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Category: Academy Awards

Poll: Should Billy Crystal host the next Oscars?

Billy crystal oscars newsWhen we polled Awards Tracker readers last week to ask who should host the next Oscars, Neil Patrick Harris came in first place with a 24% response out of more than a dozen choices (301 votes out of 1,236 total), and Billy Crystal came in second with 17% (217 votes). It's possible that Crystal might've done better had respondents really believed he would take the job if it were offered. After hosting eight times between 1990 and 2004, Crystal turned it down whenever it was offered again. 

 "It got to be too much after a while," Crystal told an audience after an anniversary screening of "City Slickers" at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica on Friday night. "That's why I pulled back. And then when I thought I might want to do it again, they were on to other people."

At this year's ceremony in February, Crystal made a brief return to the Oscars stage to present a special salute to the man who hosted or cohosted the gala the most: Bob Hope (18 times).

"I came out as a surprise. It was a last-minute decision," Crystal told the crowd Friday. "They had called and said would you do this thing and honor Bob Hope and that was a kind of cool thing to do. I said OK. I did it, and people wanted to see me, they stood up, and I couldn't talk for about a minute [while waiting for the ovation]. And, um, I got a little itchy. So we'll see what happens. I can't promise anything."

Crystal usually pulled strong Nielsen ratings when he emceed. He did best at the ceremony held in 1998 (35 million viewers) and worst in 1997 (26 million). Compare those numbers to the 22 million who tuned in this year to watch the bomb dropped by co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

— Tom O'Neil

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Poll: Who should host the Oscars?

Photo: Billy Crystal. Credit: ABC.


Oscars: Billy Crystal is 'itchy' to host again

Billy-crystal-oscars1 
(This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.)

If the Oscars need a host, Billy Crystal is ready to talk.

That was the message that came across this weekend when Crystal, who hosted the show eight times between 1990 and 2004, answered a fan who asked an Academy Awards question after a 20th anniversary screening of "City Slickers" in Santa Monica. 

Crystal, from the stage of the Aero Theatre, admitted that he got "itchy" after this year's cameo on the Oscars and that he'd be ready to talk about a return to the global stage of the gala.

 "It got to be too much after a while and the sameness in my life," the 63-year-old comedian and actor said. "That's why I pulled back. And then when I thought I might want to do it again, they were on to other people. It's always fun. It's really hard, but maybe one or two more times? I don't know. They know where I am."

Crystal is now at work on "Monsters University," the prequel to the Pixar hit "Monsters Inc.," and he is ramping up plans to make a film out of his Tony-winning one-man play "700 Sundays." But he said at the American Cinematheque screening on Friday night that his appearance earlier this year on the Oscars stirred his desire to return as host.  

"I came out as a surprise. It was a last-minute decision," Crystal explained to the sold-out audience on Friday. "They had called and said would you do this thing and honor Bob Hope and that was a kind of cool thing to do. I said OK. I did it, and people wanted to see me, they stood up, and I couldn't talk for about a minute [while waiting for the ovation]. And, um, I got a little itchy. So we'll see what happens. I can't promise anything."

After robust cheers and applause from the Santa Monica crowd, Crystal elaborated on the stress and pleasures of the one-of-a-kind Oscars gig.

"I so appreciate that you like when we do it," he said. "And I had a good time doing them. I did eight of them. And it takes a long time. I sort of stopped doing it -- I would do it in patches -- and then fortunately I was doing other things that I wanted to do. [It takes a long time] in order to do the things we did -- and [those things] change the way a host was working on the show. We started doing the medley with Mark [Shaiman], and then those got really funny. Then we entered the films, you know, cutting into the nominated movies, and that started taking a really long time. I was working four or five months just on the Oscars."

The Academy and the telecast producers (this year to be Brett Ratner and Don Mischer) routinely choose not to discuss who might be in mind for hosting until someone is confirmed for the job and announced to the public; that held true on Monday when asked about Crystal as a potential host. The 84th Academy Awards will be broadcast live by ABC on Feb. 26 from the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood.

