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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Around Town: Steve McQueen, the King of Cool, rides again

March 29, 2012 |  6:00 am


The American Cinematheque celebrates the legacy of King of Cool Steve McQueen at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood from Thursday through Sunday.

"Low Rider: The Super Charged Cinema of Steve McQueen" opens with one of his quintessential films, the 1968 detective thriller "Bullitt," in which he plays the unflappable, Mustang-driving San Francisco detective Frank Bullitt. Directed by Peter Yates, the film features one of the seminal car chase sequences ever put on film. Following "Bullitt" is McQueen's disappointing final film, 1980's "The Hunter," which was released shortly before his death.

Screening Saturday is the 1973 prison epic "Papillon" and the rarely seen 1963 comedy drama "Soldier in the Rain" with Jackie Gleason. McQueen's first wife, Neile Adams, will be on hand to sign her book "My Husband, My Friend" before the screening Saturday of 1963's classic World War II action-adventure "The Great Escape," which made McQueen a superstar.

The series concludes Sunday with Norman Jewison's sophisticated 1968 romantic caper thriller "The Thomas Crown Affair" with Faye Dunaway and 1972's thriller "The Getaway," directed by Sam Peckinpah, and also starring Ali MacGraw, who became the actor's second wife.

The Cinematheque's Aero Theatre wants you to pass the time by "playing a little solitaire" Thursday evening with a 50th anniversary screening of the iconic political thriller "The Manchurian Candidate," directed by John Frankenheimer, and starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and an Oscar-nominated Angela Lansbury.

With the Farrelly brothers' take on the venerable comedy team "The Three Stooges" opening on April 13, the Cinematheque gets into the "nyuk, nyuk, nyuk" spirit Sunday at the Aero with a double bill of Stooges slapstick -- 1962's "The Three Stooges Meets Hercules" and 1965's "The Outlaws Is Coming," which also features Adam West and several daytime kiddie TV hosts who showed Three Stooges shorts.

The Aero's "Wednesdays with Robert Altman" series kicks off with his 1971 revisionist western, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" with Warren Beatty and an Oscar-nominated Julie Christie. www.americancinematheque.com

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' "Inside the Booth: A Journey Through Projection," kicks off Thursday evening at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood. Presented by the academy's Science and Technology Council, the series -- hosted by the academy's chief projectionist Marshall Gitlitz and silent film historian and projectionist Joe Rinaudo -- is a three-week exploration of the evolution of the motion picture camera.

The opening program, "The Birth of Projection," shines the spotlight on the works of such film pioneers as George Eastman and George Melies, features a demonstration of hand-cranked films and a screening of Buster Keaton's 1924 classic "Sherlock Jr.," in which he plays a projectionist who wants to become a detective. Though the event Thursday is sold out there will be a stand-by line.

Besides the series, there is also an exhibition, "Tech Art 2: The Projection Story," at the venue that features 30 color images of projection equipment shot by photographer Vince Gonzales, as well as projectors and other equipment. 

The series continues April 19 and May 4. www.oscars.org

Jason Reitman presents "The Big Lebowski," his final installment in his "Live Read" series for Film Independent at LACMA, on Thursday evening at the Leo S. Bing Theatre. The event is sold out but there will be a stand-by line.

Animation historians and authors Jerry Beck and Adam Abraham will be on hand Friday evening at LACMA for "Madcap Modernism: Mid-Century Cartoons from UPA and Beyond," which features two programs of innovative theatrical animation shorts from the 1950s.  LACMA's Tuesday matinee series at the Leo S. Bing Theatre presents one of the jewels in Preston Sturges' comedic crown: the 1942 romantic comedy "The Palm Beach Story," starring Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert, Mary Astor and Rudy Vallee. www.lacma.org

UCLA Film &Television Archive's "Spencer Tracy: The Natural Thing" comes to a close Friday evening at the Billy Wilder Theater with the actor's final film, 1967's "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner," which also stars Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton.  Karen Kramer, the widow of producer/director Stanley Kramer, will be the special guest.

