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Tom O'Neil has the inside track on Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and all the award shows.

Category: Oprah Winfrey

Is there a backlash against 'Precious'? Is Oprah to blame?

October 21, 2009 | 12:46 pm

Precious oprah oscars tyler perry

When I called the Gotham Awards' snub of "Precious" "shocking," Lou Lumenick of the New York Post said that "tends to confirm my suspicion that awards-wise, the film could suffer a backlash because of its high-profile endorsement by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry."

Hmmm. I agree with Lou that a backlash is brewing against "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," but among some film critics, not among Oscar voters or other industry folks and not as a result of Oprah's or Tyler's embrace. (An interesting theory Lou's got, though — more on that later.) As Lou notes, "Precious" topped IndieWire's critics' poll, but now I think critics are starting to resent the fact that their darling flick's gone mainstream, as evidenced by it winning the audience awards at the Sundance and Toronto International film festivals. Now "Precious" is obviously Oscar-bound. Critics are stubborn, contrary-minded folk, of course, and I think we're seeing classic evidence of that in the nominations just announced by the Gotham Awards.

If any film should've been lavished with bids from the New York-based awards honoring outstanding indies, it's "Precious," the Harlem-based drama that towers above all other indies this year in terms of awards buzz. Clearly, it should've been nominated in three Gotham Awards races (where it was eligible — yes, we checked): best picture, breakthrough director (Lee Daniels) and breakthrough performer (Gabby Sidibe and/or Mo'Nique). However, these are the judges who decided to snub "Precious" when they chose the nominees in those categories. Best picture: Rajendra Roy, chief film curator, Museum of Modern Art; Lisa Schwarzbaum, film critic, Entertainment Weekly; Dana Stevens, film critic, Slate.com; and Kenneth Turan, film critic, Los Angeles Times. Best breakthrough director and actor: Florence Almozini, program director, BAMCinématek; Justin Chang, film critic, Variety; Rob Nelson, film critic, Minnesota Post.

It's curious that the Gotham Awards continue to submit to the tyranny of film journalists to decide their nominations — something the rival Indie Spirits, based out on America's opposite coast, would never do — considering all the trouble they caused in the past. Film journalists are so wacky that they brazenly, arrogantly flouted the whole purpose of the Gotham Awards in 2006 and nominated "The Departed" for best picture even though the huge Warner Bros. production, budgeted at $90 million, was as far away from being an indie as Manhattan is from Akhiok, Alaska (population, 80). One year later, they pulled another shockeroo. The critics responded to all of the gushing over "Juno" at the Toronto Film Festival by snubbing it for best picture at the Gothams. (It made it into the category for breakthrough performance, but that's that.) In both cases, the Indie Spirits righted such obvious wrongs by snubbing "The Departed" and giving their best picture award to "Juno," which was also nominated for the top prize at the Oscars.

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It's safe to say that the Spirit Awards will rectify this ridiculous snub of "Precious" by heaping kudos upon it. Pay attention to the soap opera as it plays out. The Indie Spirits and Gotham Awards used to be part of the same organization, then split, partly due to the Manhattanites having the gall to create their own Gotham Awards after the Spirits had been humming along so merrily for so long out in L.A. How much these rival awards loathe each other can be seen hilariously in how they announce nominees and winners. This year, just like last, the Spirits will try to upstage the Gothams by unveiling their nominations just hours before the Gothams announce their winners on Dec. 1.

So, yes, I think there's a backlash against "Precious," but it's a peculiar, isolated case, not epidemic, so therefore not significant. Just like "Juno," "Precious" will rebound just fine with major laurels at the Indie Spirits, Oscars, Golden Globes and, yes, even a few brave critics' kudos. Certainly, the Critics' Choice Awards, which are bestowed by the broadcast journos, not the snobby others.

Now back to Lou Lumenick's point about Oprah. (Click here to read his full article.) Could there be an Oscar backlash against flicks she pushes hard? That's a fascinating idea that Lou expresses thus: "Oprah's own Oscar nomination for 'The Color Purple' notwithstanding, she simply does not wield the same influence in the film world that she does with literature and theater. Witness her embrace of  Baz Luhrmann's 'Australia,' which she hailed as another 'Gone With the Wind,' something that even Nicole Kidman looked embarrassed to hear. O reportedly plans a full week of shows to push 'Precious.' Yikes. Which I'm not sure is going to help the movie's Oscar chances (or its performance in year-end critics' awards) any more than Perry's recent public confession that he was abused as a child. After all, he's best known to Oscar voters as the cross-dressing star/director of wildly popular lowbrow melodramatic farces."

Oprah was also a producer of "The Great Debaters," which was unjustly snubbed at the Oscars. Ditto "Beloved," which I truly loved, but it got crucified by critics first, then snubbed by Oscar.