(For the Record, 4 p.m. Aug. 15: An earlier version of this post said Billy Crystal's cameo appearance at the Oscars occurred last year. He appeared on the Feb. 27, 2011, telecast.) 

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-- Geoff Boucher

Photo: Billy Crystal on stage at the Academy Awards in February. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times


Octavia Spencer is the Oscar front-runner in 'The Help'

Octavia Spencer The Help

Responding to Manohla Dargis' mixed review of "The Help" in the New York Times, Jeff Wells (Hollywood-Elsewhere) bravely jumps into the discussion over who gives the standout performance between the film's two maids: Viola Davis or Octavia Spencer? Referring to Dargis, Wells writes, "She's pretty much dismissed every performance in the film except for Viola Davis', which means, I suspect, that unless the entire world disagrees, Davis has the heat and Octavia Spencer is out and that's it."

No doubt Wells is referring to their Oscar odds, but it's wrong to write off Spencer, considering category options. And that's a puzzle. "The Help" is such an ensemble work; do the actors -- including Emma Stone as the white woman writing up the maids' tales of struggle -- all belong in the supporting category? Or is Stone lead and Davis and Spencer supporting? Stone and Davis get the most screen time, so either can be considered for the lead race, but Spencer, no matter how you slice this film, is supporting.

My own view: Stone and Davis should campaign in lead and Spencer in supporting. I don't think Stone has a prayer to win. Davis definitely does. Her performance is the most deeply felt and raw as she emerges as the first maid with the guts to tattle on her white oppressors. Truly, she thus leads and therefore gives a lead performance. Davis has the most dramatically impactful scenes too, and she's the final face we see on screen. Yes, in all of those ways, she towers over Spencer.

But now, if Davis gets out of the way in the supporting category, Spencer is the front-runner to win -- yes, win -- at this early point in the derby. She not only gives a heart-lifting turn on film, she gets to wreak devilish revenge on her tormentor. Expressing bawdy defiance is often what fuels wins in this category, remember: Melissa Leo ("The Fighter"), Jennifer Hudson ("Dreamgirls"), Judi Dench ("Shakespeare in Love"), Beatrice Straight ("Network"), Dianne Wiest ("Bullets Over Broadway"), Marisa Tomei ("My Cousin Vinny") and so many, many more examples. Victory goes to the sassy scene-stealer.

If you think Viola Davis will agree to go supporting, you're crazy. She didn't at the 2010 Tony Awards bout for "Fences" even though her character competed in featured (or supporting) back in 1987 -- and won (Mary Alice). Davis' reps petitioned the Tony Awards Administration Committee to move her up to lead in the revival costarring Denzel Washington. They Tonys OK'd the switch and both stars won.

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Oscar poll: Will 'The Help' be nominated for best picture?

-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: Octavia Spencer in "The Help." Credit: Walt Disney Pictures


Oscar poll: Will 'The Help' be nominated for best picture?

The help poll news

All Oscarologists know that academy members are suckers for heart-tugging, quality films — just like the last best picture winner, "The King's Speech."

It's clear that three stars of "The Help" are seriously in the running for acting laurels (Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer) and that it's a strong contender for adapted screenplay. But what about the top prize? Now that that category will have a flexible number of nominations, it's harder than ever to predict, but let's try anyway. What do you think?

Here are snippets of a few sample reviews:

Variety: "A stirring black-empowerment tale aimed squarely at white audiences, 'The Help' personalizes the civil rights movement through the testimony of domestic servants working in Jackson, Miss., circa 1963."

LA Times: "A heart-warming surprise ... you won't want to miss this quintessential Southern portrait of the long, hot summer of their discontent."

Rolling Stone: "A deeply touching human story filled with humor and heartbreak is rare in any movie season, especially summer. That's what makes 'The Help' an exhilarating gift."

USA Today: "A crowd-pleasing tale."

— Tom O'Neil

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Photo: Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis in "The Help." Credit: Walt Disney Pictures.


An Oscar for Vanessa Redgrave in 'Coriolanus'?

Coriolanus

In Contention's Guy Lodge is tub-thumping hard for Vanessa Redgrave to get a supporting actress Oscar nomination for "Coriolanus." She portrays the mother of Shakespeare's revenge-wreaking Roman general in a modern update starring Ralph Fiennes, who also makes his directorial debut.

