Niagara Gazette

February 19, 2013

CALLERI: Controversy surrounds the Oscars as Hollywood prepares for its big night

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — It’s a common misconception that the Academy Awards, which have been given out for 85 years, are a motion picture industry event in which everyone connected to movies participates. Except for the fact that a lot of film people watch the Oscars on television, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Academy Awards are a closed affair, a party held for an elite group, the privileged members of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences. AMPAS does not reveal the identities of its members, but in 2012, the Los Angeles Times broke through the secrecy and came up with some interesting information. It researched the Academy’s own glossy publications, insider biographies, Hollywood history from trade newspapers, and conducted conversations with people who make movies.

The Academy projects the illusion that the Oscars are voted on by the “industry,” but the truth is that becoming a member is difficult. You have to be invited to join and not every nominee or winner gets invited. In 2012, the Academy claimed a membership of 5,765. This year it is thought that 5,857 belong. Members are the only people who get to vote for the nominees and winners of the Academy Awards. Invitations to join are voted on by a board of directors that is believed to number 43 people, six of whom are women. Only one board member is a person of color and it’s one of the women.

According to the Times, the Academy membership is 94 percent white, 2 percent black, 2 percent Latino, with the other 2 percent possibly being Asian and Native-American. 77 percent of the members are men. The median age is 62, and only 14 percent are under the age of 50. Some other figures are equally surprising. Only 14 percent are Oscar winners. 64 percent have never been nominated or won an Oscar. 19 percent have been nominated, but didn’t win. The status of the remaining 3 percent is unknown.

The numbers aside, the Oscars are still a riveting must-see for many and a guilty pleasure for some. There are those who say they don’t care, but I think they do. Who will win this year?

Nine movies have been nominated for best picture. I would be very happy if one of these films won: “Amour,” “Beasts Of The Southern Wild,” “Django Unchained,” or “Life Of Pi.” As for “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” they are good, not great; both a bit repetitive. As “Lincoln” unreeled, it became boring. It also ignored the contributions of Black Americans to the abolition of slavery. Although I enjoyed “Silver Linings Playbook,” its over-hyped appeal escapes me. Watching “Les Miserables” was like being tortured with a camera an inch from my face. “Argo” has the momentum and will win.

The best actress Oscar race is between Emmanuelle Riva for “Amour” and Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook.” I would be thrilled if Quvenzhane Wallis won for “Beasts Of The Southern Wild.” I want Riva to win, but the momentum favors Lawrence.

The best actor award will go to Daniel Day-Lewis for inventing a voice for Abraham Lincoln. The guy who should have won, John Hawkes for “The Sessions,” wasn’t even nominated, which is a disgrace.

All of the supporting actor nominees have won before in this category. I think Christoph Waltz deserves a second Oscar for playing the bounty hunter in “Django Unchained.” Robert De Niro was terrific in “Silver Linings Playbook,” and he’d be a good winner, too. (He also has a best actor award.) Tommie Lee Jones in “Lincoln” let the awful wig he wore do the acting for him. He bored me. But, Jones is leading the pack.

For supporting actress, Anne Hathaway seems to have a lock on the award because she lost weight and sings to screeching heights in the tediously overwrought “Les Miserables.” I would prefer Helen Hunt winning for “The Sessions.”

The directing category is a mess. Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”), Ben Affleck (“Argo”), Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”), and Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables”) were not nominated, although their movies were for best picture. Hooper, of course, didn’t deserve a nomination anyway.

So, that leaves Ang Lee (“Life Of Pi”) and Steven Spielberg” (“Lincoln”) as the front-runners. Both have already won. For Michael Haneke (“Amour”), “Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts Of The Southern Wild”), and David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”), the honor is being nominated. Spielberg leads the pack. I would welcome Lee winning again. Haneke will win for best foreign language film for the great “Amour.”

“Searching For Sugar Man” deserves to win the Oscar for best documentary feature. And if there’s an absolutely sure thing, it’s Adele Adkins winning best song for “Skyfall,” which she co-wrote with Paul Epworth.

The Oscars air live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood this Sunday night starting at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com