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Category: Current Affairs

Wednesday Roundup: SXSW 2010 panels and short films; 'The Cove' gets Japanese release

96312252 Directors Quentin Tarantino (seen here doing his best "Bubba Ho-Tep" imitation at the Grammys), Michel Gondry and David Gordon Green ("Pineapple Express") are among the talent appearing at over 80 panels at the 2010 SXSW Film Conference and Festival, which runs from March 12-20 in Austin, Texas. 

Tarantino will participate in "Directing the Dead: Genre Directors Spill Their Guts," a panel devoted to modern horror pictures; he'll be joined by filmmakers Ti West (the acclaimed "House of the Devil"), Ruben Fleischer ("Zombieland"), the ubiquitous Eli Roth and Matt Reeves ("Let Me In," the American remake of "Let the Right One In"). 

Meanwhile, Oscar winner Gondry will discuss his work, including "The Thorn in the Heart," his new documentary about his family, with critic Elvis Mitchell, while Gordon Green will be joined by longtime collaborators Jody Hill ("Observe and Report") and actor Danny McBride ("Up in the Air") for "Filmmakers in TV: A Case Study," which looks at their transition from indie and Hollywood features to TV with "Eastbound and Down." Director Matthew Vaughn and members of the cast of his superhero comedy "Kick-Ass" will also be featured on a panel, while actor Jeffrey Tambor will conduct his popular acting workshop for the third year at the festival. For a complete list of panels, please direct your browser here.

The controversial documentary "The Cove," about the clandestine slaughter of dolphins by Japanese fishermen, is receiving a release date in that country. The film, which is currently in contention for the best documentary feature at this year's Academy Awards ceremony, is slated for a tentative release in April; the picture was threatened with legal action by the fishermen of Taiji, where the slaughter took place, when it premiered at the Tokyo Film Festival in October of last year. Medallion Media, which picked up the rights to the film from The Works International, issued a statement regarding the film's hot-button status, which in part said that "there is a debate to be had here, and this important film -- and the Academy Award nomination only serves to reinforce its importance -- offers the opportunity for such a debate." 

 -- Paul Gaita

Photo: Quentin Tarantino. Credit: Getty Images. 

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Tuesday Round-Up, Part 1: 'Avatar' sickness; Burton's 'Grudge'; Evening Standard Awards and more


Can watching "Avatar" make you sick? A report today on notes that while the 3-D effects in the Oscar-nominated sci-fi epic are wowing most audiences, there's a significant amount of moviegoers who are left nauseous by the technology (hold your puns, please).

The culprits lay with disruptions in the body's vestibular system -- a system of fluids and nerves and cells that connect the ear to the brain and keep you from toppling over every time you take a step -- that literally inform the brain to clear the decks, so to speak, and vomit. With more 3D titles on the horizon ("Clash of the Titans," "Alice in Wonderland"), the best way to deal with the problem is to watch the 2-D version. Or bring a stomach distress bag.

Speaking of distressing, Movie City Indie has posted the video of Tim Burton's acceptance speech from the Annie Awards, at which he received the Windsor McCay Award (along with Bruce Timm and Jeffrey Katzenberg). Burton was unable to attend the event, but sent along this video which, in typical fashion, is both alarming and amusing. I won't give away the payoff, but if you're a fan of Japanese ghost stories, you'll appreciate the denouement. 

92490067 And Andrea Arnold's "Fish Tank" continued its winning streak by landing the top prize at the Evening Standard British Film Awards. The Cannes Jury Prize winner was named best film at the annual event, which honors the best in British and Irish films; Andy Serkis' performance as Ian Dury in "Sex & Drugs and Rock & Roll" earned best actor, while Anne-Marie Duff's turn as John Lennon's mother in "Nowhere Boy" trumped Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan.

Another Oscar nominee, "In the Loop," took the screenplay award for director Armando Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Tony Roche and Simon Blackwell, while Academy shutout "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" won best documentary. And "The Hurt Locker" added another laurel to its collection when cinematographer Barry Ackroyd was presented with the London Museum Award for Technical Achievement. 