The archive's Wednesday evening series at the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles features two thrillers from William Castle: 1964's "Strait-Jacket," starring Joan Crawford and 1961's "Homicidal." www.cinema.ucla.edu

New Beverly Cinema showcases the Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton ("Michael Clayton") Friday and Saturday with screenings of her most recent film, 2011's "We Need to Talk About Kevin," in which she plays the mother of a disturbed son and Sally Potter's 1992 version of Virginia Woolf's novel, "Orlando." www.newbevcinema.com

Film at Redcat presents "Narrative Bodies: Films and Videos by Abigail Child," Monday evening. Child will be appearing in person at the program, which features many of her avant-garde films including 1977's "Peripeteia I" and 1986's "Perils." www.redcat.org

 Paul Mazursky and actor George Segal will be reminiscing about "Blume in Love," the filmmaker's 1973 romantic comedy starring Segal and Kris Kristofferson, after a screening Tuesday evening at the Skirball Center. www.skirball.org

Silent screen legend Harold Lloyd would have been 119 on April 20, and the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre is celebrating his birthday Wednesday with a screening of two of his comedies: 1926's "For Heaven's Sake" and 1923's "Why Worry?" His granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, will introduce the screening.  www.cinefamily.org


Regal Cinemas, country’s largest theater chain, will play 'Bully'

'Hunger Games': Should Jennifer Lawrence really look hungrier?

Claude Francois biopic 'My Way' opens City of Lights, City of Angels

--Susan King

Photo: Steve McQueen, left, and Robert Vaughn in "Bullitt." Credit: File photo

Academy creates two new posts to manage film museum project [Updated]

March 21, 2012 |  5:29 pm


The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has named Heather Cochran and Bill Kramer to oversee the management of the ambitious academy film museum to be housed on the campus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Heather Cochran, who has been a part of the academy's efforts to establish a film museum in Los Angeles since 2004, will serve as managing director, academy museum project, while veteran fundraiser Bill Kramer will be the managing director, development. Both will report to academy chief executive Dawn Hudson.

Cochran will be charged with managing and executing the overall vision for the project, while Kramer will oversee the museum's capital campaign and fundraising efforts.

Kramer began his fundraising career in 1999 with the Sundance Institute. He most recently served as the chief advancement officer for the Southern California Institute of Architecture. He will work with Disney CEO Bob Iger, as well as academy board members Tom Hanks and Annette Bening, who have already been charged with leading the museum's capital campaign.

[Updated at 7:22 p.m., March 21: In an interview, Cochran and Kramer said they are both energized by the academy’s renewed support for the museum. They said they hope to announce the architect for the project in the next few weeks and have a 2016 date in mind for the opening of the institution. (When the LACMA partnership was announced last fall, academy leaders said the museum could open as soon as 2014.)

According to Kramer, the fundraising has already been successful under the guidance of Iger. The organization is in the “silent” part of its campaign and is reaching out to the more than 6,000 members of the academy, the studios and agencies that support it, and other foundations that support the arts.

The hope is to raise more than $100 million by October in this phase of the fundraising, and Kramer expressed confidence that they will reach that number. While specific dollar amounts weren’t given, Kramer said the silent phase of the fundraising will represent 60% of the total needed to fund the museum. The academy itself has already pledged $50 million to the project.

Kramer praised the academy’s board of governors and the museum committee, which is being chaired by former academy president Sid Ganis. “I’ve never seen such an engaged and enthusiastic leadership group ready to make this happen,” said Kramer. “They are all behind the project.]


