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February 27, 2009

Gold Rush to readers: See you real soon


In the South we call it a "country good-bye," that long, drawn out, lingering at the door, endlessly recapping conversation that happens when people need to hit the road, but would really rather stay and keep visiting.

We'll spare you the Gold Rush version of this co-dependent social interaction.

The blog, started 16 months ago, is going on hiatus after nearly 1,000 posts and coverage of events big and small. It bowled right through Emmy, Oscar, Grammy, MTV Movie Awards, Bravo's A-list, every Spike sci-fi and video game kudofest, country music lovefest and BET thank-God-fest.

Wasn't that fun? And wasn't it awesome that the best picture really did win the Academy Award this year?

2009_monsters_vs_aliens_0011 Never mind that it pretty clearly says, "Year-Round Awards Blog" right up there on the masthead. The times they are a-changin' -- and that logo will have to change with them.

A number of awards blogs are seasonal, and THR is joining those ranks, planning to bring Gold Rush back in the fall in time for the launch of multimillion-dollar awards campaigns for, oh who knows, Quentin Tarantino's Nazi hunt, "Inglourious Basterds," Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Dennis Lehane's "Shutter Island," Johnny Depp's mobster drama, "Public Enemies," or Peter Jackson's much-anticipated version of "The Lovely Bones."

Plenty of movies to look forward to this year -- the next "Twilight!" "Monsters vs. Aliens!" -- and the boxoffice is already off to an amazing start (we're referring to this as the "Paul Blart" Effect). Oscar season 2010 should be packed, packed, with worthy choices and, if we're lucky, at least a few contenders, a la "The Reader," for us to hate on.

Until then, you can always read our voluminous archives. Just kidding. May we suggest a daily dose of Risky Business for your movie fix and The Live Feed for all-things-television. And, keeping it in the Nielsen family, we'll be spouting on BrandFreak, where you can keep up on quirky, weird, effective and lousy tactics that corporate America uses to get you to buy stuff you don't need. Unless, of course, it's entertainment. We all need that right now, maybe more than ever.

Come back in October. Meanwhile, see you around!

Oscar from the pulpit

Statue indoors Someone dressed up like The Joker -- Heath Ledger's version -- and another did a Richard Nixon impression of sorts, but with the "Frost/Nixon" character played as a winged monkey. You see, it was a "Wizard of Oz"/Oscar tribute/mashup at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Burbank on Sunday dubbed "Oscar Extravaganza."

Say, does the Academy know about this. No, really. Or do next year's producers need a head start on ideas?

Because so many industry folks live in the area, home to and frequent butt of "The Tonight Show" jokes going back decades, the church has had an annual ritual of putting on a live show Oscar morning. The goal is to acknowledge Burbank as a company town and, at the same time, put the whole awards grab in perspective, pastor Paul Clairville told The Burbank Leader.

It's also to honor the most-thanked individual in Oscar history -- God. (Hey, isn't that an Aussie drinking game?)

This was the seventh year for the Oscar-centric service. Quick question: does the studio exec involved, identified in the paper as working in "rights and clearance," not know just how picky Oscar is about his trademark? Seems odd. And ironic. And hilarious. 

If we'd been there ourselves, and we so wish we had, we couldn't have come up with a scene setter like this:

"The performance ended with a song in honor of Jesus, before the congregation stood and sang along as the church's garage band played a punk rock song about God that had attendees tapping their feet and bobbing their heads to the sounds of drums and electric guitars."

Not sure what's better here, the actual event or the description of it. Ah, community journalism (at a paper that's owned by the Los Angeles Times).

Check here for the full story -- with photos! -- here for a video of the sermon (but not the show) and here for a local columnist's observations. Now go in peace.

February 26, 2009

Hero's welcome for 'Slumdog' kids


The adorable young actors from "Slumdog Millionaire" might've gotten a less than gracious introduction to Hollywood from the likes of Ryan Seacrest -- describe how you're feeling, in English! -- but they had a hero's welcome back home in Mumbai.