-- Paul Gaita

Top photo: Michelle Rodriguez in "Avatar." Credit: 20th Century Fox. Bottom photo: Anne-Marie Duff. Credit: Getty Images.

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Monday Roundup: AMC's best picture showcase; Cameron on space travel; London Film Fest dates

Photo_37_hiresWhat's that, dear reader? The Oscars are less than a month away, and you say you still haven't seen all of the best picture nominees? Well, fear not: AMC Entertainment wants to bring you up to speed with its best picture showcase.

The annual national event, which screens all of the nominees in a single day, is actually split into two separate days this year (Feb. 27 and March 6) to accommodate all 10 films in the category. The full schedule of films -- including which four will run with the special Feb. 27 screening of "Avatar" in 3D (in selected theaters) -- will be released today, so check the site for times and locations. Oh, and to sweeten the deal, they'll throw in a large popcorn with unlimited refills -- in short, how a Saturday should be spent.

And while we're on the subject of "Avatar" (which is pretty much every day on the Circuit), here's an op-ed piece from the Washington Post by director James Cameron on the current state of NASA and space exploration.

Cameron, who served on the agency's Advisory Council from 2003 to 2005 (did you know?), outlines the financial problems that faced the U.S. space program but ends on a positive note by stating that President Obama's current budget for NASA will allow for private industry to fund space exploration -- which might lead not only to jet packs for everyone (like on the Jetsons!), but also the chance for directors with serious financial clout (like Mr. Cameron) to shoot their future projects in outer space. It's not that far-fetched an idea, and I mean, if you're gonna top "Avatar," that's your only likely venue. 

And last but not least, what are you doing from Oct. 13 to 28 of this year? If your answer is, "Oh, nothing, really,"  you might consider attending the 54th BFI London Film Festival. The venerable event has just announced its dates, with a full schedule slated for September. Mark your calendars accordingly, and hey, why not call your travel agent now?

-- Paul Gaita

Photo: "Avatar." Credit: 20th Century Fox

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Tuesday Roundup: Memos from Cameron, Weinstein; Tarantino at Cinematheque; Carrey, McGregor knighted


Take a memo, please: Letters of Note is a fascinating site that compiles personal correspondence from a wide range of famous folks -- among their collection (the authenticity of which cannot be verified, but they do note that "fakes will be sneered at") are letters from Mark Twain, Hunter S. Thompson, the late J.D. Salinger and even Mary, Queen of Scots. 

Since the Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday, we thought you might enjoy eyeballing memos from three new-minted Oscar nominees. First is "Avatar" director James Cameron, who sent an exceptionally polite note in 1986 to the agent of artist H.R. Giger that explains why he didn't consult him on creature design for "Aliens" (Giger won an Oscar for his work on "Alien"). Cameron's reasons are well considered, and he is positively gushing in his praise for Giger's work.

Somewhat south of polite is "Inglourious Basterds" exec producer Harvey Weinstein's 1988 missive to Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris about a radio interview promoting his acclaimed documentary "The Thin Blue Line." Harvey spares Errol no quarter regarding his performance ("you were boring") and threatens to replace him with an actor (!) if he doesn't start putting on a show (should you want to hear how snooze-inducing Errol's interview allegedly was, it's here). "The Thin Blue Line" did go on to win a slew of awards, earn recognition as one of the best documentaries ever made, and contribute to the release of a man on death row, so perhaps Harvey's take should be swallowed with a grain (or two) of salt.

And lastly, here's a charming and gracious fan letter from multi-Oscar nominee Quentin Tarantino to Filipino director Brilliante Mendoza, whose 2009 film "Kinatay" took best director (and beat Tarantino) at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival. It's difficult to say what is more appealing about the note -- Tarantino's schoolboy spelling and handwriting or the thoughtfulness of his praise for Mendoza's work. 