Academy aligns with LACMA to create a movie museum

Disney's Bob Iger to head fundraising for academy's film museum  

Ruby slippers find a new home at movie academy

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: Los Angeles County Museum of Art building. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Oscars 2013: Academy moves up nominations, not Oscars

March 14, 2012 | 10:54 am

Academy Awards
The Oscar nominations are moving up a tad in the calendar in 2013. The Academy Award ceremony itself, not so much.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has been trying to shorten the awards season so that audiences aren’t burned out by the time the Academy Awards roll around, announced Wednesday that next year’s Oscar timetable had been shifted slightly.

Instead of announcing nominations toward the end of January, as has been the case in recent years, selections for the 85th Oscars will take place Jan. 15. But the awards ceremony will still come on the last weekend of February, with 2013’s event now set for Feb. 24. This year’s awards, in which “The Artist” was named best picture, were handed out Feb. 26.

The nominations will fall before the Screen Actors Guild awards, the Directors Guild Awards and the Producers Guild Awards as usual. But they will not coincide with the Sundance Film Festival, as they have in recent years.

The academy has been trying to implement on-line balloting to expedite its nominations and voting for winners, but has been worried about the security of electronic tallies.


Oscars 2012: Full coverage

TIMELINE: Eight decades of Oscars history

'The Artist' is big winner at Academy Awards

 -- John Horn

Photo: Jean Dujardin and Uggie at the 84th Academy Awards. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.

Around Town: 'The Artist' crowd's take on spy spoofs

March 1, 2012 |  6:00 am

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
Before they made the Oscar-winning "The Artist," director Michel Hazanavicius and actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo made the 2006 spy spoof "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies," which screens Thursday through Saturday at the New Beverly Cinema, along with the 2009 sequel "OSS 117: Lost in Rio." http://www.newbevcinema.com

Film Independent at LACMA presents "Spotlight on Robert Bresson," Thursday at the Leo S. Bing Theatre. The evening opens with 1956’s "A Man Escaped," which is based not only on Andre Devigny’s account of his escape from a Nazi POW camp during World War II, but also the director’s 18-month incarceration in a camp during the global conflict, and 1971’s "Four Nights of a Dreamer," a romantic drama that has never been available in either DVD or VHS in the U.S. Both films from the renowned French director are presented in new 35mm prints.

LACMA also presents "Ellsworth Kelly Selects," which features three French films chosen by the American painter and sculptor. The series kicks off Friday with Jacques Tati’s lavish 1967 comedy classic "Playtime." And this week’s Tuesday matinee at the Bing is the 1959 comedy hit "Pillow Talk," starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson.

The Los Angeles Turkish Film Festival opens Thursday evening at the Egyptian Theater and continues through March 4. The festival will screen five feature films including Dervis Zaim’s "Shadows and Faces" on opening night and the award-winning "Honey" on closing night. The program also includes short films and a separate short film contest. http://www.latff.org

The American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre commences "Through a Lens Darkly: The Films of Ingmar Bergman" Thursday evening with the Swedish master’s Oscar-winning 1960 film "The Virgin Spring," with Max von Sydow (which later became an inspiration for Wes Craven’s "Last House on the Left") and the unsettling 1968 "Hour of the Wolf," with Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann. Friday’s program features "Cries and Whispers," which was nominated for a 1973 best picture Oscar, and 1978’s "Autumn Sonata," which was Oscar-nominated Ingrid Bergman’s final feature. The family epic "Fanny and Alexander," which won four 1983 Academy Awards including foreign language film, screens Sunday.

Saturday’s offerings at the Aero are a double bill of thrillers directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau: their latest film, "Silent House," with Elizabeth Olsen, and 2003’s "Open Water," with Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis.

And on Wednesday the theater presents its "Wednesdays with Hitchcock" retrospective with the 1951 thriller "Strangers on a Train," with Farley Granger and Robert Walker in his most acclaimed performance.

The Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre kicks off its "Wednesday with Welles" retrospective with "The Third Man," Carol Reed’s classic 1949 film noir set in post-war Vienna adapted by Graham Greene from his novel starring Welles as the charming but diabolical Harry Lime, Joseph Cotten as his old best friend, Trevor Howard and Alida Valli. http://www,americancinemathquecom

Two Gene Autry Westerns -- 1936’s "Red River Valley" and 1950’s "Mule Train" -- screen Saturday at the Autry Center’s Western Legacy Theater. http://www.autry.org

UCLA Film & Television Archive’s "Nina Menkes: Cinema as Story" continues Friday with 1996’s "The Bloody Child" and Wednesday with 2007’s "Phantom Love," at the Billy Wilder Theater. "Kino-Eye: The Revolutionary Cinema of Dziga Vertov" screens "Kino-Week: Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5,-21-25 from 1918, "Vertov Filmed in Person," which features outtakes and excerpts from 1922-’30, and "Vertov Interviews," from post-1935, Saturday at the Billy Wilder Theater. Margarita Nafpaktitis, librarian for Slavic and Eastern European Studies at UCLA, is the special guest

Fiona Fullerton, Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore and a pre-"Phantom of the Opera" Michael Crawford star in a 1972 version of Lewis Carroll’s "Alice in Wonderland," Sunday for free at the Wilder Theater. Later that evening at the Wilder, the archive presents two more film in its "Spencer Tracy: That Natural Thing" retrospective: 1937’s "Captains Courageous," and 1938’s "Boys Town" -- Tracy won Oscars for both roles.

And Wednesday’s archive screening at the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown L.A. features the original 1958 "The Fly" and 1965’s rarely screened "Curse of the Fly." http://www.cinema.ucla.edu

Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre presents a weeklong engagement of director Andrzej Zulawski’s cult horror thriller "Possession," with Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani. The theater is also screening a new 35mm restored print of Charlie Chaplin’s beloved 1925 silent comedy "The Gold Rush," Friday through March 8. And on Wednesday evening, Cinefamily presents a restored print of the 1928 World War I romance "Lilac Time," with Gary Cooper and Colleen Moore. http://www.cinefamily.org

The Skirball Center commences it’s "Through a Glass Brightly: A Paul Mazursky Retrospective" with a free Tuesday matinee screening of 1980’s "Willie & Phil," which was inspired by Francois Truffaut’s "Jules et Jim." http://www.skirball.org

The Los Angeles Animation Festival opens Wednesday and continues through March 11 at the Regent Showcase in Hollywood. Sean Lennon is the artistic director. Among the films and shorts being presented are "Iron Giant" and the 1939 Technicolor film, "Gulliver's Travels." http://www.LAAFest.com


'The Artist' stars talk

Inside Ingmar Bergman

-- Susan King

Photo: Jean Dujardin and Louise Monot star in "OSS 117: Lost in Rio," which screens at the New Beverly. Credit: Emilie De La Hosseraye / Music Box Films

Oscars 2012: Could this idea make the academy more diverse?

February 29, 2012 | 11:09 am

Christopher Plummer
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, responding to a study by the Los Angeles Times, said it wants to diversify its ranks. But it won’t be easy.

The Times study, which identified more than 5,100 active, voting academy members, found that they  are 94% white, 77% male and have a median age of 62. Only 2% of the members are younger than 40, while more than half are 60 and older.

Times columnist Patrick Goldstein suggested on Tuesday that giving veteran Oscar members a different, non-voting status might help skew the academy’s demographics younger. He wrote:

For example, if you haven't had a credit in 25 years, you'd become an emeritus member, which would entitle you to all the perks the academy offers, minus the voting. Currently, approximately 5% of the voting membership is over age 85. If they were put on emeritus status, that would presumably open up the membership rolls to a younger, more vital constituency.

We tested the hypothesis, assuming that the academy would take its diversity pledge to an extreme. 