Lodge gave the film three stars after seeing it at the Berlin Film Festival, and he admires Fiennes' dual contributions, but he absolutely gushes over Redgrave, saying, "It's safe to say she hasn't had a big-screen showcase this generous since 'Howards End' nearly 20 years ago, and still, her work here outstrips that for difficulty and magnitude …. Just listening to the richly controlled tremors and modulations in her voice as she powers her way through a titanic final monologue — turning her son’s political persuasions through reams of exquisite language — is enough to raise hairs on the back of your hands; all too rare are the opportunities to watch our greatest actors wrestle such material on screen."

"Coriolanus" will be seen next at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Meantime, the British trailer has just been released. Unfortunately, it doesn't include much of Redgrave.

Redgrave won best supporting actress for "Julia" (1978) and she's been nominated five other times: once for supporting actress ("Howards End" in 1992) and four times for lead actress ("The Bostonians" in 1984, "Mary Queen of Scots" in 1971, "Isadora" in 1968, "Morgan" in 1966).

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-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave in "Coriolanus." Credit: Weinstein Co.


Should Andy Serkis get an Oscar nomination for 'Apes'?

Rise of the planet of the apes

Now that it's clear the motion picture academy has snubbed Andy Serkis for an honorary award, it's time to whip up support for him getting nominated for a competitive Oscar. Yes, his role as Caesar in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is enhanced by heavy visual effects, but it is led by a powerful emotional performance seized by the art of motion-capture.

Stubbornly, academy voters have refused to acknowledge such CGI-enhanced performances as award-worthy even though digitally generated films now lead at the box office and thus fund much of Hollywood. Serkis is the king of motion-capture performers, of course, having roared atop a skyscraper in "King Kong" and schemed as the wily Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The last installment of the trilogy, "Return of the King," swept the Oscars, going undefeated as it tied the record for most wins (11), but there was no academy love for Serkis.

Now Serkis reigns on-screen as Caesar, the "godfather of all apedom," notes the L.A. Times while hailing Serkis as "redoubtable" and his performance as "dazzling" in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Adds the New York Times, "When Caesar scowls, as he increasingly does, you don’t see just digital wizardry at its most expressive; you also see a plausible, angry, thinking character."

His CGI work has been recognized by other award-givers. For his work in "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," he won best supporting actor at the Saturn Awards, which honor sci-fi and fantasy films, and he received a special acting honor from the Critics Choice Awards. His role as Gollum also earned him several honors from the Visual Effects Society.  And the Toronto Film Critics Assn. created a special award just to hail his last ape role in "King Kong."

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-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: Andy Serkis in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Credit: 20th Century Fox


High Oscar hopes for 'The Help'

Thehelp2story Will an all-star cast and rave reviews help the Southern ladies of "The Help" charm their way into the hearts of Oscar voters?

The 2009 surprise best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett tells the story of the civil rights movement through the eyes of two African American maids in early 1960s Mississippi who start spilling their secrets to a young white writer. Stockett's childhood friend Tate Taylor wrote and directed the film being released nationwide this week.

Early reviewers have been focusing most of their praise on the two maids, played by Viola Davis (Oscar nominee for "Doubt" and Tony winner for "Fences") and Octavia Spencer (another longtime friend of Stockett, who actually based much of the character's outspoken personality on Spencer). The film's awards campaigners will have a tough decision when determining whether the two ladies should compete against each other as supporting actresses or place the better-known Davis in lead.

Other members of the cast are also contenders, including Emma Stone ("Easy A"), Bryce Dallas Howard ("Spider-Man 3"), Oscar winner Sissy Spacek ("Coal Miner's Daughter"), four-time Emmy winner Allison Janney ("The West Wing"), three-time Emmy winner Cicely Tyson ("Roots"), and rising star Jessica Chastain ("The Tree of Life"). With good box office receipts and continued strong reviews, a Screen Actors Guild Awards nod for best film ensemble and Golden Globe bids in the comedy categories could put it on the awards map.