Coindidence? Or do you think there's anything to this theory? Or to the idea of Tyler Perry's silliness being to blame? Vote in our polls below and check out the discussion of this hubbub in our forums here.

Read what other top Oscar bloggers have to say about the "Precious" backlash in this post that rounds up reax they sent to Gold Derby.

Photos: Lionsgate

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Gold Derby nuggets: Kate Winslet will keep her Oscar 'in the loo' | Jennifer Hudson names her dogs Oscar and Grammy

February 28, 2009 |  7:36 pm

• Now that she's back in the U.K., Kate Winslet ("The Reader") comes clean about where she plans to keep her Academy Award statuette — right next to the one won by her husband Sam Mendes for directing best picture "American Beauty": "The Oscar's going in the loo, next to Sam's." London Daily Mail

• Oscar's best actor Sean Penn wants President Barack Obama to see "Milk" soon: "Eventually we are hoping for a White House screening. I think this film will be one of the steps forward. It will be part of the dialog." Agence France-Presse

• Two early U.K. investors in "Slumdog Millionaire" — Film4 and Celador — won't get a huge chunk of profits after its Oscar success, according a Brit newspaper. It claims biggest payoffs will go to theaters, distributors, Fox Searchlight and Pathe. London Independent

• A London tabloid reports that the joyous spirit of "Slumdog Millionaire's" Oscars victory didn't last long when one of the young stars returned India. The Sun

Chris Brown and Rihanna are reportedly back together after that nasty clash following a pre-Grammy party. Dish Rag

• A two-time past winner of the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion will head the fest's next jury: Ang Lee. Associated Press

Jennifer Hudson told Oprah Winfrey on Friday that she's named two of her dogs Oscar and Grammy! She also revealed how wowed she was to receive the Grammy for best R&B album recently from presenter Whitney Houston. "As soon as she stepped out on the stage, I lost it," Jennifer Hudson said. "That's when I got emotional." Chicago Tribune

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OSCARS MYSTERY: Does 'Australia' = 'Out of Africa' or 'African Queen'?

November 20, 2008 |  7:04 pm

Australia_out_of_africa

Now that we Oscars gurus have actually seen "Australia," it's harder to size up its kudos prospects. Yes, it's good. It's another one of those big-hearted Baz Luhrmann pics that sends moviegoers like Oprah Winfrey into swoons of euphoria. Me too. I admit that I'm a sucker for great weepies — and this one's very, very good. But will Oscar voters consider it high art and nominate it for best picture? Or dismiss it as a pile of Cheez Whiz?

Just a few years ago voters gave the cold shoulder to another big, melodramatic, historical epic starring Nicole Kidman: "Cold Mountain." But I think that occurred because the old Miramax studio hadn't yet figured out how to campaign late releases after the Oscars ceremony moved up from March to February. Remember, the New Yorker magazine said "Cold Mountain" was even better than "Gone with the Wind"! Alas, it's remembered today as a flop because it wasn't nominated for best picture or director after being seen too late in 2003 by guild and academy members.

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"Australia's" best Oscar parallels are probably "Out of Africa" and "The African Queen." All three flicks are about uppity dames who arrive in primitive places where they get humbled by tough local chaps with whom they fall in love.

"Out of Africa" won seven Oscars, including best picture. "African Queen" was, surprisingly, snubbed in the top race! But at least Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart got nominated — and Bogie, of course, won.

"Out of Africa" and "The African Queen" have an edge on "Australia." Their scripts were adapted from esteemed books, which gave them snob appeal. "Australia" is an original creation meant to be a big, fluffy homage to the epic weepies of the past. That means that there's a deliberate cheesiness to "Australia" when scenes surrender utterly to unhinged melodrama. That's a big creative gamble to take in the cynical 21st century, but Baz Luhrmann pulls it off. But will Oscar voters punish the pic for that?

Of course, those kinds of flicks used to be nominated automatically in the past ("Giant," "A Passage to India") and many won ("The English Patient"), but things may be different nowadays. It's hard to say. Lots of big epics got snubbed recently ("Apocalypto," "Flags of Our Fathers," "3:10 to Yuma") despite getting good reviews. "Atonement" got in last year, but only halfway: director Joe Wright wasn't nommed.

Baz Luhrmann knows what that feels like. His "Moulin Rouge!" scored eight noms in 2001 and was considered a serious candidate for best picture (Roger Ebert predicted it would win), but Luhrmann wasn't nominated for helming! So that means that the academy owes this guy big time. However, the academy is ruled by macho old dudes who aren't the types of moviegoers who get giddy with the hope that Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman might drop their huffy reserves, hurl themselves against each other in the rain and drink in a big, passionate kiss that can make the woes of the world go away. "Australia" isn't just sappy. It's swimming, blissfully, in molasses.