Times database wizard Doug Smith pulled up the paper’s Oscar voter rolls and followed Goldstein’s suggestion, removing all voters 85 and older, about 300 members. Smith then replaced them with imaginary non-white women aged 50 -- the median age of all new members invited to join the academy since 2004 (that's the year the academy started publicly announcing its invitees). 

Such a switch would leave the academy looking like this: 83% white, about 73% male and with a median age of 61. If the emeritus status began at age 80-- a change that would take away the voting rights of this year's best supporting actor winner Christopher Plummer, age 82--the voters would be 82% white, 68% male and have a median age of 59.

Some Oscar nominees said Sunday the academy needs to change and not just chalk things up to a lack of homogeneity in the film industry.

Asked if the academy is only as diverse as the industry, "The Help's" lead actress nominee Viola Davis said, “I don't think that that's what Hollywood is. I think that's probably just something the academy says.”

George Clooney, nominated for lead actor from “The Descendants,” said he was hopeful that the organization would become more diverse.  “That'd be a good idea, don't ya think?” he joked. “You can look at the Senate and it's roughly the same thing. I don't think to diversify is ever a bad idea.”

But how is that going to happen? “It's a tricky thing, because you actually have to open it up to more,” Clooney said, “as opposed to trying to keep people out, instead of taking their cards away.”


The Oscar voters: Meet the members at large

Who's Who in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

Unmasking the academy: Oscar voters overwhelmingly white, male

Unmasking the academy: Oscar voters aren't always who you might think

--John Horn and Amy Kaufman

Photo: Christopher Plummer at the 84th Academy Awards. Credit: Matt Sayles/Associated Press

Oscars 2012: How would you overhaul the show? [poll]

February 28, 2012 | 11:26 am

Oscars 2012: Click for more photos

The ratings for Sunday’s 84th Academy Awards were up slightly from a year ago — more than 39 million people tuned in, compared with 2011’s audience of nearly 38 million. But very few people seemed that excited about the ceremony itself, and the Oscars were seen by fewer people than this year’s Grammys.

Many critics trashed host Billy Crystal, some detractors blamed the soulless acceptance speeches, while a handful of commentators found fault with the movies themselves. Only one best picture nominee, “The Help,” is a legitimate box-office hit, and “The Artist” may turn out to be the second lowest-grossing best picture winner (beating only “The Hurt Locker”) in the last 35 years.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences says it enjoys little leeway in overhauling the broadcast. Like a three-hour football game in which the ball is in play only for a dozen minutes, there’s just 30 minutes or so in the Oscar show for anything original — all the other time is taken up by the presentation of the trophies. And the academy consistently has refused to consider moving awards such as sound mixing and art direction into a non-televised ceremony.

Some academy officials believe the show ain’t broke. "This is the best show we've ever had. Nothing has come close to this," the Wall Street Journal quoted Hawk Koch -- a candidate to be the academy's next president -- as telling Oscar producer Brian Grazer.

If you disagree, check out our poll. Assume you have unlimited power to renovate the Oscars. What would you do to make it more exciting?


Oscars 2012: Full coverage

'The Artist' is big winner at Academy Awards

Oscars 2012: What was Billy Crystal's lamest joke? [Poll]

Photo: Billy Crystal hosting the 84th Academy Awards. Credit: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press.

Oscars 2012: 'Artist' director doesn't expect wave of silent films

February 27, 2012 |  8:30 am

Michel Hazanavicius at Oscars 2012: Click for full coverage
“The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius thanked filmmaker Billy Wilder three times in his acceptance speech, but backstage at the Oscars, the best director winner said he would have thanked him “thousands of times” if he could.

“He’s the perfect director. He’s the soul of Hollywood,” Hazanavicius said of the “Some Like It Hot” and “Sunset Blvd.” filmmaker.

As to whether his awards-sweeping black-and-white, almost entirely silent film will influence future filmmakers, he claimed that “The Artist” alone couldn’t make a change in the film industry because “one movie doesn’t change things … 10 movies do,” but if it did, “I would be very proud of it.”

