Awards angst, but not over who will win

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Awards angst: With the Golden Globes temporarily tarnished as collateral damage in the Writers Guild's strike and uncertainty about the Oscars still unresolved, it's clear that this year's awards angst isn't about who's going to win.

Indeed, with the Oscar race more wide open than it's been in years, Hollywood handicappers would normally be busy predicting the Globe winners and how they'll fare on the Oscar front. Unfortunately, the usual concerns over who will win were replaced by bigger concerns over whether there would or even could be a Globes telecast and then whether there could or could not be parties and if there were any who would attend to raise those champagne flutes? Now with nothing but a press conference to look forward to, there's a lot less talk about winners because it's evident that this awards season everyone's become a loser. It's ironic that after a year that gave us some very good movies to celebrate, nobody's celebrating.

Nonetheless, there will be Globe winners announced at Sunday's news conference and whoever they are they'll automatically be regarded as Oscar frontrunners. While Globes success can translate into Oscar victories, it's actually Globe nominations that have the greatest impact on the Oscars. That's because the Globe noms represent a very convenient cheat sheet for Academy members to refer to when they're pressed for time after returning from winter vacations in early January and being faced with only a few days in which to fill out and return their nominations ballots.

The Globes' best picture noms are typically a great list to work from if you need some help deciding which films to pay attention to. Consider the current Globe nominees for best picture-drama -- "American Gangster," "Atonement," Eastern Promises," "The Great Debaters," "Michael Clayton," "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood." And then consider the Globe nominees for best picture-musical or comedy -- "Across the Universe," "Charlie Wilson's War," "Hairspray," "Juno" and "Sweeney Todd."

If you had a stack of 50 or 60 DVD screeners awaiting you as you began unpacking from spending the holidays in Aspen or Maui and you only had time to watch, say, a dozen or so movies, you'd be in pretty good shape if you just watched those 12 Globes nominees. If you also considered films whose directors received Globe noms, you'd be adding one more title to the list -- "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." From viewing those 13 movies you certainly could make some solid Oscar noms.

This isn't the sort of thing that Academy members are going to acknowledge doing, but it's widely believed that that's exactly what many of them do. And, by the way, I don't think there's anything wrong in doing it. The fact is that the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. members who vote on the Globes spend the entire year seeing films and attending news conferences with the stars and filmmakers. They live and breathe movies because as journalists it's their job. In fact, some HFPA members actually see some of the leading films a second time in an effort to make the best possible nominating decisions.

Academy members, on the other hand, spend most of the year making movies or trying to get them made. They don't have the opportunity to see the volume of product that HFPA members see week by week and typically they have to catch up with a great many films at year-end in order to be able to make nominations. Hence, having a shortlist of Globe nominees to look at is a great blessing for them.

This time around, by the way, it was probably even more helpful than usual because Academy members had even less time to devote to seeing movies in early January. For many of them, television coverage of the results from the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary was a magnet for their attention and, as a result, two nights probably went down the drain that might otherwise have been spent seeing films.

Although the Globes shortlist of titles has already played its part in helping to determine the Academy nominations that will be announced Jan. 22, another major impact that the Globes have on the Oscars won't be happening. That's the impact resulting from the extensive live television coverage that's given to Globe winners on NBC and a wide range of syndicated and network television shows, cable networks and Internet sites. It starts with the Red Carpet interviews and fashion critiques live from outside the Beverly Hilton Hotel and then goes on to include the table shots of them partying in the Ballroom during the show. For those who are lucky enough to win, there are the hurried walks to the podium and the breathless acceptance speeches that follow and that get repeated over and over again on TV. And then, of course, there are the after-parties where we get to see the winners clutching their Globes (which, incidentally, are way too heavy to really want to lug around all night).

Without the traditional Globes telecast and post-awards galas, this year's winners won't receive all this global television exposure and that's going to keep them from getting the most bang from their Globe victories. Moreover, much of the additional coverage on cable TV that the Globes receive won't be happening this year. E! Entertainment, for instance, announced that it's going to be running news updates about the Globe winners rather than its usual wall-to-wall Red Carpet coverage of the event.

Although NBC News is going to be covering the Globes press conference announcing the winners, the likelihood is that the audience for this coverage won't be close to the roughly 20 million viewers that last year's Globes event delivered. The same fate just befell the pre-taped People's Choice Awards on CBS, which delivered only about 6 million viewers compared to
over 11 million viewers for last year's live telecast.