Reviews are so strong for "The Help" (scoring 73 at Metacritic) that it might even break into the races for best screenplay, director, even best picture.

Major awards success has found quite a few lighthearted Southern belle movies over the years. The best picture Oscar for 1989 went to "Driving Miss Daisy," which also won for its lead actress (Jessica Tandy) and screenplay (Alfred Uhry). Two years later, Tandy was nodded for supporting actress in "Fried Green Tomatoes," as was the screenplay (Fannie Flagg, Carol Sobieski). Julia Roberts was nominated as a supporting actress for the 1989 film "Steel Magnolias." Just last year, Sandra Bullock won as lead actress for her spirited role in "The Blind Side."

Films dealing with the civil rights era in the South have also done well at the Academy Awards. Gregory Peck won as lead actor for the 1962 film "To Kill a Mockingbird," which also won for adapted screenplay (Horton Foote) and was nominated for best picture. The 1967 winner for best picture was "In the Heat of the Night," which also won for its lead actor Rod Steiger. The film "Mississippi Burning" received major bids for best picture, director (Alan Parker), lead actor (Gene Hackman), and supporting actress (Frances McDormand).

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-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in "The Help." Credit: Walt Disney Pictures


Poll: Who should host the Oscars?

Oprah-host1

Now that we know who the next Oscar telecast producers will be -- veteran TV helmer Don Mischer and film director/producer Brett Ratner -- the big question to solve is who the host(s) will be. I think we can rule out a return by James Franco and Anne Hathaway after the drubbing they took for this year's ceremony.

Mischer was one of the producers of this year's event but has a long history of success with big events on TV, including the Emmy Awards, Super Bowl concerts and Olympic ceremonies. He most certainly learned what to do and most importantly what not to do for his next turn at bat. Ratner has never produced this type of show but has a deep love for film history and a reputation for knowing everybody in the business. Between the two of them, the presenter lineup should be glitzier than ever.

But what about the host or hosts for 2012? Here's a stable of stars associated with either Ratner or Mischer (and a few others for good measure) who might be up for the challenge.

Whoopi2HUGH JACKMAN -- Hosted to great acclaim in 2009 but has turned down the job since. Ratner directed him in "X-Men: The Last Stand," so he might just be the guy to convice him to come back.

BEN STILLER -- Has been an Oscar presenter on many occasions (remember his makeup presentation in "Avatar" makeup?) and had great success presenting/hosting on many live awards events. Ratner directed him in the upcoming film "Tower Heist" with Eddie Murphy.

KEVIN SPACEY -- Might be an unconventional choice to some but he is a great live performer who sings and does impressions (plus, he's a two-time Oscar winner). Ratner produced two of his films ("Horrible Bosses" & "21").

BILLY CRYSTAL -- An eight-time much-loved host of the Oscars who has turned down the job pretty much ever since. With a slowing career, this might be the right time for him to accept the offer again. He and Ratner share the same agent.

ELLEN DEGENERES -- Saying it was her lifelong dream, she hosted the ceremony in 2007. Mischer worked with her as host of the Emmys in 2001.

WILL SMITH -- If they want an international superstar to appeal globably, he might be a top choice. He would certainly bring a strong energy to the show. He and Ratner share the same agent.

JIMMY FALLON -- If ABC could swallow the fact that his show is on NBC, he might be suggested by Mischer because they worked together very well on the 2010 Emmys together.

NEIL PATRICK HARRIS -- Always excels at these sorts of live events, having hosted the Tonys, Emmys and many other TV shows.

WILL FERRELL -- One of the top comedic actors working today and has extensive live experience from his "Saturday Night Live" days.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE -- With a film career at full speed, he also brings a wealth of live performing to the game. He has hosted/presented on the MTV Awards, ESPY Awards, "Saturday Night Live," and many other events. Would definitely appeal to a younger crowd.

OPRAH WINFREY -- Many speculated that she could be the type of host to bring all generations together plus draw a worldwide audience. With the announcement of her receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award this year, they may not want her hosting as well.

JON STEWART, STEVE MARTIN, ALEC BALDWIN, WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CHRIS ROCK -- Maybe they want to go to the well with a previous host just so they know what they're getting.