The celebration swept up Azharuddin Ismail (youngest Salim, pictured above) when he and other cast members of the eight-time Oscar-winning love story arrived at the city airport near the Behrampada slums where they live.

85122144 Update on Ismail and Rubina Ali (who played the youngest Latika): They'll be moving from their lean-tos to real homes soon, courtesy of the Indian government.

"These two children have brought laurels to the country, and we have been told that they live in slums, which cannot even be classified as housing," a state-run housing authority exec told the AP.

This photo of Ali was taken before she dissolved into tears (not Kate Winslet style), apparently overwhelmed at all the attention and hundreds of well-wishers that mobbed the kids. Give her a break -- she could probably really use a nap.

Fox Searchlight paid to bring the cast to L.A. for the Oscars on Sunday -- where the rags-to-riches "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"-based tale snagged best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay, among other prizes -- and had to defend against a pseudo-backlash in the weeks before the awards about treatment and pay for the young stars. And, oh yeah, those ridiculous "poverty porn" accusations.

Because of their roles in "Slumdog," Ismail and Ali are enrolled in school for the first time, have funds set up for their future education, medical and living costs.

Meanwhile, the movie's nearing $100 million at the boxoffice and will expand to more than 2,500 theaters tomorrow to capitalize on the Oscar exposure.

February 25, 2009

'A-list Awards' go gayer than Oscar


So you think you've already seen one of the gayest awards shows ever? That would be true if you were among the 36.3 million people who watched the "81st Annual Academy Awards" on Sunday. Thanks, Baz Luhrmann, "homo-loving" Academy voters and Broadway show tunes!

But no, there's plenty gayer, and we're not talking about the Tonys.

82941226 Basic cable Home of the Gays, Bravo, is getting ready for a second go-around of "The A-list Awards," hosted by infamous D-lister/Emmy owner Kathy Griffin. Last year, the show -- aside from being really, really gayrific -- served mostly as an infomercial for Griffin's caustic wit, a bunch of blue chip advertisers, and every pseudo-star from every Bravo reality show.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it sure played a lot better on TiVo.

The 2009 nominees were just announced. There's an extensive -- really, too extensive -- list of categories that cover food, fashion, beauty, design and pop culture. Think some of those exist to supply the two-hour show with well-heeled sponsors? Naw, the Samsung Blu-Ray player, the new MacBook and the fourth generation iPod Nano just happen to be among the "A-list Innovation" choices.

And there's no star grab, either, with a category called "A-list Celebrity Restauranteurs." Ashton Kutcher, Eva Longoria Parker and Sandra Bullock will duke it out there.

There's the typical TV show, actor, album and musical artist races -- "True Blood," Neil Patrick Harris, Beyonce and Katy Perry, among many other nominees -- and the really demo-specific categories like A-list Designer, A-list Style and A-list Abs (all men, like Matthew McConaughey).

Go here to see the full list of nominees and cast your vote (until March 31). The show airs in June.

February 24, 2009

Oscar likes the youngsters

84981781 The addition of young heartthrobs to the Oscar lineup looked, to most of us paying attention, like a desperate grab for viewers in the advertiser-coveted demographics. In other words, those 18 to 49 years old.

So did the "Twilight" hunk Robert Pattinson, singer Miley Cyrus and actors like Amanda Seyfried and the "High School Musical" kids serve that purpose? (Because, honestly, that could've been anybody presenting awards -- Pattinson and Seyfried -- and singing in an overstuffed musical number -- Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens).

Sunday's telecast of the "81st Annual Academy Awards" posted a "12.1 rating in adults 18 to 49, the second lowest in at least 20 years, beating only last year's 10.2 rating," according to the L.A.Times.

There could be far more effective or tangible ways to age-down this ceremony, says Carpetbagger, by giving young producers a shot at the job. More contemporary music, nods to digital culture. He even has the first suggestion: Stew from the rock-pop-funk band Negro Problem and brain trust behind the Tony-winning musical, "Passing Strange."