How will film critics respond? Lots — those too-cool-for-the-room, cynical types — will crucify "Australia," of course. That may not matter, though. If it's successful at the box office, all will be forgiven by Oscar voters. However, its commercial success is a big question mark. It's an unabashed chick flick. Will guys go to see it if their girlfriends try to drag them? Maybe. It does have all those cowboys, horses and stuff. Does it even need guys to go? Another chick flick, "Sex and the City," defied prophesies of doom earlier this year and made $152 million in the U.S., $413 million worldwide.

If nothing else, "Australia" does have two strong things going for it. Big, effective weepies like this do great repeat business. Also, it's being released to theaters over Thanksgiving weekend. It has time to prove itself as a hit with moviegoers before Oscar voters ink their ballots.

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Gold Derby nuggets: Oprah goes wild for 'Australia' | 'Defiance' gets mixed kudos reax | Harvey Weinstein follows Scott Rudin from Broadway to screen

November 11, 2008 |  4:09 pm

Sasha Stone reports that Oprah Winfrey went gaga over "Australia" when she hosted stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman on her daytime talkfest Monday. Even though she saw the original downbeat ending, Winfrey enthused, "I have not been this excited for a movie since I don’t know when. I’m telling you, have I got the movie for you. It's Australia_oprah_2 the best movie I’ve seen in a long, long, long, long time. It literally swept me off my feet." Given the resounding success of Oprah's last endorsement, rival studios might well wonder if Fox has a winning candidate here. Awards Daily

• Following yesterday's revelation that Baz Luhrmann has changed the ending of "Australia", Brad Brevet writes of, "a long chat with a Fox rep yesterday about the situation, and what I got from the conversation was that Luhrmann would not have changed the ending had he not wanted to, regardless of what Fox suits wanted." As Brevet explains, "In a short e-mail message sent to me one sentence pretty much seemed to sum up the conversation: Baz Luhrmann is a 'final cut' director and the studio has always been supportive of his choices." Rope of Silicon

Pete Hammond reports on the ultimately successful screening of Oscar contender "Defiance" as the closing film for the AFI filmfest last weekend. As per Pete, the film stopped halfway through for an unscheduled break due to a faulty fire alarm. This Oscarologist thinks, "This could be a sleeper contender for Vantage, particularly when it plays for the academy, which often goes for Holocaust-themed dramas." Notes on a Season

• "Defiance" received defiant reviews in the trades, however. Variety called it "a potentially exceptional story is told in a flatly unexceptional manner." The Hollywood Reporter agreed that it's "a story that needed to be told, (but) one wishes it could have been told more dynamically. "

August

Hmmm . . . did the early positive Oscar buzz for "Doubt" just get Harvey Weinstein all riled up? Now that it looks like his nemesis, producer Scott Rudin, has successfully transferred his Tonys and Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway production to the silver screen, Harvey announces that the Weinstein Company has secured the film rights to the Tonys and Pulitzer Prize-winning "August: Osage County," which he invested in on Broadway. Variety reports that "playwright Tracy Letts is doing the adaptation. Harvey Weinstein said his company will fully finance and distribute the film with an eye toward a 2011 release." While Chicago-based thespian Deanna Dunagan won the lead actress Tony for playing the monstrous mama at the head of one helluva dysfunctional family, expect every woman of a certain age in Hollywood to lobby for this meaty part. However, with Meryl Streep topping our latest pundit roundup for her work as a different kind of manipulative mother in the screen version of the 2005 Tony and Pulitzer prize winning play "Doubt," the hunt may be over before it even began. Variety

Scott Feinberg serves up a treat with his podcast with best actress contender Kristin Scott Thomas ("I've Loved You So Long"). This one-time nominee ("The English Patient") is a pick of six of the seven pundits just surveyed. The Feinberg Files

• The acting branch of the academy and the SAG nominating committee are being sent screeners of the indie flick "Wendy and Lucy" on Wednesday. This low-budget feature stars one-time supporting nominee Michelle Williams ("Brokeback Mountain") as a woman at the end of the road both literally and metaphorically. Unlike years past, when voters were deluged with early screeners, this year's candidates, for the most part, held back till that other election was over. Expect mailboxes to be crammed full in the coming weeks.

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Emmy mystery: Will Oprah Winfrey be nominated for guesting on '30 Rock'?

September 4, 2008 | 11:45 am

The news that Oprah Winfrey will appear in a guest role on "30 Rock" summons up two fascinating Emmy questions. Could she be nominated for an Emmy? And would Oprah even enter herself in the race for guest stars?

