Friday, January 23, 2009

Academy ignores popular films

Something is up with the Academy Awards. For most of this decade they have been giving short-shrift to popular (i.e. big box office grossing) films.
It didn’t use to be that way. Allow me to demonstrate.
This year’s list of Best Picture nominees marks the fifth year in a row where a Top 10 box office grossing film did not make the cut for the Academy’s top honor. That is an unprecedented streak dating back to at leat 1980 and probably further.
This year, the most popular best picture nominee at the Box Office so far is Benjamin Button which has just cracked the $100 million mark and ranks No. 22 for the year.
In 2007, the biggest box office draw was Juno at No. 15. In 2006, the top grossing nominee was The Departed, also at No. 15. In 2005, Brokeback Mountain had the highest box office gross at No. 22. And in 2004, The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby were No. 22 and No. 24, respectively.
The last time the general public and the Academy agreed on a film was 2003 when Lord of the Rings: Return of the King took the Best Picture Oscar and was the No. 1 draw at the box office. The next most popular best picture nominee that year was Seabiscuit at No. 17.
In 2002, LOTR: The Two Towers was No. 2 at the box office and Chicago was No. 10. In 2001, LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring was No. 2 and A Beautiful Mind was No. 11.
So, not counting the LOTR trilogy, there has only been one best picture nominee in the last eight years to crack the Top 10 at the Box Office.
But so what? It’s not like they used to always nominate Top 10 films for the Oscar, did they? Ummm. Well, yes, they did.
In 2000, Gladiator was No. 4 at the box office, while Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was No. 12 and Erin Brockovich was No. 13.
In 1999, The Sixth Sense was No. 2, while The Green Mile was No. 12 and American Beauty was No. 13.
In 1998, Saving Private Ryan was No. 1 at the box office. Shakespeare in Love was No. 18.
In 1997, Titanic was No. 1; As Good As It Gets was No. 6 and Goodwill Hunting was No. 7.
In 1996, Jerry Maguire was No. 4.
In 1995, Apollo 13 was No. 3 and Braveheart was No. 18.
In 1994, Forrest Gump was No. 1 and Pulp Fiction was No. 10.
In 1993, The Fugitive was No. 3 and Schindler’s List was No. 9.
In 1992, A Few Good Men was No. 5 and Unforgiven was No. 11.
In 1991, Beauty and the Beast was No. 3 and Silence of the Lambs was No. 4.
In 1990, Ghost was No. 2 and Dances With Wolves was No. 3.

Need I go on? OK, I think I will...

In 1989, Driving Miss Daisy was No. 8 and Dead Poet’s Society was No. 10.
In 1988, Rain Man was No. 1 and Working Girl was No. 11.
In 1987, Fatal Attraction was No. 2 and Moonstruck was No. 5.
In 1986, Platoon was No. 3.
In 1985, The Color Purple was No. 4 and Witness was No. 8.
In 1984, Amadeus was No. 12. You have to go all the way back to 1984 to find the last time a Top 10 Box Office draw was not nominated for Best Picture.
In 1983, Terms of Endearment was No. 2 and The Big Chill was No. 13.
In 1982, E.T. was No. 1, Tootsie was No. 2, The Verdict was No. 11 and Gandhi was No. 12.
In 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark was No. 1, On Golden Pond was No. 2, Chariots of Fire was No. 7 and Reds was No. 13.
In 1980, Coal Miner’s Daughter was No. 7 and Ordinary People was No. 11.

OK, I’ll stop there.
So what the heck is going on? How come the Academy and the general public have grown so far apart in their tastes? More independent cinema? Too many movies to choose from? It is fine if they want to promote indy films, but can’t they reserve at least ONE slot every year for a movie that the general public likes? Is that really asking too much?

