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Firmly, I spank my peers! It's a SOAP opera!

January 18, 2007 |  1:54 am

It pains me to do this — to take my fellow Oscar prognosticators to task in public — but I think they can take it and I hope they find this discussion an interesting exercise in kudos analysis. And, perhaps, even helpful, although perhaps a bit painful in spots.

Recently, Scott Feinberg, who operates the admirable AndTheWinnerIs.blog.com, sounded a fascinating rallying cry to all of his fellow Oscar bloggers: Hey, kids, let's launch our own awards and proclaim what film work WE think is the best of the year!

Great idea, I say. Can never be enough awards, as far as this awards expert is concerned. After all, they all promote something very important: a discussion of superior film achievement. Up till now, we've received the perspectives of filmmakers (Oscars, guilds, Indie Spirits, BAFTA), American critics (New York, L.A., National Society, women, African-Americans, even groups like — my personal fave — the Central Ohio Film Critics), foreign journos (Golden Globes), festivals (Sundance, Cannes), the public (People's Choice), wee ones (Kid's Choice), viewers of tube music channels (MTV), etc. Why not the journos who write about these awards, too? Yes! Here! Here!

Childrenofmen

But I declined Scott's kind offer to participate for several reasons, a chief one being skepticism about the results. I've been writing about Oscars, Globes, Emmys and other awards for nearly 20 years for the L.A. Times, New York Times, London Times, Variety, Reader's Digest, TV Guide and scores of other publications and I've written in-depth books "The Emmys," "The Grammys" and "Movie Awards," published by Penguin Putnam and, at one point, by Variety. CLICK HERE to see the latter, which spans the histories of the 13 top U.S. film kudos and is the only tome ever written on many of them, including the Globes and the leading film-critics' awards. In 1999, I launched the first website devoted to all of these prizes — GoldDerby.com, which was acquired by the L.A. Times in November, 2005, and folded into the launch of TheEnvelope.com.

In short, I really know showbiz awards and have made a particular study of how they affect each other. That's the premise of "Movie Awards," which arranges those 13 film kudos chronologically year by year and week by week so you can see how they influence each other. Ever wonder how "Rocky" won the Oscar for best picture? Well, it happened because the brand-spanking-new Los Angeles Film Critics Association was desperate to pick something totally out of the blue and distinguish itself from the New York Film Critics Circle, which had been around since 1935 and usually preferred snooty fare to prove how smart its members were. The year was 1976. Many LAFCA members happened to be together at a screening of a low-brow, crowd-pleasing popcorn pic that captured the spirit of the American Dream during America's Bicentennial. Impressed by how the audience whooped and whistled at Sly Stallone's punch-drunk drive to succeed, one of them turned to the others as they left the theater and gasped, "That's it!"

When you study one year's awards consecutively, the influence they have on each other is obvious. Oscar voters never would've chosen "Silence of the Lambs" as best picture if the New York Film Critics Circle hadn't given them permission to anoint a horrorfest, something they'd never done before, and haven't done since. "Annie Hall" never would've won the top Oscar if the National Society of Film Critics hadn't reached back to the previous spring to hail a movie alternative to the late-breaking biggies of 1977.

So when Scott announced the formation of SOAP — the new Society of Online Awards Prognosticators — I thought, snidely, to myself: Oh, jeeeeez, it's just going to serve up refried beans. Ideally, a group like SOAP, being comprised of savvy award-watchers, would have the stomach to break away from the groupthink of other awards, proudly pooh-pooh all that, and declare across kudosland: Look, you idiots, THIS is really the best movie, the best performance, the best screenplay of the year! Why are you taking your lead from the National Board of Review, for Chrissake?!

But that's what they did, of course — I mean borrow from many other awards — and I shake my head with disappointment. These, of all people, should know better. True, there are occasional departures from the mainstream, but look at the soggy beans on their platter of best-pic nominees: "The Departed," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Pan's Labyrinth" (which won best pic from the National Society), "The Queen," "United 93." All tasty, sure, but warmed over after being snatched from other plates.