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"Oprah is slated to appear in '30 Rock's' episode 302, which is tentatively set to air Nov. 6," reports Kristin Dos Santos at E! Online. "According to reliable insiders, the initial plan (subject to change) is that she will be playing herself, with all of her scenes as Tina Fey's fabulous Liz Lemon, and that her story would also play into a feud between Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) that will continue through several episodes."

Emmy voters sure love to hail the acting turns on "30 Rock." Last year's winner of best comedy series nabbed seven of the 11 slots in the guest categories for comedies this year.

But, hey, if Oprah portrays herself, is she really acting? Poor Patrick Stewart never nabbed an Emmy bid for portraying his greatest TV role, Capt. Picard on "Star Trek: The  Next Generation," but he was nommed for portraying himself on "Extras." Also receiving guest noms as themselves on "Extras": Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller and Ian McKellen. And let's recall that Emma Thompson won best guest actress in a comedy series as herself on "Ellen" in 1998. And, by the way, Oprah certainly has proven kudos acting chops as a past Oscar and Golden Globe nominee for "The Color Purple" (1985).

OK, let's say that Emmy voters would want to nominate Oprah Winfrey. Would she permit it? At the Daytime Emmys, Oprah took herself and her show out of competition, quitting the race for best talk show host in 1999 (after six wins) and the series contest one year later (after nine victories — that's still the record).

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Let's see the ultimate Daytime Emmy smackdown between Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres!

June 19, 2008 |  1:20 pm

Back in 1987, when Oprah Winfrey won Daytime Emmys for best talk show and host for the first time, Us Magazine reported that she celebrated by dancing "till the wee hours at two New York nightclubs."

Afterward, when she kept winning year after year, Oprah Winfrey no longer boogied up to the podium. She took herself and her show out of competition, quitting the race for best talk show host in 1999 and the series contest one year later.

Oprah_winfrey_ellen_degeneres_dayti

Her reasons, Oprah being Oprah, were noble, of course. She wanted to let other folks get their share of Emmy gold and she still lets some of the staffers compete, including her directors, sound mixers, editors and makeup artists, for example. Oprah Winfrey's lighting directors can't seem to lose — they sweep their category year after year.

But by declining to compete for best talk show, she's denying her hard-working producers the chance to reap the recognition of their TV peers. Is that fair?

Right now Ellen DeGeneres is romping through both categories — program and host — apparently unbeatable, just like Oprah used to. It's not a fair and open contest anymore. No young newcomers are winning, which is what Oprah wanted to happen when she bowed out.

Memo to Oprah: Come back! Let's see the Emmy Battle of the Behemoths: Ellen DeGeneres vs. Oprah! No doubt Oprah's fans would like to see her return to the Emmy derby — and so would the Daytime Emmys, which are sagging in the TV Nielsens.

And hey, do you think Oprah even knows that she's got a pesky problem with Phil Donahue? While "The Oprah Winfrey Show" holds the record for most wins as best talk show, Phil has more Emmys for hosting.

Currently, here are the scores for best talk show: "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (9), "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" (7), "Donahue" (6), "The Merv Griffin Show" (6), "Martha Stewart Living" (5), "Ellen" (4).

Best talk show host: Phil Donahue 9, Oprah Winfrey 6, Rosie O'Donnell 6, Martha Stewart 4, Ellen DeGeneres 3.

Photos: AP, ABC


Did Tom Cruise's humbling before Oprah Winfrey improve his Oscar chances?

May 5, 2008 |  6:42 pm

There something's weird about the timing of Tom Cruise groveling before Oprah Winfrey this past week. Why now? I think it's no coincidence that it comes just a month or so after the news that the release of his next big pic, "Valkyrie," got bumped from this fall to next spring — and therefore out of Oscars competition.

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Sure, Tom Cruise appeared on Oprah's show to celebrate his 25th year in films. But if the powwow had been, say, two months ago, back when "Valkyrie" was still skedded to launch the next Oscar derby, I don't think we would've seen Tom so eagerly gobble up a dozen humble pies. He would've done damage control for his ole couch dance, yes, but in the past few days we've witnessed a surrender that has, I'm convinced, an underlying Oscar message.

In the past, Cruise was the kind of guy who never backed down, even daring to bully poor Matt Lauer on the "Today" show. But at Oprah's knee these past few days, he caved on every point. He admitted that he shouldn't have badgered Matt about kids taking psychiatric medication. Parents should make that decision for themselves, Tom now says. He shouldn't have attacked Brooke Shields either. He regrets that his Scientology videos were "taken out of context." Etc. Etc.

Just eight weeks ago "Valkyrie" was still skedded to launch Oscar derby season this fall and confident Cruise was poised to make another run for the gold he's lost three times ("Magnolia," "Jerry Maguire," "Born on the Fourth of July"). But I think Tom learned a scary lesson over the past two months and he saw it through Oscar's eyes.

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