Some critics have said the Academy should just accept that the Oscars are becoming a niche show, even though the three-and-a-half-hour live program rated better than the recent premiere of "American Idol." We say, keep rejiggering the thing and maybe it'll get more interesting. It had to change, and change it did. That needs to be an ongoing commitment. Now, go and do more.

And note to the Academy: Pattinson can sing. He really can!

Jon Stewart misses Oscar

Jon Stewart was licking his wounds for two reasons last night -- first, he was passed over in favor of Hugh Jackman as host of the "81st Annual Academy Awards" and second, he picked "Space Chimps" to sweep the night. 

Of all the rotten luck.

And then, his cohort John Oliver ripped apart Stewart's two-term Oscar hosting gig, calling him "the George W. Bush of comedy," leading the Academy to rip up the format and start over again in his wake. Jackman blazed in to play the Obama/hero role.

Poor Stewart. It wasn't his fault that Hollywood's A-listers completely turned on him in his second hosting turn last year. But boy did they, refusing to connect on any level to his "ironic detachment." It's not the last we expect to see of comedians at the Academy Awards podium, but it may be a while before one returns. Depends on when Billy Crystal, Ellen DeGeneres or Tina Fey is available.

Watch John Oliver take Stewart down a few pegs here.

February 23, 2009

Oscar's opening number

So what, it ate up 10 minutes of valuable real estate, caught Shirley MacLaine off guard (she didn't know Anne Hathaway could sing!) and launched an Oscar telecast that was kind of like the Tonys?

The opening bit of the "81st Annual Academy Awards" rocked, and so did Hugh Jackman. Vulture proclaimed, "Hugh Jackman Saves the Oscars!" based on this campy musical number, where the first-time host said what everyone was thinking about Biggest Snubee "The Dark Knight" -- what's so unsophisticated about a $1 billion boxoffice haul? -- and admitted he hadn't seen "The Reader." Neither had most of the people watching at home and quite likely a fair amount in the Kodak Theater.

Turned out that was just the first slag on the Holocaust drama, with a later skit from Seth Rogen and James Franco, in full-on "Pineapple Express" stoner mode, laughing uncontrollably as they watched an intense patently-unfunny clip of Kate Winslet and her young co-star David Kross. See it here.

Quick question: Wonder what Fox had to do to get that "Wolverine" plug at the end of Jackman's song? Talk about choice real estate.

Oscar picks: More right than wrong!


We were tripped up by the best foreign film -- we thought for sure it would be awards hoarder "Waltz With Bashir" and not the Japanese undertaker tale "Departures" -- a couple of shorts and a tech category. 

That's what kept us from having a perfect score on our Oscar predictions, but we still managed 19 out of 24. We'll gloat for only a few minutes, given that so many of the winners were not even close to being surprises.

In fact, that's probably why much of the talk today is about the "81st Annual Academy Awards" show itself rather than those who snagged Little Gold Men. Did anyone really believe that Kate Winslet would go home empty-handed a sixth time? Or that "Slumdog Millionaire" wouldn't melt Academy voters' hearts like it did everyone else's?

The winners did give a giant boost of confidence to the crippled indie film business and show us all the multiculti face of today's entertainment.

THR has extensive coverage of the kudos, backstage reaction from the winners, slideshows and more. Knock yourselves out.

Thumbs up and down to Oscarcast


Ratings for the "81st Annual Academy Awards" are coming in, and they look to be 13% better than last year, with some 36.3 million people tuning in to the live telecast.

So, that's not bad news for ABC and the Academy.

But the reviews are also in, and some of them are downright hateful. While Defamer has declared it "pretty darn gay," meaning that in a good way, and THR found it "a heartfelt, elegant and stylish affair that played with uncommon flair," the L.A. Times took issue with what the bitter critic called first-time host Hugh Jackman's "chorus boy spaz-out" and the "mini-mentoring sessions" as prior winners introduced current nominees.

Hey, we liked that part.

84979537 So did Brian Lowry at Variety, who found a number of high points but ultimately thought the overhauled show from the "Dreamgirls" team of Larry Mark and Bill Condon was "unlikely to expunge the Oscars' age lines or chart a new direction for the telecast."

