

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The Golden Globe nominations have been announced. I don't have too much to add to Alligators in a Helicopter's thoughtful and thorough post on the subject, but I did want to highlight two disagreements with him.

He writes:

Given the mediocre reviews that "Mrs. Henderson Presents" is getting, and looking at the list of the 9 female Best Actress nominees other than Judi Dench, it seems like Reese Witherspoon might be getting an Oscar in about three months.

It's always dangerous to say too much about movies you haven't seen. Trust me, Scott--if you've seen Mrs. Henderson Presents, you would have no doubt that Judi Dench is the leading contender for Best Actress. She gives an absolutely fantastic performance. Plus, she's playing a plucky older woman who believes in the value of free expression.

He also writes:

I understand that they break down the categories into Dramas and Comedies/Musicals, but that still doesn't make "I Walk The Line" a musical. Just because they perform a few songs here and there - because that's their character's job - it's not a musical.
OK, now it's my turn to talk about a movie I haven't seen. I can't speak directly to Walk the Line But movies where the characters only sing because it's part of their job make up a good chunk of the musical genre. In fact, up until about 1943 (when Oklahoma! hit Broadway and made its influence felt all the way to Hollywood), most movie musicals were about people who were putting on a show of one sort or another.

Changes in BAFTA voting

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I've received my BAFTA voting pack, and I note two interesting changes this year.

First is the increased power of voters in specific "chapters" of BAFTA. In the first round of voting, BAFTA members winnow down the hundreds of possible nominees in every category down to a more manageable 12. At this stage, everybody can vote in all categories--set decorators can vote for Best Editing, editors can vote for Best Screenplay, screenwriters can vote for Best Sound, and so on. However, the Academy is now giving a little extra weight to votes cast by members within their area of expertise. For example, as a member of the Direction Chapter, I received a letter informing me that:

...when the votes are counted in the Direction category, we will cross-reference the votes of the Direction Chapter with the rest of the Film Voting membership. If the voting differs, we will ensure that the top five from the Direction Chapter are included We hope that this will broaden the range of films considered for nomination. The distinction between films voted for by the Direction Chapter and by the membership at large will not be highlighted when the list is sent out.

The second change is that this year a little more guidance has been given to people voting outside their area of expertise. Along with my list of eligible films was a short flyer giving me guidance on what to look for when voting for various technical categories. A few excerpts:

Achievement in Special Visual Effects
In evaluating visual effects be aware not only of the noticeable effects but also subtle additions or deletions from scenes... Questions that should be asked by the voter include:
• Do the visual effects display artistry and creativity?
• Are the visual effects well integrated into the film, or do they draw attention to themselves?
• Are the visual effects natural and believable in their execution?
...
Production Design
The Production Designer is responsible for creating the most appropriate physical setting for the characters, action, and mood of the film, whether it be a location, a built environment, or a combination of the two. He or she is also responsible for the integration of the set decoration (for example, props, furniture, hand-props, graphics) and must be mindful of the integration of other visual crafts (costume design, make-up and hair and special visual effects) into the look of a film. Voters should avoid being 'dazzled' by the use of exotic and extravagant locations and settings if they are not appropriate for the film.

I think both these changes are very smart moves. As I've mentioned before, allowing awards voters to cast ballots outside their area of expertise creates a real risk that only the most unsubtle performances will take home a trophy. BAFTA (unlike the US Academy) already restricts final voting in most categories to experts in the field, which is one reason why the BAFTA awards are much less likely to result in a total sweep. With these new tweaks, BAFTA makes their voting process even more sensible, and even more likely to result in deserving nominees.

Cinea update

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J Tantalus recently posted a comment about his experiences with the Cinea DVD player to a previous entry. I thought he had some interesting things to say, and since most people won't find his comment, hidden as it is in a year-old entry, I thought I'd highlight it hear:

Every BAFTA member I know has had to have either a replacement Cinea DVD machine or a software update or, usually both!

One BAFTA member sent an email to Cinea saying he had a problem with his machine and he accidentally hit "send to all". I replied to him to tell him that his email might not have gone to Cinea and that he was not alone in his misery. He said he had an inbox full of emails from other BAFTA members also saying that their machines were so much junk.

One common problem has been that the image, although filling the screen was off-centre. This was either on the PAL setting alone or in both PAL and NTSC. This has necessitated a software update delivered on CD. We were first promised this in "a few weeks" a year ago. They have just arrived.

Other miscellaneous faults include dead displays and random crackles when playing CDs. I'm not sure where the "high end" idea comes from. If it wasn't for the watermarks (don't you just love being treated like a crook?) we'd have been better off buying a £30 player from Tesco.

After all this it looks like Disney might be the only reason that we have to give this thing house room. Nobody else can be bothered to watermark their screeners.

Po-faced as ever, Cinea have also made the players single region - even though people in the film industry have perfectly legitimate business reasons for viewing DVDs from other regions. Indeed, Warner Brothers have already sent 2 Region 1 discs this year to BAFTA members which can't be played on the Cinea machines!

On the whole, I regret the passing of the VHS screeners. You could watch them on anything and once watched, they provided a useful source of blank tapes.

Needless to say, this just reenforces my intention to ignore all Cinea-only DVDs that I receive.

Awards Season Tally

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If you move your eyes a degree or two to the right, you'll notice a new feature: a complete tally of all the DVDs I've received, the Q&As I've witnessed, and the screenings I've attended since the For Your Consideration season started in October. I've also listed the films I hope to see before 4 January, when the first round of BAFTA voting ends. I'll try to update the tally regularly as I attended more screenings.

If there's a film that came out in 2005 that you think deserves consideration in any category, and I've left it off my list, let me know, and I'll try to see it.

One thing that helped me put this list together is that I'm pretty careful about keeping track of which movies I've seen; after I've seen a movie, I make a point of entering it into my list, and jotting down a few notes about my impression. Looking over the list as a whole, I notice that I've seen roughly 85 movies thus far in 2005 (including DVDs). This is far above the national average, but doesn't seem like all that much to me. I blame all the traveling I've done this year. Clearly, I am spending too much time seeing the real world, and not enough time in somebody else's fantasy. I will have to do something about that next year.