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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Academy Project

'Titanic 3D' will convert you too: Betsy Sharkey's film pick

April 19, 2012 |  8:00 am

"Titanic 3D"
It may drive his crews crazy, but the fact that James Cameron is an infamous perfectionist pays off nicely in the conversion of his Oscar-winning 1997 blockbuster “Titanic” into 3-D.

The filmmaker did more than test the technology-roiled waters with “Avatar” in 2009, when he rewrote the navigation chart with a rich dimensionality that was groundbreaking. But what happens when the director re-imagines the past with the aid of the new tools?

All good things.

“Titanic” was gorgeous when it landed 15 years ago, but watching it set sail in 3-D is breathtaking. Just as satisfying as the brilliant new colors and a ship that seems at times suspended in the air is watching Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet falling in love again -- passion and heartbreak are better in 3-D too.

The technology, and the choices Cameron and his team make on when and where to employ it, allows certain moments to completely overtake the senses. The iconic shot of the windblown young lovers on the prow of the ship feels close enough to touch.


'Titanic 3D' world premiere

Is the world ready for another good 'Titanic' cry?

Kate Winslet's breasts censored from 'Titanic 3D' in China

-- Betsy Sharkey

Photo caption: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as ill-fated young lovers in "Titanic 3D." Credit: Paramount Pictures.

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

Spirit Awards: Actors (and a producer) talk Oscar diversity

February 25, 2012 |  5:46 pm

Anthony Mackie
The entertainment world's spotlight Saturday is on the Film Independent Spirit Awards, but plenty of its attendees have their minds on Sunday's big show, the Oscars -- a ceremony where the winners, as a Times study recently revealed, are mostly determined by white men. At the Spirit Awards, nominees and presenters told 24 Frames what they think about the makeup of the motion picture academy.

Presenter Anthony Mackie: “I became a member this past year. I think the academy has made a concerted effort to bring more young actors in and more artists in to bring a younger pool of voters. I hope so.”

Oscar voters study“The Artist” actor James Cromwell: “It's really nice when the media tells the truth about something so that people can therefore put this in perspective and understand, 'Oh, it's not really a contest for the best film –- it's all a business deal made in back rooms.' And we are the Westminster dogs, and somebody else makes a lot of money.”

“A Better Life” actor Demian Bechir: “Not only in the academy –- everywhere, in every aspect of our daily lives [things should be more diverse]. We need a little more of everything. We all need to be included.”

“Pariah” producer Nekisa Cooper: “I think if the academy would reflect the population, you would have a more diverse representation at the Oscars. Films like 'Pariah,' films like 'Red Tails,' films like 'The Help'  help show that there is a desire for them.”

“Pariah” star Adepero Oduye: “I personally think it should be more diverse. I think all kinds of people watch film. And there should be more of a cross-section. We all watch movies and we all have opinions and our voices matter.”


Movie academy: Oscar voters overwhelmingly white and male

Oscar voters: When the motion picture academy is a family affair

Oscars 2012: Despite Halle and Denzel, gold mostly eludes nonwhites

-– Emily Rome and Amy Kaufman

Photo: Anthony Mackie at the Film Independent Spirit Awards Credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Oscar voters: Alfre Woodard talks membership, diversity

February 25, 2012 |  9:00 am

When Alfre Woodard was nominated for her Oscar back in 1984 for her supporting role in the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings biopic "Cross Creek," she had no idea who voted for her or what the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences was all about. She only joined the elite organization after her nomination because it was the polite thing to do.

"I said yea because it seemed rude to say no," quipped Woodard during a phone interview.

But over the years, the African American actress has become an active member of the organization, often serving on the executive committee of the actors branch that chooses its new members. And though Woodard is in the minority in her own branch -- which is 88% white and 59% male -- she is actively trying to change that through recruitment and engagement with people she works with in the industry.
Oscar voters study

"All of us who have served on the nominating committee -- and it rotates -- [look] for young people that might fit the rigorous criteria for becoming an academy member," said Woodard. "Actors work all the time on different sets of movies, and we take it seriously. It's going to take time for [diversity] to show up, but we are actively underway."