Best Pictures seen and unseen

Thinking about the Oscar nominations last night, I decided to list out all the Best Picture nominees that I have ever seen. It's a long list, but still woefully short for someone who considers himself to be a movie buff. For instance, I've seen none of the movies from 1920s and only a handful from the 1930s. And, of course, I haven't seen any of the Best Picture nominees for the past two years and only one each from 2005 and 2006.
So following the first list, I put together another list of the Best Picture nominees that I would like to see. I don't know enough about a lot of the early films to know whether I would like them or not. One thing is for sure, though, I need to spend more time watching TCM.
(an * means I saw all the nominees that year)

The Thin Man
Captain Blood
The Story of Louis Pasteur
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Gone With the Wind
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The Wizard of Oz
The Grapes of Wrath
The Philadelphia Story
Citizen Kane
The Maltese Falcon
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Pride of the Yankees
The Ox-Bow Incident
Going My Way
Double Indemnity
The Bells of St. Mary’s
It’s a Wonderful Life
The Bishop’s Wife
Miracle on 34th Street
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
An American in Paris
High Noon
The Quiet Man
From Here to Eternity
Roman Holiday
On the Waterfront
Mister Roberts
Friendly Persuasion
The King and I
The Ten Commandments
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Ben Hur
The Apartment
The Alamo
West Side Story
The Guns of Navarone
Lawrence of Arabia
The Longest Day
The Music Man
To Kill a Mockingbird
My Fair Lady
Dr. Strangelove
Mary Poppins
The Sound of Music
The Sand Pebbles
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Bonnie and Clyde
The Graduate
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Funny Girl
Midnight Cowboy
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The French Connection
A Clockwork Orange
The Godfather
The Sting
American Graffiti
Cries and Whispers
The Godfather Part II
The Towering Inferno
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Dog Day Afternoon
All the President’s Men
Taxi Driver
Annie Hall
Star Wars
The Deer Hunter
Heaven Can Wait
Apocalypse Now
Breaking Away
Chariots of Fire
On Golden Pond
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Verdict
The Right Stuff
Hannah and Her Sisters
The Mission
A Room With a View
The Last Emperor
Broadcast News
Fatal Attraction
Rain Man
The Accidental Tourist
Dangerous Liaisons
Mississippi Burning
Working Girl
Driving Miss Daisy
Born on the Fourth of July
Dead Poet’s Society
Field of Dreams
My Left Foot
Dances With Wolves
The Godfather Part III
The Silence of the Lambs
Beauty and the Beast
The Crying Game
A Few Good Men
Howard’s End
Scent of a Woman
Schindler’s List
The Fugitive
The Piano
The Remains of the Day
Forrest Gump
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Pulp Fiction
Quiz Show
The Shawshank Redemption
Apollo 13
Sense and Sensibility
The English Patient
Jerry Maguire
As Good as it Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
L.A. Confidential
Shakespeare in Love
Saving Private Ryan
The Thin Red Line
The Cider House Rules
The Green Mile
The Insider
The Sixth Sense
Erin Brockovich
A Beautiful Mind
Gosford Park
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Moulin Rouge!
Gangs of New York
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Pianist
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Lost in Translation
Master and Commander
Million Dollar Baby
The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Good Night and Good Luck
The Queen

And now for the list of best picture nominees I would like to see:

Grand Hotel
42nd Street
It Happened One Night
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
You Can’t Take it with You
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Wuthering Heights
The Great Dictator
How Green Was My Valley
Sergeant York
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Anchors Aweigh
The Best Years of Our Lives
Twelve O’Clock High
All About Eve
King Solomon’s Mines
Sunset Boulevard
Quo Vadis
A Streetcar Named Desire
The Greatest Show on Earth
The Robe
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Three Coins in a Fountain
Around the World in Eighty Days
12 Angry Men
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Defiant Ones
Anatomy of a Murder
Elmer Gantry
The Hustler
Judgment at Nuremberg
Tom Jones
How the West was Won
Zorba the Greek
Doctor Zhivago
A Man for All Seasons
Doctor Doolittle
The Lion in Winter
Hello, Dolly!
Five Easy Pieces
Fiddler on the Roof
The Exorcist
The Conversation
Barry Lyndon
The Goodbye Girl
Midnight Express
All That Jazz
Norma Rae
Coal Miner’s Daughter
Raging Bull
In the Name of the Father
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Mystic River
The Departed
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
No Country For Old Men
Michael Clayton
There Will Be Blood
Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar nominations 2009

Maybe I’m just in a bad mood this morning, but theOscar nominations that just came out
really suck this year.
Here are the Best Picture nominees:
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk,” “The Reader,” “Slumdog Millionaire.”