And if you'd like to compliment Quentin in person for his good manners, you can do so Monday at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre. He'll attend screenings of "Pulp Fiction" and "Inglourious Basterds" that day and the Cannes Film Festival versions of "Kill Bill, Vols. 1 and 2" on the 9th. And if you're in the mood for more Oscar nominees, the vicious U.K. political satire "In the Loop," which earned an academy nod today for adapted screenplay, will be featured nightly from Feb. 10 to 13. And Agnes Varda's "The Beaches of Agnes," which made it to the feature documentary shortlist, will screen Feb. 11 to 14. 

And since we're on a particularly sunshiney tip today, let's end on a happy note: Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor were both made knights of France's National Order of the Arts on Monday. The actors, who co-star in the upcoming "I Love You, Phillip Morris," were in Paris to promote the picture and receive praise from the country's Culture Minister, Frederic Mitterand, who capped his speech by declaring his love for both men.

-- Paul Gaita

Photo: James Cameron. Credit: Getty Images. 

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GLAAD noms go to 'Precious,' 'Glee,' Lady Gaga; Cynthia Nixon also honored


The 21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards announced its nominees in a wide variety of categories today. The event, presented by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), honors outstanding entertainment programming and news about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues; among the year's 116 nominees in 24 English-language categories and 36 Spanish-language nominees in eight categories are the series "Mad Men," "Modern Family," "Glee" and "Grey's Anatomy"; the feature films "A Single Man," "Precious" and "Everybody's Fine"; recording artists Lady Gaga, Adam Lambert and Brandi Carlile; and publications Entertainment Weekly, The Advocate and the Los Angeles Times. 

"Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon will also be feted with the Vito Russo Award, which pays tribute to an openly LGBT individual who has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights in that community. The Broadway cast of "Hair" will also receive special recognition for bringing attention to the issue of marriage equality.

The GLAAD Media Awards will take place in three cities from March through June. Nixon will be feted at the New York event, which will be hosted by Tony Award-winning actor Alan Cumming on March 13. The Los Angeles event takes place April 17 and the San Francisco ceremony June 5, with Emmy-winning writer and actor Bruce Vilanch serving as emcee for the San Francisco event. More special honorees will be named for these events in the near future. 

A complete list of nominees follows after the break. 

— Paul Gaita 

Photo: Cynthia Nixon. Credit: Getty Images 

Continue reading »

The Contender Q&A: 'Food, Inc.' director Robert Kenner

Robert Kenner Before you take a bite of that sandwich -- or apple, or spoonful of cereal, or any foodstuff, really -- consider the following: If you bought the item or its ingredients from an established, nonorganic company, chances are it contains more than its share of cheaply grown, genetically modified corn or soy.

That vegetable base is overseen by a small but vastly powerful group of corporations, which use it to feed freakishly larger but more poorly raised and maintained animals, whose preparation for your table is rife with chances to contract dangerous and even deadly bacteria.

The shocking lack of regard for one of the basic tenets of life -- good food -- is the subject of director Robert Kenner's new documentary, "Food, Inc." Kenner -- a Peabody and Emmy winner -- explores the stranglehold maintained on the agriculture and food industries by such corporate giants as Tyson, Monsanto and Smithfield and how their bottom-line policies have wreaked untold havoc on nearly every aspect of the American consumer's daily existence. The film's honest take on dishonest practices has won it considerable praise from viewers and critics alike, and it stands poised to land an Oscar nomination as one of the final 15 features in contention before the academy casts its votes for best documentary Feb. 2.

Kenner spoke with The Circuit from Los Angeles, where he discussed the film's growing impact on its audiences, on government decisions, and on his own diet.

(Please note: Possible spoilers are present throughout this interview.)

As a new parent, I have to say that "Food, Inc." added a whole new set of worries to my already established and growing list.

[Laughs] Yeah, but in a funny way, it's parents that are going to lead the food movement. I think that ultimately, it's people that become concerned by what they're feeding their children. They might not be political, but all of a sudden, but when you start to think about where your food comes from, it makes you concerned, and especially so when you have a little child.