PHOTOS: Red carpet arrivals | Quotes | Winners | Best & Worst

Taking home best picture to cap a successful awards season, “The Artist” wasn’t held back by its throwback format and didn’t have trouble getting acclaim once it started screening at festivals such as Cannes.

“It’s not selling, not promoting. You just smile and say, ‘Thank you,’” Hazanavicius said of what he called a “not difficult” process of spreading awareness about the film.

“The Artist” producer Thomas Langmann, meanwhile, gave the majority of the credit for the film’s best picture win to Harvey Weinstein. Langmann recalled inviting Weinstein to France a month before Cannes to view the movie — one with a French director and cast the producer had barely heard of.

“I was supposed to leave him alone in the screening room, and I checked to make sure that the beginning was going OK, and I heard him laugh and laugh, so I stayed through the whole screening,” Langmann said. “He loved the movie, and I knew that Harvey could sometimes be very enthusiastic. But I saw in his eyes and his attitude that he really cared for the movie, and he believed that maybe we could be here today. I must say I think he’s the only distributor, even with this very special movie, to be able to take it to where it is today.”

“The Artist,” which won five Academy Awards on Sunday night, also took home statuettes for original score, lead actor and costume design.


Oscars 2012: Full coverage

TIMELINE: Eight decades of Oscars history

'The Artist' is big winner at Academy Awards

— Emily Rome and Amy Kaufman

Photo: Michel Hazanavicius backstage in the press room at the Academy Awards on Sunday night. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times.

Oscars 2012: Octavia Spencer deserved the Oscar, hands down

February 27, 2012 |  7:31 am

Octavia Spencer
As the deliciously subversive Minny Jackson in “The Help,” Octavia Spencer -- who won the Oscar for best supporting actress Sunday night -- stood out even in a cast packed with terrific performances including another supporting actress nominee in Jessica Chastain.

But as the maid who remade a chocolate pie in ways that will forever haunt that otherwise delectable confection, Spencer was unforgettable. Revenge has never been sweeter.

It was one of those risky bits — the role, not just the pie — that could have slipped into a level of caricature that would have made it less believable, less enjoyable. But watching her Minny huff and puff around the starched, sharp patronizing mistress played by Bryce Dallas Howard, an entire life of trouble took shape.

Oscars: Red Carpet | Quotes | Best & Worst | Key Scenes | Winners

In Spencer's hands, Minny was as layered as the cakes she taught a flighty newlywed to bake, as crispy as that fried chicken steaming on the table. The only one of her friends willing to rattle whatever cage tried to hold her, be it racism or an abusive husband.

Spencer is one of those classic types, a working actress who has been steadily refining her craft since she first stepped onto a stage.

There are moments that resurface on reflection — her breakthrough years ago as a nurse in another story of racial currents in “A Time to Kill,” a nurse again in “Seven Pounds.” Not always in uniform, but always in character, Spencer more than deserves this moment.


Oscars 2012: Full coverage

PHOTOS: Best and worst dressed

Timeline: Eight decades of Oscar history

-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Octavia Spencer at the 84th Academy Awards show. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Meryl Streep upset Viola Davis: Exactly how did that happen?

February 27, 2012 |  6:48 am

Meryl Streep upset Viola Davis at Oscars 2012

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Theories were flying at the Oscar after-parties Sunday night about how Meryl Streep pulled off perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2012 Oscars. After all, with her turn as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady," Streep had defeated Viola Davis as Aibilieen Clark even though the "Help" star last month won the Screen Actors Guild award. (In the first 11 years of this century, the SAG winner had foretold the Oscars a whopping nine times.)

Streep also overcame Davis' popularity, her candidacy forged by her running mate Octavia Spencer and a general feeling that Davis was an essential vehicle for honoring the race-themed drama, what with the movie overlooked in categories such as writing and directing.