Woodard has served as something of a spokeswoman for the academy recently, participating in interviews with "NBC Nightly News" after the L.A. Times published a story exploring the demographics of the academy. Though she is optimistic that changes will be made to the predominantly white, male academy, she says she's realistic about the pace of such change -- and of the limits of the organization.

Each branch of the academy has its own membership rules, but all branches became stricter in 2003 when the academy decided to curtail the growth of the organization to 30 members a year on top of replacing those who leave the organization because of retirement, resignation or death. Now an actor must have three feature credits, and a producer needs the equivalent of two producing credits.

“What we are looking for needs to happen somewhere other than the academy. What has complicated the situation are the specific requirements needed for membership," said Woodard. "You can’t make allowances.”

So Woodard has been doing her little part to honor her fellow black actresses, while the academy and the industry catch up to the country in terms of diversity.

For the last three years, beginning with the nominations of Viola Davis for "Doubt" and Taraji Henson for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Woodard has hosted her own Oscar dinner for all the black women who have been nominated for Academy Awards and, she said, "in a perfect world all of those that should have been," such as actresses S. Epatha Merkerson and C.C.H. Pounder.

“I do it to celebrate the fact that we all exist and we are here,” said Woodard.


Oscars: Cheat Sheet | Key Scenes | Pundit's picks | Ballot

Movie academy: Oscar voters overwhelmingly white and male

Oscar voters: When the motion picture academy is a family affair

Oscars 2012: Despite Halle and Denzel, gold mostly eludes nonwhites

 --Nicole Sperling

Photo credit: Alfre Woodard at the Black Women on Film panel discussion at the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Credit: Evan Agostini / Getty Images

Oscars 2012: For De Niro, it’s about Clooney and Streep (and Uggie)

February 24, 2012 |  9:40 am


When the Oscars get underway Sunday, one notable name won't be in the room amid the glitz and high fashion. Robert De Niro, whose frequent collaborator, Martin Scorsese, is up for a directing Oscar, will be back East where he's shooting an action thriller in Georgia with John Travolta.

But that doesn't mean De Niro, who has two statuettes himself, doesn't have strong feelings about this year's races. Asked his favorite performances, the actor didn't hesitate to name two: George Clooney in "The Descendants" and Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady.” “I wouldn’t be surprised if they both went in and won,” he said. (Both are, of course, up for lead acting Oscars on Sunday, though face stiff competition from Jean Dujardin and Viola Davis, respectively.)

De Niro, who is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that determines the Oscars, said that when it comes to 2011 films, he was particularly taken with "The Artist." "It’s a special movie, very well done, clever and smart," he said. "And to get performances like that. Even the dog. Seriously, where do you even get a dog like that?"

Oscars 2012: Cheat Sheet | Key Scenes | Pundit's picks | Ballot

We may not see Uggie much in the future; the crowd-pleasing canine is retiring after the Oscars. We will, however, see plenty of De Niro in the coming months. Next week he opens “Being Flynn,” his passion project with director Paul Weitz about a vagabond father who reunites with his son after nearly two decades apart. And later this year he’ll appear in a comedy opposite Amanda Seyfried titled “The Wedding” and a David O. Russell family dramedy, “The Silver Linings Playbook.” The still-undated Sundance thriller “Red Lights" also lies on the horizon.

And then there’s “Killing Season,” the movie De Niro is shooting with Travolta that centers on two veterans of the Bosnian war, one American and one Serbian, who confront each other in the Smoky Mountains. “It has action and a bit of a thriller thing,” De Niro said, “and maybe also has got a bit of a political thing.”


Oscars 2012: Cohen not barred -- yet

Oscars 2012: Who really chooses the winners?