What winning a Globe traditionally does is generate coverage that makes a star or filmmaker look like a winner. When Academy members see those Globe winners it's like seeing a preview of how they would look and act Oscar night if they were to win. Globe winners help themselves with Academy voters if they don't make fools of themselves while accepting their awards and if they don't run on forever thanking their spouses and kids and managers and agents and the kindergarten teachers who started them on the road to acting.

If they look like winners they have a bit of a leg up on the other nominees in their category. And if they win multiple awards and keep showing up on television as winners that helps even more. That was, for instance, one of the factors that helped Helen Mirren win last year's best actress Oscar for "The Queen" (another key factor, of course, was her great performance in a terrific movie). How Academy members regard nominees who win Globes is a subtle but important factor and the slight edge it provides is definitely something that would be worth having in a close race like the one we're seeing this year.

"Mad Money:" Forget what you've heard about great movie premieres being a thing of the past. Overture Films' premiere Wednesday night of Callie Khouri's "Mad Money" showed just how enjoyable these events can be when you combine a fun movie and a first-class after-party. That's exactly what Overture did to launch its first release, a very funny comedy starring Diane Keaton, Queen Latifa and Katie Holmes, opening Jan. 18.

After screening "Money" at Westwood's Village Theater, Overture had shuttle buses on hand to take guests to Royce Hall at UCLA where there was lots of favorable talk about the film over tasty tidbits from Jar, Bar at Chateau Marmont and Pizzeria Mozza/Osteria Mozza. Not only was the food way better than you typically find at premieres these days, but the party space was terrific because it allowed for multiple food stations so there weren't any long lines of famished filmgoers.

What should work to "Money's" benefit, I observed when I ran into Overture CEO Chris McGurk, is its broad playability. It's a film with appeal not only to an obvious female audience (both younger and older given the three leads), but also to adult men (identifying with Ted Danson playing Keaton's husband) and on top of that to African-American moviegoers (appreciating Queen Latifa's single mom character's concern for her two young sons). That's a solid base for a film that didn't cost a lot to make and stands to get Overture off to a good start at the boxoffice. In next Friday's column I'll focus in detail with McGurk on "Money" and Overture's future plans.

Filmmaker flashbacks:
From Aug. 20, 1990's column: "With summer heading down the homestretch it's an appropriate time to summarize a few of the lessons Hollywood's learned these past 13 weeks.

"(1) You can have a boxoffice hit by appealing to adults. Paramount can certainly attest to that with 'Ghost,' which ... should play strongly into the fall and could wind up grossing around $170 million, which would make it 1990's biggest film. (Update: 'Ghost' grossed $217.6 million and was the year's second-biggest movie.)

"Warner Bros. 'Presumed Innocent' is another adult audience success story (which) should reach about $90 million through the fall, making it Alan Pakula's most-successful film ever. (Update: 'Innocent' grossed $86.3 million and was Pakula's biggest movie until his 1993 thriller 'The Pelican Brief,' which grossed $100.8 million domestically.)...

"(2) Stars must promote their movies. Stars who support their films -- especially by doing television interviews -- make a huge difference in terms of boxoffice results. This summer's best case in point is Tri-Star and Carolco's 'Total Recall ... 'Without Arnold Schwarzenegger's nonstop publicity efforts, it's doubtful that 'Total's' total would ever have been so large. (Update: 'Total' wound up grossing $119.4 million domestically and was the year's seventh biggest film.)

"(3) The right distribution timing can make the difference between boxoffice success or failure. For instance, by positioning 'Die Hard 2' as the last to open of a string of high-profile action-adventures, 20th Century Fox avoided seeing it decimated in its second weekend by the arrival of one more film targeted to the same audience of under-25 males. 'Die' has grossed over $101 million to date and has outperformed almost everything else released this summer. (Update: 'Die' ended up doing $117.5 million domestically and ranking eighth for the year and third for the summer (after 'Ghost' and 'Total Recall')...

"(4) Higher ticket prices are cutting into repeat ticket sales and reducing the impact younger males have at the boxoffice. Kids over the age of 12 pay adult admission prices as high as $7.50. That didn't keep them from seeing the new films their peers were flocking to see this summer, but it did make them think twice about seeing them a second time. Higher ticket prices are making home video the medium for repeat viewing. That's a key reason why none of this summer's action-adventures grossed anything close to $150 million."

Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.UpdateHollywood.com.
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