What's interesting is that "Food, Inc." is really playing into this growing food movement. I was not aware of this when I was making the film. We have this food system that's relatively new, from the last 40-50 years, and on one level it's feeding a lot of us. It's creating a lot of food at very inexpensive prices, which is great. The problem is that there are unseen costs, and we're just becoming aware of them.

In the film, journalist Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma") says that it seemed odd that he had to write a book that explains to people about where their food comes from, which should be something we all know. Did you have the same thought in regard to this film?

It was harder for me than for Eric [Schlosser, film producer and author of "Fast Food Nation) or Michael (to produce this work). It was easier in that I followed them but harder in the sense that I had a more difficult time getting access. What I was amazed by was how off-limits the system was. And I was not looking to make a film with a preconceived point of view when I started -- I really wanted to talk to all the makers of our food. Richard Lobb from the National Chicken Council was one of the very few people who would go on camera, and he said, "We produce more chickens on less land for fewer dollars." I could have taken many things to make him look bad, but I put his best argument forward.

Right before our film came out, a number of these companies (discussed in the film) put out attack websites, with Monsanto taking the lead, but also the beef and chicken industries. Ironically, on the day that the beef and chicken industries came out with their sites, I saw Richard Lobb, and he graciously came up to me after a screening. I said, "Richard, you might not like the film, but at least you should be happy that you appeared in it." And he told me he was thrilled -- and he went on "Nightline" and said that he thought his industry needs more transparency. 2

So are you now on a Monsanto black list?

No. What's been very interesting is that these same industries -- Monsanto, Tyson -- have appeared twice, with the last time being at a conference with about 40 or 50 people and the heads of every major company -- Cargill, Smithfield -- to sit and watch "Food, Inc." That was an intense experience. The fact is, they're feeling the need to enter the conversation. They don't perceive themselves as bad guys, and the film is upsetting to them on some levels, so they're beginning to feel the need to come to the table and talk.

If you had to view the film in black-and-white terms, these companies seem to be your "villains." But does the blame extend much higher than the corporate level?

Well, when you say higher, do you mean government? I would say it's opposite of that. In my mind, and this is the point of the film, it's become the power of the corporation trumps the power of the government, and frankly, that transcends food. In the conversations with the companies, they said, "If we were made to do certain things, we'd be happy to do them" -- pay higher wages, for example. But they don't want to pay them if their competitors aren't. I do believe that it's the corporations that are setting the tone, and that was an interesting conversation with Joel Salatin (of Polyface Farms and an interviewee in the film). He's a total libertarian who feels that government is the root of all evil. But I said to him, "The one thing you have to remember is that these corporations have so much more power than the government at this point." And Joel actually changed his argument.

4 The film shows the sheer weight of the opposition to basic, healthy food, but it also offers a number of practical ways in which consumers can gain some control over the quality of the food they eat. What are some of them?

Shopping at a farmers' market is a great thing, especially for us in California. You get wonderful, fresh food, it helps encourage local farming, and it's more nutritious. It might be more expensive, but it's good, and on so many levels. When you go to the supermarket, read the labels. The amount of salt and sugar in processed food is creating this obesity epidemic. Fight to get better food in the school system. Every piece of disgusting food I saw, like that box of meat (in the film, BPI's solution to the bacteria problem is to wash its meat product in ammonia; the result is a large, pale rectangle of raw flesh) -- where do you think it's going? The National School Lunch program. Ultimately, we need to stop these subsidies (to industries) -- what we cal the Farm Bill should be called the Food Bill.

How has the film affected the way that you eat?

I really make an effort every week to get to the farmers' market to buy as much food as possible. I still eat meat, but I want to know the source of the meat, and I don't want animals that are part of that industrial system. I don't want to eat Red Delicious apples -- they're just bred to look pretty, and they have no flavor. I don't eat all organic food -- I'm not a perfect eater. So many people have come up to me and said, "I want to be a perfect eater."

Does such a thing exist?

Let's put it this way -- I don't do it. And I can't do it. But I didn't intend to be a perfect eater. I find myself eating less meat, but I'm not setting out to be a vegetarian. I think it's better for the planet and better for us, and I certainly don't like eating industrial foods. I try to avoid it whenever possible.