Oscars 2012: Is this Meryl Streep's best year ever?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Robert De Niro in "Limitless." Credit: Relativity Media

Oscar voters: When the motion picture academy is a family affair

February 23, 2012 |  5:01 pm

Jake and maggie
It's been said that couples shouldn't keep any secrets from each other. But there's one thing that motion picture academy members Francesca Loschiavo and her husband Dante Ferretti claim they never discuss: how they're planning to mark their Oscar ballots.

Maintaining their vows of silence must be tough this year: The couple were nominated for their art direction on Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," one of their numerous collaborations over the years in Hollywood and their native Italy.

They do, however, compare notes after the fact.

Oscar voters study"We are independent, not dependent," Ferretti said in an interview. "She will vote for what she likes, I will vote for what I like. Also, I don’t show her my ballots, and she doesn’t show her ballots, and then we discuss afterward, after we close the envelope.” 

Like Ivy League colleges and Appalachian hollers, the academy contains lots of kinfolk. There are extended families like the Gyllenhaals, a clan that includes director Stephen Gyllenhaal; his ex-wife,  screenwriter Naomi Foner; the couple's actor offspring, Jake and Maggie; and Maggie's husband and fellow thespian Peter Sarsgaard.

There are Significant Others and Signficant Ex-es. There are famous power couples (Brad and Angelina, Warren and Annette), and blood-relative craftspersons who are little-known among moviegoers but highly regarded by their peers, such as sibling cinematographers John and Matthew Leonetti.

Actor Lorenzo Lamas became a member of the academy at age 22 after his parents, actors Fernando Lamas and Arlene Dahl, endorsed his invitation. The organization had long been a part of the younger Lamas’ life: As a teenager he attended the Oscars and the Governors Ball with his mother, and often accompanied his father to the academy’s headquarters for official screenings.

“It was like the church of show business to me,” Lamas, 54, recalled. “You walk in and see these 10-foot tall gold Oscar statuettes and the names of these huge movie stars and directors who have made such a mark on this industry over the years. I was proud to walk in there with my dad, who was a member in good standing, and watch him shake people’s hands.”

Brother composers Richard and Robert Sherman, the team behind classic movie hits like "Chim Chim Cher-ee" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," were signed by Walt Disney in 1960. By 1963, they'd accumulated enough film credits to earn academy membership.

"It’s a beautiful thing, it’s wonderful, we get to meet a lot of our colleagues," said Richard Sherman, a former member of the academy composers branch's executive committee. On two occasions the brothers also wrote the show-opening song number for the Academy Awards telecast.

As far as Oscar voting, Richard said, the brothers take the approach, "You vote  your way and I'll vote my way."

"A lot of the times we agree and sometimes we don’t," he added, "because that’s what makes life interesting."


Oscar voters overwhelmingly white, male

Oscar voters aren't always who you might think

Oscar voters: Meet the academy's youngest members

-- Reed Johnson and Amy Kaufman

Photo: Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal at the 82nd Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, March 7, 2010. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times


Oscar voters: Meet the academy's youngest members

February 23, 2012 |  2:23 pm

Anna Paquin

For a preteen, membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences brings some particularly grown-up perks. The biggest thrill for Anna Paquin, who joined at age 11, wasn’t being able to vote on the best picture of the year — it was that her membership allowed her to see R-rated movies before she was 17.

“I remember thinking that was the pretty much the coolest thing that could happen to me,” recalled Paquin, now 29. “My parents were pretty finicky with ratings, and occasionally I’d get away with watching stuff that was a little older than they preferred. Plus, I was living in New Zealand, and once a year I’d get sent all of these movies that weren’t coming out for months where I lived.”

In 1994, Paquin took home the supporting actress Oscar for her role in “The Piano” as the daughter of a mute pianist. At 11, she became the second-youngest performer behind Tatum O’Neal to ever score one of the coveted awards. And months later, she became one of the youngest members of the academy.

Oscar voters studyA recent L.A. Times study of the academy found that the median age of voting members is 62, and few members are too young to legally buy a beer. Among the youngest are 17-year-old Saoirse Ronan, who scored a supporting actress nod for her turn in 2007’s “Atonement,” and Dakota Fanning, who turned 18 Thursday.

