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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The academy: Another black eye?

December 1, 2008 |  6:02 pm

Oscar2Groucho Marx famously said that he'd never join a club that would have him as a member, which, either way you look at it, should mean that he was never a member of the always hilariously inept Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (Actually, he was.) The New York Times' Michael Cieply has a great piece today about the academy's bizarre new admissions policy that seems fussier than ever, geared to tilting academy membership away from old-style Hollywood types in favor of a new generation of indie actors and filmmakers. According to Cieply, the move away from mainstream talent will only push the Oscars farther away from the kind of crowd-pleasing films that might help the academy stem its plunging Oscar TV ratings.

But the academy decisions are also simply baffling. The example that apparently spurred Cieply's piece is a humdinger -- the academy has invited producer Lianne Halfon to join its producer branch, thanks to the success of "Juno," which she produced. But it snubbed Russell Smith, Halfon's longtime producing partner, even though he is not only also a producer of "Juno" but has shared credit with Halfon on 10 different movies over the past decade. When Cieply asked academy executive director Bruce Davis for an explanation, he had none.

A charming, gregarious man when he's not trying to defend the academy's many missteps, Davis simply bobbed and weaved, steering Cieply away from the subject by offering him a few spicy if arcane academy membership stats -- revealing that Woody Allen has been invited to join 16 times, declining every time (apparently he's a true member of the Groucho Club) and offering the surprising news that the actors branch membership is down by 167 members, or roughly 2%, since 2000. Cieply also notes that while a host of successful comic actors are routinely refused admission -- the latest box-office star to get a turn-down is Seth Rogen -- a host of obscure art-film actors and filmmakers have been admitted, including Adriana Barraza, a costar in "Babel," and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who directed "The Lives of Others."

When it comes to making the academy cut, rhyme or reason seems to go out the window, especially when it comes to the actor's branch. Jennifer Hudson is in, Ellen Page is out. Danny Huston is in, but Casey Affleck is out. Steve Carell is in, but Rogen is out. William Fichtner is in, while Amy Ryan is out. Still, the snub of Russell Smith is a new low in academy bumbling. If the woman who made 10 movies with him is good enough for the academy, then surely there should be room for her producing partner as well. If you share the work, you should share the credit. But the academy is so tone deaf that if it ever had to invite Hall & Oates to be members, it'd say -- OK, Hall is in, Oates is out.

Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times   

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