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Gold Derby nuggets: Oscars & SAG send out ballots | Kennedy Center kudos lineup | Significance of 'Avatar'

December 29, 2009 |  1:32 pm

Oscars Expanded Best Picture Race • Nomination ballots for the 82nd annual Oscars were mailed Monday to the 5,777 voting members of the academy. As per the news release: "Completed ballots must be returned to PricewaterhouseCoopers by 5 p.m. PST on Jan. 23. Ballots received after the deadline will not be counted. Prior to mailing, the PricewaterhouseCoopers staff administers a thorough verification process to ensure that there are no duplicate ballots and that none are missing. In addition to being counted and sorted, the ballots are numbered to guarantee that each one is addressed to the appropriate academy voter." Nominations will be announced on Feb. 2 at 5:30 a.m. PST in the academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. AMPAS

• And today's mail included 100,000 ballots to the members of the Screen Actors Guild. They will be voting on five film and eight TV acting categories as well as two stunt ensembles. Ballots must be back by noon PST on Jan. 21, with winners announced two days later in a kudofest airing on TNT and TBS. SAG

Steve Pond has been following the Twitter feed of Oscar co-producer Adam Shankman and recounts: "For starters, look for dance routines. Although Shankman once tweeted that he wouldn’t necessarily include dancing in his show because he hates musical numbers in shows 'when they don't make sense,' he's obviously changed his mind since then."  As Steve writes, "he’ll be choreographing the show himself" and "Russell Ferguson, the winner of the show on which Shankman serves as a judge, 'So You Can Think You Can Dance,' will be a performer, as will that show’s top female finisher, Kathryn McCormick. Other 'SYTYCD' personnel who’ll either perform or help include Legacy Perez, Ellenore Scott and Jakob Karr." THE ODDS

Kenneth Jones reports that helmer Jerry Zaks is boarding the Broadway-bound musical "The Addams Family" as a creative consultant. The Tony-winning Zaks will be working with the direction-and-design team of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch as well as choreographer Sergio Trujillo. The tuner -- with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a book from Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice -- boasts a ton of talent headed up by Tony champs Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as Gomez and Morticia Addams. In making the announcement, producer Roy Furman said, "We have a show that is receiving outstanding audience reaction at every performance in its Chicago tryout and which has generated extremely strong ticket sales and many positive reviews, but we believe the show can be even better, and Jerry's formidable talent will help us achieve that goal." PLAYBILL

DeNiro Springsteen Kennedy Center • The 32nd annual edition of the Kennedy Center Honors airs on CBS tonight. This year's honorees were feted by a who's who of the entertainment industry during the Dec. 5 ceremony in the capital. Grand slam awards winner Mel Brooks was serenaded by Martin Short and Matthew Morrison. Two-time Oscar champ Robert DeNiro was lauded by co-stars Meryl Streep and Ben Stiller as well as long-time collaborator Martin Scorsese. Past honoree Aretha Franklin saluted opera diva Grace Bumbry while all-star bands performed for musicians Dave Brubeck and Bruce Springsteen.

Scott Feinberg lists 50 performances that he thinks merited more consideration than they received this awards season. Topping his wish list are two wannabe best actor contenders -- Viggo Mortensen ("The Road") and Nicolas Cage ("Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans"). AND THE WINNER IS

• For Richard Corliss, "December is that most wonderful time of the year, when Santa perches all the little boy and girl critics on his knee and warmly whispers, 'You matter.' All the other months, we're dog food. But when the winter solstice nears, and movie reviewers convene to vote for their favorites of the year, we suddenly become valuable to the studios. The news stories about the winners provide free publicity for Oscar-yearning pictures, copy for the movie industry's trade ads and balm for its needy ego. The honor roll also gives members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences hints as to which DVDs, of the dozens, hundreds, of recent films they've been sent, should be pulled out of the freebie pile and watched. See, we critics have a higher mission after all. We're the Oscar voters' touts." Corliss then catalogs the prizes awarded by various critics groups, ending with the best picture winner, which went most often to "The Hurt Locker." But, as he concludes, "on Oscar night, 'Avatar's one vote may loom a lot bigger than 'The Hurt Locker's 8.5." TIME

• The American Film Institute cited eight "moments of significance" for the year based on the following criteria -- "accomplishments of considerable merit; influences with either a positive or negative impression; trends, either new or re-emerging; anniversaries or memorials of special note; and/or movements in new technologies, education, preservation, government or other areas that impact the art film, television and digital media." First and foremost for the AFI was "Avatar" which was deemed to be "James Cameron's milepost in the evolution of the art form." The AFI also made mention of Twitter, extraordinary animation, the recession-proof box office, "This Is It," the end of analog TV, the beginning of Jay Leno in prime-time and the beginning of the end of reality TV.

Avatar PosterSasha Stone says, "Last night I saw 'Avatar' for the second time. It has been three decades since I lined up to repeatedly watch a film. It has been three decades since I had that exhilarating feeling of the absolutely new. Watching 'Avatar' again, I was trying to find the flaws I kept hearing about. Yeah, some of the lines of dialogue were corny and obvious. But since I already knew they were coming, and since I already knew the plot hovered closely to 'Dances with Wolves,' those details were taken off the table. I sunk into the love story. I looked more closely at the meticulous details of the natural world of Pandora. I never felt cheated. I always felt like I was right there with Jake. He was my avatar, bringing me back into the alternate world, and I never wanted to pulled back out, just like he didn’t. Every scene in the film is majestic and enthralling." AWARDS DAILY

• For Pete Hammond, such repeat viewings of "Avatar" boost its best picture chances. As Pete writes, "By dominating the box office this weekend, declining only 3% from last week and earning another $75 million, ['Avatar'] is the one movie certain to benefit from its box office glory. Combine that with many laudatory reviews labeling it a landmark should only enhance its already good-looking chance to nab Best Picture as we stated here last week." Pete also reviews the Oscar odds for other new releases, noting that "'Nine,' which reportedly cost around $64 million to make, only grossed just over $5 million, a disappointing number which, combined with several savage reviews (it has only a 37% approval on Rotten Tomatoes), could hurt its previous 'sure thing' image of a Best Picture contender and cost it the 'money' nomination in the academy's expanded top 10 this year. Despite impressive showings in Globes, Critics Choice and SAG lists, it may take all of Harvey Weinstein's considerable magic touch with Oscar to pull this one out of the hat." NOTES ON A SEASON

• The intrepid Mark Milian watched "Avatar" in three different formats and reports, "RealD offers the best 3-D experience in a standard theater. For a couple dollars more, IMAX is big, loud and eye-popping -- if you're into having things constantly jump at you and can handle the blur. No matter what, we emphasize that you'll really want to see 'Avatar' in 3-D." HERO COMPLEX

Eric Taub examines the economics of these competing formats. "RealD’s glasses use polarized lenses and cost about 65 cents each. MasterImage 3D, another vendor, uses a similar technology. Dolby Laboratories, the company behind theater sound systems, makes glasses that filter out different frequencies of red, green and blue. They cost about $28 each. The glasses of the third company, XpanD, use battery-powered LCD shutters that open and shut so each eye sees the appropriate frame of the movie. Those cost as much as $50 each." NEW YORK TIMES

Top photo: Academy Award statuettes. Credit: AMPAS

Middle photo: Kennedy Center Honors. Credit: CBS

Bottom photo: "Avatar" poster. Credit: Fox

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