Twentysomethings include Keisha Castle-Hughes and Jennifer Lawrence, 21; Mia Wasikowska, 22; Michael Cera and Haley Joel Osment, 23; Ellen Page, 25; and Rooney Mara, 26. Mara, star of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” is up for the lead actress prize at the Academy Awards on Sunday. She will be one of the youngest nominees at the ceremony, along with 28-year-old Jonah Hill, who earned a nod for his supporting role in “Moneyball.”

Not surprisingly, most of the academy’s young’uns are in the actors branch, since it’s easier to get a job at 13 as a kid star than, say, a makeup artist. The sound and public relations branch each have at least one member in their 20s.

Many of those who gained admission into the academy while they were minors, such as Paquin, became eligible for membership thanks to a nomination, which not that long ago almost guaranteed admission even if the nominee didn’t have a substantial body of work. Others were proposed for membership by academy members, which was the case with Marlee Matlin.

Continue reading »

Oscar voters: How some TV veterans made it into the academy

February 22, 2012 |  4:36 pm

William Link: Oscar voter

In 1971, writer-producer William Link gave a 24-year-old named Steven Spielberg one of his earliest directing jobs, an episode of the TV show “Columbo.” The production required some managerial finesse—when the crime show’s veteran cinematographer balked at Spielberg’s youth, Link placated the worried crewman with a box of Cuban cigars.

Nearly 40 years later, Link, now 78, still feels a bond with Spielberg, and he just cast a vote for the director’s latest film, “War Horse,” in Oscar’s best picture race.

Link is one of a dozens of members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences better known for their work in television than in film -- others include Oprah Winfrey, CBS chief executive Les Moonves, the producer of the Charlie Brown TV specials, the costume designer from many “Star Trek” shows and former “Patty Duke Show” patriarch William Schallert.

Oscar voters studyMany of these members have a film credit or two under their belts—Winfrey was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in 1985’s “The Color Purple,” for instance—but they found their greatest successes on the small screen. Most of them joined when Hollywood maintained a rigid caste system between TV and film, but the academy itself was more permeable.

Today, the line between film and TV has blurred, as “movie stars” like Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman and Claire Danes play high-profile roles on cable, but that wasn’t the case 20 to 30 years ago, and still television figures became academy members with regularity.

“When we came to Hollywood, TV was considered this elementary channel to go into feature films,” said Link, who is the co-creator, with his partner Richard Levinson, of “Columbo,” “Murder, She Wrote” and several made-for-TV movies. Together they wrote the screenplay for the 1980 Steve McQueen movie “The Hunter” under the pseudonym Ted Leighton and joined the academy in the early 1980s.

“Movies was Nirvana. That was El Dorado. There was a snobbery about the TV business. We wanted to get into films, but we saw that film was a director's medium. In TV, as writers, we had final cut. TV really became our medium.”

Some members who came from the TV world had high-ranking benefactors in the academy.
In 1972, Schallert played the judge in the movie “The Trial of the Catonsville 9,” a political passion project of its producer, then academy president Gregory Peck.

Continue reading »

Oscars 2012: Last-minute voters cast their ballots

February 21, 2012 |  2:11 pm

The buttoned-down Los Angeles offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers played host to a steady stream of baseball-cap and blue jean-clad visitors Tuesday -- Oscar voters, casting their ballots on the last day of Academy Awards voting.

By late morning, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members and their assistants and messengers were arriving at the downtown skyscraper at a rate of 15 to 20 an hour to deliver their white envelopes to a locked, black lacquer drop-box in PricewaterhouseCoopers' 49th floor reception area.

Some of the last-minute voters said they had been trying to see as many of the nominated films as possible before the deadline, or had forgotten that Monday was a postal holiday.

Deena Appel, a  costume designer in the art directors branch, ran her ballot into the gleaming glass and chrome building with the help of her 4-year-old son, who was charged with handling the actual envelope. Appel said it’s not the first time she has hand-delivered her ballot on the last day of voting.