Gold Rush commenter Mary thought Jackman hit it out of the park and Philippe Petit should be invited back every year but, like us, still finds the whole shebang butt-numbingly long.

"The truth is someone in the Oscar show editing room is going to have to drown some kittens if they really want me to have faith in the live show. They may find their time-wasting montages precious and irresistible but I don't! And, seriously, a pink slip to the person responsible for including a snippet of 'Nights of Rodanthe' in any portion of an Oscar broadcast. Quickly, my smelling salts!"

"Another strong recommendation: either cut the show to under three hours or start the damn thing earlier. Think of the Super Bowl, people! That baby goes on forever -- forever! -- yet viewers actually get to see the end of the game, regardless of their time zone, because the action begins at a realistic hour."

Now there's an idea -- the Super Bowl for Women learning something from the Super Bowl. When even the manly men at our party were digging the kudofest, we'd thought it was going rather swimmingly. We sure didn't sense a bomb. 

Other suggestions for improvement out there? Reaction to the show? Let it fly.

Fey, Martin bring the Oscar funny


It was the bit that made people miss comedians at the Oscars -- Tina Fey and Steve Martin bantering about the craft of writing films, jabbing at Scientology as "our religion ... that we made up," and obviously having a good time together while presenting screenwriting awards to Dustin Lance Black ("Milk") and Simon Beaufoy ("Slumdog Millionaire").

This video is obviously shot off TV, and at a vertigo-inducing angle at that, but it's worth watching if you didn't see this part (or any) of the "81st Annual Academy Awards" last night.

Rourke, Henson ruin Silver's Oscar picks

84983466 Skilled political numbers cruncher Nate Silver had a point by predicting Mickey Rourke would win the Oscar for best actor -- Hollywood does love a comeback kid and the rehabbed Rourke fits the bill in spades. That story just couldn't outshine post-Prop 8 guilt or Sean Penn's transformative performance in "Milk."

But Silver really went off the rails by saying Taraji P. Henson would take home the best supporting actress Little Gold Man for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." (He made four -- out of six -- correct picks, but most everybody did).

Today, he tries to explain himself -- caution: the words heuristics and rulesets are used -- and takes a potshot at Rourke in the process:

"In the best actor category, we might also have learned a thing or two last night. Namely, it probably doesn't help to be a huge jackass to all of your peers when those peers are responsible for deciding whether you receive a major, life-altering award."

He means pre-rehab.

Sounds like a load of sour grapes to us (and a failure to take into account the long awards campaign and Rourke's valiant battle in it). Maybe Silver should reprogram that computer or skip Oscar prognosticating. It seems to have gotten his logarithms all riled up.

Oscar ratings bump


There was no droning, monotone Sid Ganis speech, and the suits from PriceWaterhouseCoopers didn't get their usual time in the spotlight.

If those had been the only two changes to this year's Oscar telecast, that would've been a decent start for us. Truth was, there was a much broader revamp, as the Academy and first-time producers Larry Mark and Bill Condon had promised.

Much to discuss on this Day After, like why in the world "Last Chance Harvey" got even one second of montage time, but we'll pick a place and start:

First, the ratings. In other words, did the advance hype translate to more eyeballs watching the "81st Annual Academy Awards?" Early word from brother blog Live Feed says yes; ABC is reporting a 6% bump in major markets and expects to see as much as a 10% jump in overall viewing once it gets the final tallies.

Since the telecast sank to record lows last year, with 32 million people watching, the preliminary numbers would seem to indicate that the full-court marketing press from the network and the Academy convinced some lapsed, on-the-fence or uninterested viewers to take a look.

Since the winners weren't much of a surprise, we expect a lot of the talk today to be about the kudocast itself. Come on back as we deconstruct.

Clothes make the men at Oscars

84976727 Did you know that the cummerbund is basically the male equivalent of a bra? Or that there's a right and wrong way to wear a pocket square, if, that is, you're rocking a tie tack at the same time?