What would the impact of an Oscar have on "Food, Inc." and in turn on its message?

We went to Washington and met with the secretary of agriculture to talk about food subsidies and a number of issues. And they said, "Listen, if there's a movement, we will follow." They can't lead that change, but they are certainly happy to follow that change. I'm surprised by the success of "Food, Inc." to a degree.

Why is that?

I didn't know if people wanted to see a film about where their food comes from. I wasn't sure if that was an issue that would make them plop down $10 and go to the theater. I obviously tried to make an entertaining film. Let me put it this way: I didn't want to make a film where people sat there with their eyes closed, but I did want to make a film that opened people's minds in an entertaining way. And a number of people were scared by it -- they said, "I hear it's a great film, but I hear there are a lot of gross scenes." I tried to avoid those -- in my mind, I thought I'd taken them all out.

So I think that (an Oscar) would help get more people to see it, and more people seeing it will help to affect change on a policy level. I think we have to attack this situation on two levels: with the food itself -- you know, they say you vote three times a day with breakfast, lunch and dinner -- but we also have to vote to change policy. And I think this could do it. Whenever there are food safety regulations like Kevin's Law (a bill that would allow the USDA to enforce restrictions on food processing plants in violation of health and safety laws, named after the son of food safety advocate Barbara Kowalcyk, who died of tainted meat; Barbara is interviewed in the film), which looks like it's going through -- "Food, Inc." is playing into the food movement and helped to create a number of changes.

-- Paul Gaita

Photos: Robert Kenner (top); image from "Food, Inc."; Joel Salatin in "Food, Inc." Credit: Magnolia Pictures.

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The Contender Q&A: Gregory Nicotero

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'Avatar,' animation, Twitter and Jay Leno top AFI's 2009 'Moments of Significance'


If quizzed on the most significant moments that impacted media in 2009, would you mention "Avatar?" Most likely. How about the "Balloon Boy" hoax and Octomom? Maybe not. But both have been selected, along with six other events, by the American Film Institute as the year's "Moments of Significance" in film, on television and on the Web. The selections are part of this year's AFI Awards, which will be handed out at a luncheon on Jan. 15.

So who -- and what -- made the cut for media significance in 2009? Well, "Avatar" was cited for its use of CGI and 3-D technologies to advance "the way stories are told" (though some might note that all that tech didn't help the film's dialogue, ahem). Animation, both CGI and traditional, received a nod for the sheer number of quality efforts in this realm, from Disney's hand-drawn "Princess and the Frog" to the computer work in "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" to the stunning stop-motion of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Coraline." And whatever you thought of the carnival atmosphere that followed in its wake, the death of Michael Jackson in June -- and the subsequent runaway success of the concert film "This is It" -- had a huge impact on the world at large.

AFI makes a good case for the effect of "The Jay Leno Show" on prime-time programming, citing the scorched-earth policy it laid out on the dramatic-television landscape (and the people involved in making it), as well as local news programming. And the organization is also smart to note the boom in movie ticket sales in the face of a global recession -- this year saw the highest grosses at the box office since the mass distribution of motion pictures. And as much as I am loath to admit it, one has to make room for the rise of Twitter, which made everything from base gossip to movie marketing immediate and globally accessible -- no matter how risible the statement.

I am less willing to queue up behind AFI's assessment that 2009 saw the lowering of boundaries and standards on reality television; the balloon boy hoax, Octomom and the couple that crashed the White House are just the latest in a long line of reality show refugees from the carny-geek pit unleashed on basic- cable viewers (though one might argue that "Jersey Shore" does dig a trench a few inches deeper into the bottom of the barrel). And while I agree that the change from analog to digital television broadcast is unquestionably significant, AFI's supplementary examples -- the cancellation of "The Guiding Light" and the paucity of good long-form drama -- are weak (soaps have been dying for years, and solid long-form drama has remained elusive since the '80s).