-- Tom O'Neil

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Photo: Oprah Winfrey is getting an honorary Oscar in November. Will she host next year? Credit: Reuters. Whoopi Goldberg would be a known quantity hosting the Oscars. Credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences


Will the Oscars go bananas over 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'?

Rise of the planet of the apes

After a summer full of superheroes and raunchy comedies, apes are taking over theaters and winning over critics. Will their Oscar fortunes be rising as well?

The release of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" this weekend has summoned up an amazing 79% approval rating among film critics cited at RottenTomatoes. The movie is a prequel to the 1968 blockbuster hit "Planet of the Apes" and shows how a scientific experiment in San Francisco goes horrifically wrong and leads to apes overtaking the world.

The new film is directed by relative newcomer Rupert Wyatt ("The Escapist") and stars recent Academy Award nominee James Franco ("127 Hours"), Frieda Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire"), Tom Felton ("Harry Potter"), Brian Cox ("The Bourne Supremacy") and John Lithgow (winner of five Emmy Awards and two Tony Awards). Most of the praise has singled out the visual effects created by four-time Oscar winner Joe Letteri and Dan Lemmon of Weta Digital ("Avatar" and the "Lord of the Rings" movies) and the CGI performance by Andy Serkis as the chief ape protagonist Caesar.

Visual effects and other technical categories like sound editing, sound mixing, editing or cinematography might be the best bets for future awards recognition, especially if the box office is big.

The original movie was based on the 1963 Pierre Boulle novel and starred Oscar winners Charlton Heston ("Ben-Hur") and Kim Hunter ("A Streetcar Named Desire") plus noted actors Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly and Linda Harrison. The plot centered on three astronauts who land in a society completely run by apes and ultimately find out that it is actually a futuristic version of Earth. It was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, who would go on to win an Academy Award two years later for directing "Patton."

Two-time Oscar winner Michael Wilson ("A Place in the Sun," "The Bridge on the River Kwai") and six-time Emmy winner Rod Serling ("The Twilight Zone") were credited with the screenplay, although it went through several rewrites. For the 1968 Academy Awards, the film was nominated for costume design (Morton Haack) and original score (Jerry Goldsmith), but lost both categories. John Chambers did receive an honorary Oscar for his groundbreaking makeup achievement. The massive popularity led to four theatrical sequels, a television series, and cartoon throughout the 1970s, plus a panned remake by Tim Burton in 2001.

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Oscar derby update: Release dates of top contenders

-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Credit: 20th Century Fox


Oscar derby update: Release dates of top contenders

J edgarNow that Warner Bros. has announced release dates for its two big Oscar ponies -– "J. Edgar" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" -- the derby schedule is starting to shape up. Below is a calendar of the release dates of many major contenders, along with the studios in charge of distribution.

Sept. 23 – "Moneyball" (Columbia)

Oct. 7 – "The Ides of March" (Sony Pictures)

Oct. 28 – "Like Crazy" (Paramount Vantage), "The Rum Diary" (Film District)

Nov. 4 – "My Week With Marilyn" (Weinstein Co.)

Nov. 9 – "J. Edgar" (Warner Bros.)

Nov. 18 – "Carnage" (Sony Classics), "Happy Feet Two" (Warner Bros.)

Nov. 23 – "The Artist" (Weinstein Co.), "The Descendants" (Fox Searchlight), "Hugo" (Paramount)

Dec. 2 – "Coriolanus" (Weinstein Co.), "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (Oscilloscope)

Dec. 9 – "Young Adult" (Paramount), "W.E." (Weinstein Co.)

Dec. 16 – "The Iron Lady" (Weinstein)

Dec. 21 – "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" (Columbia)

Dec. 23 – "Adventures of Tintin" (Paramount), "We Bought a Zoo" (20th Century Fox)

Dec. 25 – "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (Warner Bros.)

Dec. 28 – "War Horse" (Walt Disney)

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--Tom O'Neil

Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio could catch up with his overdue Oscar by portraying former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover in "J. Edgar." Credit: Warner Bros.



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