Neither did we.

That's where Esquire comes in today, with a cold, hard assessment of male fashion from the 81st Annual Academy Awards.

And just in case you couldn't tell, it's the Day After the Oscars and your resident Gold Rusher is sporting a brain so fried that anything more than fashion recaps may cause a meltdown of epic proportions.

So we checked out the Esquire best/worst list to see that 18-year-old Dev Patel, star of the eight-time Oscar-winning love story "Slumdog Millionaire," scored again as a best-dressed dude (something about a shawl collar), Mickey Rourke, best actor nominee for "The Wrestler," earned the "so crazy it might work" label (Isaac Mizrahi just called him "jaunty" on the "Today Show"), Brad Pitt's sleeves were too long, Zac Efron used too much product while trying to "upscale his haircut," and Seth Rogen is "most improved."

Seal looked great too, the magazine says, but nobody ever pays attention because they're much more interested in what Heidi's wearing. Didn't she look fab in that red frock?

For the full slideshow, go here.

February 22, 2009

'Slumdog' feels the love

84979664 It's been an extraordinary journey indeed.

No stars, no money, producer Christian Colson said, and eventually no distributor. But Warner Bros. did the right thing, as Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle said a few minutes ago, and handed the Mumbai-set rags-to-riches love story over to a loving home, indie powerhouse Fox Searchlight.

That changing of the guard made all the difference in the world. It meant a wide release and an intuitive marketing program for a movie that could've ended up going straight to DVD.

And now "Slumdog Millionaire" wins best picture, becoming the most heavily decorated Little Movie That Could. It's a timeless piece of cinema, beloved by most everyone who sees it. That's the very definition of an Oscar winner, or it should be.

Penn wins for 'Milk'


Robert De Niro probably doesn't suffer fools or give hollow complements. Again, that's why this new format is working for us, and apparently for the Oscar nominated stars, who are welling up at their introductions from prior Academy Award winners.

Win or not, they're all choking up.

And that makes for good TV (congrats on that, first-time Oscar producers Larry Mark and Bill Condon).

And speaking of that batting average: Sean Penn, our pick, just won the much-deserved trophy for best actor for "Milk." We figured that there would be the two places the Academy voters would reward "Milk," a drama about the life and murder of gay activist Harvey Milk that couldn't have proven more timely in this Prop 8 world. (Best actor and best original screenplay for Dustin Lance Black).

"You commie, homo-loving sons of guns," Penn said with a smirk.

He took the opportunity to talk about the Prop 8 proponents against gay marriage and the "signs of hate" that greeted attendees of the 81st Annual Academy Awards. He didn't specifically explain it, but if it's like every other award show, there are always some placard-wavers outside the venues damning everyone to hell for Hollywood's entertainment output, gay-friendly or otherwise.

We're thrilled with this win and for the exposure it will give to vital human rights issues.


Winslet wins on sixth try


By far one of the best changes to this rejiggered Oscar show is the way the acting awards are being presented. And if we'd known about this ahead of time? Would it have been any less meaningful?

Definitely not.

It's the juxtaposition of the prior winners with the current nominees that works. And not only that, it's the way the nominees are being introduced and saluted. It's so much more personal. It's warmer; it's real. 

And just now as Kate Winslet won her first trophy in six tries, for best actress in "The Reader," and was quickly surrounded by those presenters -- Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren and Nicole Kidman among them -- it was an authentic moment of joy. We don't get nearly enough of these.

Winslet, who says she's been dreaming of this moment since she was a kid practicing her acceptance speech in the bathroom mirror, gladly trades the shampoo bottle of her youth for the Little Gold Guy.

As we said before, we still feel like this is a case of right actor/wrong role, but Winslet's win was a sweet TV event. And it works for our predictions, which are swimming along quite nicely, thank you very much.

A tuneful In Memoriam


If the attending stars at the Kodak Theatre are clapping after some of the images appear during the "In Memoriam" segment that's happening now, it's not possible to hear them on the live telecast.

