AFI highlights Altman, Eastwood

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With a farewell tip of the hat to Robert Altman and a special commendation for Clint Eastwood, the American Film Institute completed its review of 2006 on Wednesday by highlighting what it calls the AFI's Moments of Significance.

Casting the spotlight on eight developments that had an impact on the worlds of TV and film, the list leads off with Clint Eastwood, dubbed "a national treasure," citing the fact that he completed two films, "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima" that "not only complement one another, but they resonate together to create one of the great motion picture experiences of the new century." The AFI also hailed Eastwood's team of collaborators -- including producers Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz, writer Paul Haggis, cinematographer Tom Stern, editor Joel Cox, production designer Henry Bumstead and casting director Phyllis Huffman -- for providing "an epic reminder that the American viewpoint is not the only human perspective."

"Letters" also was included among the AFI's choices of the top 10 movies of the year, which were announced this month.

The new list concluded by eulogizing Altman, who died Nov. 20. It called him "a true maverick of American film. His body of work -- both in film and television -- reflects an exceptional diversity in genre, but always with his indelible signature. From overlapping dialogue to the epic ensemble pieces filled with actors who revered him, Altman's style continues to inspire artists and audiences alike."

The other developments cited by the AFI include:

  The documentary speaks to the world. Citing Davis Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth," which examined global warming; James Longley's "Iraq in Fragments," one of a number of docus that took on the war in Iraq; and Spike Lee's "When the Levees Broke," an epic take on Hurricane Katrina's effects on New Orleans. The AFI noted "in 2006, it was the documentary that best illustrated the power of film and television to bring us together as a global audience -- and, with hope, to affect change."

  YouTube redefines "the tube." Observing that audience interactivity has become part of the television landscape with such shows as "Dancing With the Stars" and "American Idol," the AFI acknowledged "the explosive growth and domination of YouTube as the preeminent site for uploading, viewing and sharing video clips on the World Wide Web signifies the awakening of an age when the audience is both producer and distributor."

Pointing out that once Sen. George Allen's "macaca" comment surfaced on YouTube, it became a factor in his ultimately unsuccessful campaign for re-election, the citation continued, "The impact of self-produced media is currently most profound as it relates to documenting events of the day that would have otherwise gone unnoticed."

  TV news migrates to the Internet ... and from fact to fiction. This year "marked a year when network and cable news became far less significant in the echo chamber of the Internet, and the fusion of journalism and comedy continued to impact the political scene," the AFI said.

It called Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert's appearance as the featured speaker at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, which discomforted those in attendance, "an Internet sensation, providing a defining shift in the way the 2006 midterm elections were perceived and discussed by a younger generation."

  VHS is dead, long live the digital future. This year marked the death of the VHS cassette, first marketed in 1976 by JVC. "The VHS format transformed the way the world watched the movies and, because of its popularity, changed the way movies were made and marketed," the AFI observed.

It also noted that 2006 saw several experiments in which theatrical distribution was married to digital distribution, including the release of Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble" simultaneously in theaters and on HDTV, and "10 Items or Less," which premiered in theaters and then became available via broadband within two weeks of its national release on Morgan Freeman's ClickStar, a joint venture between Intel and Freeman's Revelations production company. "The legal market for digital downloading became a reality in 2006 as full-length feature films are now available via cellular phones, Internet sites and through special DVD agreements with retail stores. The field continues to be lead by iTunes, which offers hundreds of television episodes and select movie titles," the AFI said.

  Have you no shame? Television says yes. According to the AFI, "a moral standard still exists for television, albeit a limit that had to be pushed to an extreme to be of note." The case it pointed to was Fox's decision to cancel a planned broadcast interview with O.J. Simpson following a public outcry.

  Networks fight back. In 2006, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and several of their affiliates filed a challenge to a FCC ruling that cited several incidents of "indecent" language. In the view of the AFI, "This represented a rare galvanizing moment for the television community, which sees the FCC's rulings, penalties and fines as vague and inconsistent and has asked the agency to provide a clear definition of its terms of indecency."

The AFI will celebrate its 2006 almanac -- including its top 10 films, 10 TV shows and eight moments of significance -- at a luncheon Jan. 12 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles.
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