“I try to see as much as I can, and with a 4-year-old it’s hard,” Appel said, as she chased her son down the steps. “With the holiday weekend I lost track. I even went to the post office yesterday to try and send it. The date just creeps up on you every year.”

Appel, an eight-year academy member, said she was a bit disappointed with this year’s best picture contenders.

“I prefer the smaller field,” Appel said, in contrast to this year’s Oscar race, which features nine best picture contenders.

PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Brad Oltmanns, who oversees the balloting and regularly appears on the Oscar telecast, declined to comment on the number of ballots coming in Tuesday. According to a press release issued by the accounting firm, it takes PricewaterhouseCoopers' staff about 1,700 man-hours to count and verify the ballots cast by the academy's 5,765 voting members. Time is tight -- the Academy Awards will be held Sunday.

One academy member carrying a ballot into Pricewaterhouse on Tuesday said his last-minute delivery was a sign of how seriously he takes his responsibility as an Oscar voter.

"My ballot stares at me for a few weeks," said the art director, who declined to give his name because he preferred to remain anonymous as an academy member. "There's some hard decisions to make."

Andrew London, a member of the editors branch, said he couldn’t imagine turning his ballot in any earlier.

“I was still seeing movies yesterday,” said London.

The last film London watched was “Transformers,” which he called “torture."

Otherwise, the crop of movies up for consideration this year had middling appeal to the 63-year old craftsman. “There were a lot of good films this year, not a lot of great films.”


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

-- Nicole Sperling and Rebecca Keegan

Photo: Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosas of PricewaterhouseCoopers, holding a box of last year's ballots, are joined by Film Academy President Tom Sherak. Credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Oscar voters: From Britain to Brazil, academy members span globe

February 21, 2012 |  2:09 pm

Bertrand tavernier academy voter

As Pricewaterhouse Coopers accountants tally the Oscar votes this week, they are sure to be opening lots of envelopes mailed from motion picture academy members in the 90210 ZIP Code. But they’ll also be seeing postmarks from dozens of foreign countries, including Japan, Britain, Ireland, Denmark and India.

The overwhelming bulk of the academy’s 5,765 voting members, including a substantial number who are foreign-born, make their homes in the United States, primarily in California and New York. But according to an L.A. Times study of the academy, which tracked down 89% of the membership, some 500 others, including actors, directors, makeup artists and hairstylists, reside abroad.

The largest regional bloc is from Britain, including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (some 250 members). By The Times’ count, at least 57 members live in Canada and about 45 in Australia.

Oscar voters studyAccording to The Times’ study, most of the rest reside in European countries including France (more than three dozen members), Italy and Spain (about 20 each), Germany, Ireland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Hungary and Norway. Members also can be found in New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, Argentina, Mexico and Thailand.

Foreign members include director Roman Polanski, whose legal troubles precipitated his flight from L.A. to France years ago; British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, better known for this Broadway hits than his Hollywood smashes; costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, the first Indian to win an Oscar, for “Gandhi,” in 1982; and Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, an Oscar winner for “Apocalypse Now,” “Reds” and “The Last Emperor.”

There are advantages as well as drawbacks to living thousands of miles from Hollywood during Oscar season, some foreign members said. On the plus side: getting to watch screeners of movies that haven’t yet opened at their neighborhood theater. On the minus side: spotty mail delivery of Oscar-related materials, and the fact that foreign nominees often are out of sight, out of mind when voters are marking their ballots.

French director Bertrand Tavernier enjoys voting for the Oscars although, he acknowledges with a chuckle, “I don’t read the rules. I’ve never really understood how they work.” Tavernier looks forward to getting his annual shipments of DVD screeners of Oscar-eligible films –- at least the ones that make it to his house in Paris.

“They used to send copies by Federal Express, but if you aren’t home, they don’t deliver,” he said. “I’m sure 10 or 15 films arrived that I never received.”

Continue reading »


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