I want to see “Frost/Nixon,” but as for the rest I am really indifferent. I was hoping that “Gran Torino” would get a Best Picture nomination, but no such luck.
I’m sure the ones that made it are all good films, but I just can’t get excited about them. I’m having a hard time seeing the appeal of a movie about a guy who is born old and gets younger as he ages. It sounds depressing. And I’m sure “Milk” is a well-done bio-pick, but I am more interested in seeing Oliver Stone’s “W” instead.
Why can’t they make room for at least one of the hugely popular and extremely well done films this year such as “Dark Knight” or “Iron Man” or “WALL-E.” They used to do that. Remember when “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was nominated for Best Picture? Or “Star Wars”? They didn’t win, but at least they got some well deserved recognition. But these days the Academy is extremely snooty and refuses to acknowledge any film that brings in more than $100 million at the box office. I think they are shooting themselves in the foot.
I’m glad that they gave a posthumous nomination to Heath Ledger for “Dark Knight,” but they will probably end up giving the Oscar to Robert Downey Jr. for his goofy role in “Tropic Thunder”. Downey is a great actor and is overdue for an Oscar, but he should have been nominated this year for “Iron Man”.
And I’m disappointed that Clint Eastwood didn’t get recognized for his acting in “Gran Torino”. Instead, they gave that slot of Richard Jenkins in the Not-Appearing-At-Your-Theater Indy-flick “The Visitor”.

Shared sacrifice? Not us!

It would go a long way to help lift the economy if some of these companies out there would just suck it up and keep more of their workers employed.
But corporate America doesn’t give a flying flip about shared sacrifice. All that stuff that President Obama was talking about in his Inauguarl Address? That’s for suckers. If their bottom line starts to dip even slightly, these companies are ready to start passing out pink slips. Let the government take care of the workers, they say, we have to watch out for our stockholders!
And so the vicious circle continues. The economy goes down. Businesses respond by cutting spending and laying off employees. And the economy goes down further.
This is why pure, unfettered capitalism is just as big of a failure as communism or socialism. None of these systems work by themselves. Capitalism is by far the best economic plan, but it needs a heavy dose of socialism and government intervention to keep from going off course and taking the country over a cliff. Unfortunately for us, Bush didn’t get around to handing the keys to the Obama administration until we had already driven off that cliff and crashed in the valley below. So it will be a long haul to pick up the pieces and get ourselves back on the road again.
In the meantime, companies that think they can weather the storm by passing out pink slips and putting their hands out for big, fat government bailout checks are going to have another thing coming.

New York’s Senate screw-up

I am deeply disappointed that Caroline Kennedy has been forced to withdraw from consideration for the New York Senate seat. I think this will prove to have been a boneheaded move on the part of Gov. David Paterson. I don’t understand why he has waited this long to make an appointment, but it was clear that he was just letting Kennedy hang out there and twist in the wind. She was being battered everyday by bad press and bad opinion polls and if Paterson had just made his pick weeks ago it would have gone much more smoothly.
Now, as a result of his dilly-dallying, it does not matter who Paterson picks - New York will lose power in the Senate. Hillary Clinton was a high-profile Senator who commanded respect and wielded power despite having little seniority. Caroline Kennedy would have gone a long way to fill those shoes with her history and celebrity. She would have wielded at least as much power as Clinton from day one. Now, New York will end up with a Senator who will have greatly diminished power reflecting their lack of seniority. Even if it turns out to be Andrew Cuomo, he won’t garner half the attention that a Senator Kennedy would have mustered.
That’s too bad.
Perhaps Caroline will now wait for the Senate seat to open up in Massachussetts when her Uncle Ted decides to step down.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Farewell tribute

Tom Tomorrow gives us an appropriate farewell tribute for the Bushies.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Inaugural Address

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Made For You and Me

This ain’t Dick Cheney’s America anymore. So good to see Pete Seeger still in good health and singing as an invited guest at a presidential inaugural with Bruce Springsteen. During the past eight years, the only place you were likely to see Pete Seeger would have been at a protest rally.

He’s STILL here!?!?

Can you believe that George W. Bush is STILL President!!!
Fortunately, the nightmare is finally going to end tomorrow. But don’t expect Bush to vacate the White House before exercising his final presidential perogative - Pardons. Who is going to get them? Scooter Libby? Sen. Ted Stevens? Alberto Gonzales? Michael Milken?
Frankly, I’m rooting for a pardon for Roger Clemens. I think Bush’s final act should be baseball related. If he is lucky, people will eventually forget that he was ever president and just remember him as a former owner of the Texas Rangers. Those were the good old days!