That was the whole point of having a song accompany this bit, with first-time Oscar producers Larry Mark and Bill Condon talking in the last few weeks about how much they didn't like those outbursts, however heartfelt. They made the "people we lost" segment into a popularity contest, the producers had said.

Insert Queen Latifah singing a lovely rendition of "I'll Be Seeing You" and, check it out, problem solved!

Not so here at Regular Joe Central, where nobody got that memo. The hoots and hollers were nearly deafening at times, but hey, we did lose Paul Newman.

Big dance number


There was a big song-and-dance number in the 81st Annual Academy Awards that didn't put people to sleep. Or if it did, there was the addition of the USC marching band there to wake them back up. Oh, you're a clever guy, Baz Luhrmann, and don't think we didn't notice the "Moulin Rouge" plugs.

Gathering some performers who can really sing and dance -- like Beyonce, host Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, et al. -- was a good idea, given that "The musical is back!" We'll give you that, especially if you count "Camp Rock."

Manly men like Oscar

84979766 A few of the guys here at Busby's East admitted to having fallen asleep during previous Oscar telecasts. They prefer sports, after all, and really just watched the kudofest when somebody else in the house turned it on and they were too lazy to leave the room.

Tonight, it's a different story. They're not only watching, but they seem to be enjoying it. They're connecting with it. The reasons are running the range -- they saw more of the movies nominated than they usually do, they're digging first-time host Hugh Jackman, who's likable in a charming and manly way, and they think it's flowing a lot better than usual. Less stiff and uptight. Looser.

"There's more interaction with the audience, and Hugh Jackman is really keeping it all moving along," said Rob, a non-industryite who came to the viewing party with his filmmaker girlfriend. "It really does feel different than in the past."

We won't know until the ratings come in whether more people decided to give it a go this year -- the Oscars suffered a record-low rating last year of 32 million viewers, and this whole revamp is happening to try to woo the lapsed viewers, the indifferent and the haters. Maybe those who did tune in like what they're seeing? We do, though it sure is still a butt-numbingly long event.

'Man on Wire's' magic act


Illusionist and daredevil Philippe Petit balanced the Oscar statue on his chin and did a magic trick after "Man on Wire," the incredible film about his insane tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, won the Oscar for best documentary.

Bet the team from "Trouble the Water" couldn't have done that.

Petit can't resist the spotlight, as anyone who's seen the compelling movie about his life and mind-boggling World Trade Center stunt can tell you. He's energized, delighted and fortified by it.

"Man on Wire" so wonderfully captured who Petit is, what motivates him and the gift that compulsive drive gave the rest of us.

And it helped our batting average for the night, which ain't too shabby. (Full tally after all the dust has settled.)

About this blog

Oscar Contenders

  • So "The Dark Knight" didn't make it into the final five after all, never mind that critical and popular support. Let's just call the comic-inspired mega-hit "The Biggest Snubee."

    Here are the best picture contenders in a race that, two weeks away from the Oscars, seems to be a foregone conclusion ("Slumdog") unless there's a come-from-behind possibility ("The Reader" anyone?)

    "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett; the politically timely "Milk;" rags-to-riches fairy tale, "Slumdog Millionaire," Holocaust best-seller-based drama "The Reader," and Watergate-era biopic "Frost/Nixon."

    Could "Button" and "Slumdog" split the vote, allowing another film to take the prize? Doesn't seem likely. After having clung to "Button" for months as what we thought would be the Academy voters' top vhoice, our money's now on "Slumdog." Momentum can't be ignored.

    Watch this blog for updates, ephemera and all manner of postulating.

Picture this

  • Mmmmm, chocolate Oscar. Not every star will walk away from the 81st annual Academy Awards with a trophy, but if they hit the high-profile Governor's Ball they can have pastry chef Sherry Yard's gold-dusted candy version. Also on the menu from celeb chef Wolfgang Puck is tuna tartare in sesame miso cones, chopped Chino Farms vegetable salad with ginger soy vinaigrette, Maine lobster and caviar. Serve it up! (Getty Images)

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