A complete list of AFI's selections can be found at

-- Paul Gaita

Photo: A scene from "Avatar." Credit: 20th Century Fox.

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The Contender Q&A: Jackie Earle Haley

Anatomy of an award show crasher, Part 1: Kanye West


First in a semi-regular series on memorable onstage intrusions, interruptions and other failures of decorum at award shows throughout history. 

The chickens, as it were, appear to be coming home to roost for Kanye West. As Todd Martens reported yesterday on the Pop and Hiss blog, West's much-publicized tour with Lady Gaga has been canceled with no explanation and no rescheduled dates on the horizon.The news launched a flurry of speculation as to how much West's onstage tirade over Taylor Swift's win for female video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 14 affected this cancellation. Though apologies were proffered on West's blog and "The Jay Leno Show," the bad taste left in many viewers' mouths, combined with West's announcement that he planned to take some time off, may have led to this decision.

The details regarding the Swift incident -- West taking to the stage to defend Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video amid a chorus of boos from the audience and an eventual removal from Radio City Music Hall -- have been covered ad nauseam, and the press and public (even the president) have voiced collective disgust at a grown man's boorishness in the face of a teenage girl's win on a major awards show. West has, of course, apologized repeatedly on television, most notably on "The Jay Leno Show," where the Leno appeared to move West to tears with the kitchen table admonishment, "What would your mother think about this?" Of course, all this public penance was followed by a caveat: "I'm not crazy y'all," he noted on his blog. "I'm just real." 

But West has made something of a second career out of interrupting award shows and badmouthing losses. Many who saw his outburst in the middle of Swift's speech assumed this was a moment of eccentricity, but in the past few years West has racked up a number of similar incidents at award shows on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Turn back the clock, if you will, to 2004, when West was topping critical charts with his debut CD, "The College Dropout," and racking up music award nominations. When the best new artist was announced at the American Music Awards, however, it was Gretchen Wilson's name in the envelope, not West's, and he responded by unleashing a profanity-laced tirade to reporters backstage. An apology to Wilson, hinged on his upbringing ("I was raised better than that"), was soon issued, but a scant three months later a comment followed that he "should not be let on stage" at the Grammys. Thus, the Kanye West Award Show Crash Pattern was established: the outburst over a perceived slight, then the heartfelt apology, then the follow-up comment that essentially says, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

Skip ahead to 2006, and Kanye is again breaking into winners' speeches, this time at the MTV Europe Music Awards. When Justice and Simon's "We Are Your Friends" took home the best video award over West's colossally overblown production for "Touch the Sky" -- a lopsided tribute to Evel Knievel featuring Pamela Anderson -- the rapper again bounded to the stage to protest his loss. His umbrage appeared to center around the failure to appreciate the video's production values: "It cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it ... I was jumping across canyons," he sputtered, adding, "If I don't win, the award show loses credibility." Well, someone loses credibility. Later, West presented his usual mea culpa, citing a bit too much "sippy sippy" as the culprit. Later, he would wonder publicly in an interview for Rolling Stone (which featured him on the cover in Jesus Christ post, complete with crown of thorns) how people actually believed that he wouldn't do such a thing.

And those who did believe were pretty much shown up by his tantrum at the 2007 MTV Music Awards, when Britney Spears was chosen to open the show instead of him. Before the show, West was badmouthing Spears' track record, citing her lack of hits in recent years. Things got noticeably louder after  he failed to take home an award any of the five categories in which he was nominated. "I'm trying hard," he griped backstage after the show, before vowing that he would never perform on MTV again. Later, on a radio interview, he justified the whole blowout as a part of MTV's attempt to dissuade performers from appearing on the main stage, which thwarted his "dream" of making the show a bigger event when he penned his single, "Stronger." 

So where does this all leave West circa October 2009? Out of work, for one, but with the opportunity to take any number of paths to improve his situation. Whether he decides to stay "real" or take a genuine look at the effect of his actions on his career remains to be seen. 

-- Paul Gaita

Photo: Kanye West and Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Credit: Associated Press


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