Why not some hot, gourmet alternatives like "Casino Royale," "Army of Shadows," "Deliver Us from Evil," "Volver"? What I think they should REALLY do, if only they had the guts and they don't, is to break from the lockstep of film critics completely and set the record straight about "The Fountain," for example, a magnificent achievement shrugged off by testosterone-blinded, cynical bullies who dominate film criticism (more than 85 percent male) and get their jollies out of bashing sissy flicks full of wild romantic abandon. Many critics are wrong about "The Fountain" — period, because I say so — but SOAP has issued very few nominations that dare to defy the thugs. OK, sure, "The Fountain" got a nod for music score, but why not best picture?

Oh,yeah, they did make one brave departure in the best-pic lineup, but it's a guy-friendly one: "Children of Men." No small wonder. Anyone who reads the excellent Hollywood-Elsewhere.com knows that its bell-ringer Jeff Wells, a SOAP participant, has been blasting his adoration of "Children of Men" from every steepletop he can scale. And I admire him for that. And his readers know of his disdain for "Dreamgirls," which is obviously shared by fellow SOAPers. So that's not nominated for best picture. Personally, I think they're loco, but I compliment them for expressing strong, independent views because they should really do more of that.

Here's PROOF of how easily led they are. It's ridiculously obvious from just one nomination: Jennifer Hudson as best supporting actress. Anyone who's seen "Dreamgirls" knows full well that she's the lead. They only put her in supporting because everybody else did. Memo to SOAPers: who the hell is she supporting? You're supposed to be awards experts, supposed to detach yourself from the nonsense and give kudosland a reality check.

Next year I'd love to see SOAP issue its nominees BEFORE the other groups. Let's see what they think before being so obviously influenced by everybody else. If the National Board of Review can do it — a group of dentists, schoolteachers, PR flacks and ad execs — they can, too. They're in the biz. They have access to the same early screenings that members of NYFCC, LAFCA and Broadcast Film Critics Association do. All four groups, including NBR, issue their awards or nominations within days of each other. If Scott gets SOAP organized properly, his gang can work the logistics.

That would be a list I'd REALLY like to see and one that, I bet you, would be very different this year from the nominees just announced. And one I'd probably applaud loudly, cheerfully. How fascinating it would be to compare that list to what comes after, eh?!

CLICK HERE to see the full list of SOAP's nominees, included in its PR release, reprinted in full.

Photo: Not one of the usual suspects. The new SOAP award nominations rubber-stamp other kudos, but take one worthy departure in the top races: "Children of Men."
(Universal)

SOAP ANNOUNCES!

The Society of Online Awards Prognosticators, established in 2006 and
comprised of some of the top Oscar analysts around, has announced its
nominees for the first annual SOAP Awards. (There are five nominees in each
category, except in cases where there was a tie for the fifth highest vote
getter.) The winners will be announced on Wednesday, February 21st.

SOAP President Scott Feinberg (andthewinneris.blog.com) and Vice President
Jeffrey Wells (hollywood-elsewhere.com) validated the results; other members
include Johnny Alba (theoscarigloo.com), Mark Bakalor (oscarcentral.com),
Russ Colombo (home.comcast.net/~atogt), Edward Douglas (comingsoon.net),
Carlos Reyes (oscardiary.multiply.com), Nathaniel Rogers
(thefilmexperience.net), Andy Scott (everythingoscar.com), Giovanni
Tagliaferri (digilander.libero.it/trumanburbank), and Anne Thompson
(reporter.blogs.com/risky).

(The group extends special thanks to Anthony Monelli for developing a
program to expedite the calculation of results.)