So what happened? Among the explanations for the Streep win were Harvey Weinstein's dominance -- the awards kingpin saw his movies take home the top four awards at the Oscars -- and general goodwill for Streep.

PHOTOS: Red carpet arrivals | Quotes | Winners | Best & Worst

But there's another, possibly cleaner, explanation: Streep was playing a real person.

For those who keep an eye on the Oscars, there's sometimes a sense that anyone acting at a high level will have an advantage if they play an actual person, especially one the audience already knows.

The recent numbers, as it turns out, bear out that theory. In the last five actor races in which men playing real people competed against men playing fictitious ones, the actor playing the known personality won four times. (You can debate whether Billy Beane is sufficiently well known to qualify; we'd say that most voters couldn't pick him out of a lineup).

Strikingly, the same ratio holds on the female side -- the actress playing the real-life person has now won four of the last five times they've competed against one another.

This in itself calls for an explanation. The best theory may be that with a real-life person we (or at least a certain kind of voter) have a frame of reference by which to judge the actor's  performance. These actors must be good at their jobs because, well, I knew a little bit about Margaret Thatcher or Edith Piaf, and what they're doing reminds me of them. Of course, a bad performer playing a real person will find that this could highlight their weaknesses, but that won't apply to Oscar-caliber acting.

You might find this a little unfair; actors playing real people, after all, have a template to work off that their fiction-minded siblings don't. But maybe one should cut Streep some slack anyway. The lone exception among the past five cases of unknown-versus-known personalities? Streep was on the losing side, her rendition of Julia Child in "Julie and Julia" losing out to Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side."

[For the record, 8:49 a.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the first name of Viola Davis' character in "The Help" as Abilieen.]

Oscars 2012: Full coverage

TIMELINE: Eight decades of Oscars history

'The Artist' is big winner at Academy Awards

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady." Credit: The Weinstein Company

Oscars 2012: Octavia Spencer calls 'Help' ensemble a 'beautiful unit'

February 27, 2012 |  5:47 am

Christian Bale and Octavia Spencer

Octavia Spencer, who was named best supporting actress at the Oscars for her role as Southern maid Minny Jackson in the civil-rights-era drama "The Help," was not in the mood to appear in the press room after the Academy Awards telecast on Sunday night, asking that she not have to take too many questions.

Indeed Spencer, who cried onstage after her win, seemed exhausted and overwhelmed to the point of being edgy. When asked about her thoughts on the lack of diversity in the motion picture academy, which is largely white and male, the African American actress bristled just a bit.

“I don’t have any thoughts about it; it’s not something I’ve thought about. I wish I could be more eloquent — elegant in answering that question,” she said. “I can’t tell the academy what to do, honey. They just gave me an Oscar.”

PHOTOS: Red carpet arrivals | Quotes | Winners | Best & Worst

A moment later, after she took another question, she seemed to feel bad about her answer.

“I didn’t mean to cut you off, ma’am,” she said to the reporter who asked the diversity question. “I just knew where you were going, and I didn’t want to get on that bus.”

The usually chipper actress’ mood brightened when she was asked about her experience working on “The Help.”

“It’s rare that you have the type of ensemble that we had,” she said. “We left our egos at the door and worked as one beautiful unit.”

But at the end of the day, Spencer said that she felt she was accepting the Oscar on the part of those who lived through the civil rights struggle.

“I’m a benefactor of all of the riches that the real-life Minnys, Aibileens and Celias basically reaped,” said Spencer. “I’m very humble because I get to stand here and accept this award, and I haven’t really done anything.”


Oscars 2012: Full coverage

TIMELINE: Eight decades of Oscars history

'The Artist' is big winner at Academy Awards

— Jessica Gelt

Photo: Octavia Spencer with presenter Christian Bale and her award for supporting actress for "The Help" backstage at the 84th Academy Awards.  Credit: Joel Ryan/Associated Press.


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