PRIMARY CATEGORIES

Best Picture

* Children of Men
* The Departed
* Little Miss Sunshine
* Pan's Labyrinth
* The Queen
* United 93

Best Director

* Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men)
* Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth)
* Stephen Frears (The Queen)
* Paul Greengrass (United 93)
* Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

Best Actor

* Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed)
* Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking)
* Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)
* Peter O'Toole (Venus)
* Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)

Best Actress

* Penelope Cruz (Volver)
* Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal)
* Helen Mirren (The Queen)
* Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)
* Kate Winslet (Little Children)

Best Supporting Actor

* Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
* Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children)
* Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)
* Jack Nicholson (The Departed)
* Michael Sheen (The Queen)

Best Supporting Actress

* Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal)
* Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada)
* Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)
* Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
* Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)
* Meryl Streep (A Prairie Home Companion)

Best Adapted Screenplay

* Bill Condon (Dreamgirls)
* Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk
Ostby (Children of Men)
* Todd Field, Tom Perrotta (Little Children)
* Patrick Marber (Notes on a Scandal)
* Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada)
* William Monahan (The Departed)
* Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking)

Best Original Screenplay

* Pedro Almodovar (Volver)
* Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)
* Guillermo Arriaga (Babel)
* Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth)
* Peter Morgan (The Queen)

Best Animated Film

* Cars
* Happy Feet
* Monster House
* Over the Hedge
* A Scanner Darkly

Best Documentary

* An Inconvenient Truth
* Deliver Us from Evil
* Jesus Camp
* Shut Up and Sing!
* The War Tapes

Best Foreign Language Film

* Apocalypto
* Letters from Iwo Jima
* The Lives of Others
* Pan's Labyrinth
* Volver

Best Original Score

* Alexandre Desplat (The Painted Veil)
* Alexandre Desplat (The Queen)
* Philip Glass (Notes on a Scandal)
* Clint Mansell (The Fountain)
* Javier Navarrete (Pan's Labyrinth)
* Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel)

Best Original Song

* "I Need to Wake Up," Melissa Etheridge (An Inconvenient Truth)
* "Listen," Beyonce Knowles (Dreamgirls)
* "Love You I Do," Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
* "The Song of the Heart," Prince (Happy Feet)
* "Till the End of Time," DeVotchKa (Little Miss Sunshine)
* "You Know My Name," Chris Cornell (Casino Royale)


TECHNICAL CATEGORIES

Best Art Direction

* Apocalypto
* Children of Men
* Dreamgirls
* Marie Antoinette
* Pan's Labyrinth

Best Cinematography

* Apocalypto
* Babel
* Children of Men
* The Departed
* Letters from Iwo Jima
* Pan's Labyrinth

Best Costume Design

* Apocalypto
* The Devil Wears Prada
* Dreamgirls
* Marie Antoinette
* The Painted Veil

Best Editing

* Babel
* Children of Men
* The Departed
* Dreamgirls
* United 93

Best Makeup

* Apocalypto
* Marie Antoinette
* Pan's Labyrinth
* Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
* The Queen

Best Sound

* Children of Men
* The Departed
* Dreamgirls
* Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
* Superman Returns

Best Visual Effects

* Children of Men
* The Fountain
* Pan's Labyrinth
* Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
* Superman Returns

SPECIAL COMMENDATIONS

Best Ensemble

* Babel
* The Departed
* Little Miss Sunshine
* The Queen
* Volver

Best Independent Film

* The Dead Girl
* Half Nelson
* Little Miss Sunshine
* Sherrybaby
* Shortbus
* Thank You for Smoking

Best Pre-August Film

* The Devil Wears Prada
* Inside Man
* Little Miss Sunshine
* Thank You for Smoking
* A Prairie Home Companion
* United 93

Best Debut

* Ivana Baquero (Pan's Labyrinth)
* Jonathan Dayton/Varie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine)
* Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson)
* Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
* Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)

Best Scene or Sequence

* Ivana Baquero and The Pale Man sequence (Pan's Labyrinth)
* Abigail Breslin performs her routine (Little Miss Sunshine)
* Jennifer Hudson performs "And I Am Telling You" (Dreamgirls)
* Clive Owen and friends in the car are ambushed and chased (Children of
Men)
* Martin Sheen departs (The Departed)

Best Living Talent Without an Oscar

* Alan Arkin
* Lauren Bacall
* David Lynch
* Helen Mirren
* Martin Scorsese
* Kate Winslet

Best Web Site Related to Film (SOAP members' sites ineligible)

* Cinematical (cinematical.com)
* Internet Movie Database (imdb.com)
* Metacritic (metacritic.com)
* The Reeler (thereeler.com)
* Rotten Tomatoes (rottentomatoes.com)



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