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Have They No Shame?  

Inside the twisted mind of the Academy

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It's the spectacle we all love to hate.

And what the heck? This year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has confused us all by staging the star-studded awards show a month earlier than usual, on Sunday, Feb. 27.

That leaves less time to speculate over certain disappointments.

The fabulous Pedro Almodovar and his film, Bad Education, have been completely shut out, even from the Best Foreign Film category. Charlie Kaufman's wonderful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will receive lip service at best in the form of a few nominations. Ditto the incredibly moving Hotel Rwanda.

The awards show will likely revel in techno delights with more than one scene hosted by computer generated images behaving like smart ass movie stars as the audience watches, confounded, trying to look entertained.

Fawning tributes to Clint Eastwood will dominate the evening.

But we will sit anyway, for hours on end, waiting for the envelope, please.

It can't all be bad. Even with a tape delay, host Chris Rock is bound to drop a few bombs. And hey, one thing's for certain -- we won't have to sit through a Renee Zellweger acceptance speech.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

Weve come to expect year-round insane decisions from those studio lunatics, like the fact that sources tell me Warners at first refused to fund what became its best hope in eons for a Best Picture Oscar. But its that loathsome time of year again when the inmates take over the asylum, so were stuck ranting against our own Hollywood lunatics who came out with this years sanity-defying Oscar nominations. So before we get to my projected winners, I have to ask: What the hell is wrong with you people?

Eleven nominations for a mess of a movie like The Aviator and a monster of a man like Harvey Weinstein is just incomprehensible, as is the snubbing of The Motorcycle Diaries, Fahrenheit 9/11 and even The Passion of the Christ. You hypocrites pretend that the Academy Awards honor motion-picture artistry, while always keeping an eye on popularity to stay in step with Main Street. Yet you overlook the years three most talked-about movies that had the vision thing. And dont even try to argue that daring subject matter like humanizing commie icon Che Guevara or turning Dubya into a war criminal and Jews into the killers of Christ was too hot to handle, when you were willing to praise films about abortion (Vera Drake), euthanasia (Million Dollar Baby, The Sea Within), genocide (Hotel Rwanda), drug addiction (Ray), paranoia (The Aviator), pedophilia (Finding Neverland) and wild, monkey sex (Sideways).

That said, its not just that passing on Passion (only three nominations, and only in the non-marquee categories of Art Direction, Makeup and Original Score) flew in the face of everything the Academy is supposed to reward. No other movie this year, rightly or wrongly, was as risky an endeavor, even if it did pay off. (Talk about arty. Much of the movie was made in the Aramaic and Latin languages, with few subtitles. Remember when Dances With Wolves won Best Picture because of its use of Lakota Sioux dialect?) Irony of ironies, because of its prejudice against Passion, Hollywood will have in its arsenal even less ammunition to fend off those anti-Semitic bigots complaining how Americas entertainment industry is controlled and contaminated by The Jews.

As for Weinstein, he appears to have been the beneficiary of an Oscar pity party after getting kicked to the curb by Disney. But I predict Harvs humiliations are only just beginning. (And Im not only talking about the inevitable lawsuit with Disney over any realistic valuation of Miramax.) Recent history has shown that, while Weinstein can certainly score an Academy nomination, he cant steal the awards anymore. His movies, such as The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Cider House Rules, In the Bedroom and Cold Mountain, have come up virtually empty on Oscar night. I predict that same fate awaits The Aviator this time around. As for Harvey, he may have to rethink his moviemaking formula, which depends heavily on his amply demonstrated ability to sweet-talk talent into working for him for bupkis in exchange for Academy gold. Heres hoping the stars wise up.

Meanwhile, Marty Scorsese deserves this years Dumb and Dumber award, and I dont mean Best Director. Youd think he would have learned his lesson in 2003 when Gangs of New York was nominated, and he and Harvey were bitch-slapped by the Academy for not only dragging poor old Robert Wise into their over-the-top Oscar politicking, but then deceiving voters by having a Miramax publicist ghost-write a praiseful column on Scorsese that appeared under the beloved wrinklys byline. (Kudos to John Horn of the Los Angeles Times for busting them on it.) Now, all of a sudden, Robert De Niro is talking publicly that Taxi Driver 2 is in the works with Scorsese. Sources tell me that Raging Bull 2 is also being considered, and that Harvey is going to eventually join Bobby and Marty in this sick joke, along with financier Graham King. (For the record, a Miramax mouthpiece played coy about Weinsteins involvement.)

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Im told this sequel mania is intended to remind Academy voters of all the great movies in Scorseses body of work. But I think it will have an unintended effect: to remind Academy voters what disgusting moneygrubbers both De Niro and Scorsese have become in recent years, culminating in their even thinking about revisiting two great classic American films just to score a coupla bucks. Its Francis Ford Coppola all over again, and look what happened to him after the critical and commercial failure of Godfather 3. In Scorseses case, this kind of overreaching is committing Oscar suicide.

Ive reported in the past about people on the Miramax payroll launching verbal salvos against Saving Private Ryan and A Beautiful Mind. This years badmouthing war is targeting Million Dollar Baby, which is up for Best Picture against Miramaxs The Aviator. Granted you gotta have steel balls to take on Clint over anything, much less his movie and its euthanasia subplot, especially if youre a dickwad like Michael Medved and the rest of those right-wing wackos. Far more interesting than the usual mudslinging is that word from inside Eastwoods production company is that Warners did not want to underwrite Million Dollar Baby. (But watch the studio gang preen come Oscar night.) That, more than any heavily financed campaign, should help the movie clinch Best Picture, since it makes Clints project seem almost indie.

Now, for my peek inside the twisted mind of the Academy.

Best Actor

This aint Johnny Depps year, no matter how much we love him. That Leo scored a nomination, undeserved, since it robbed Liam Neeson of a spot for Kinsey, is reward enough for the Miramax machine. In a perfect world, Don Cheadle would win. But he aint as cool as Clint or fine like Foxx. Now, about that upset. Foxx is expected to win. But who in hell really thought Eastwood could chew up the scenery when most of his contemporaries are gumming their food? Talk that its the performance of a lifetime is Hollywood code for: Wed better give it to the guy now, before he croaks. Foxx has struck just that right ass-kissing Im not worthy chord wooing Oscar voters. I still think Jamie will win in this category, but if he doesnt, he wont come away empty-handed. Keep reading.

Best Actress

Spoiler Alert! In that same perfect world, the dumpy English broad from Vera Drake would be the winner, just like Judi Dench before her. But its not Dame Imelda Staunton -- yet -- so forget her. No one on the planet saw Maria Full of Grace. Kate Winslet would have been a shoo-in for supporting, but not in this category. So the contest is between Annette Bening and Hilary Swank. Bening has the sympathy vote down cold. After all, she plays house with a has-been. But hers is a good performance in a lousy movie versus Swanks good performance in a great movie. Besides, Hilary dies.

Best Supporting Actor

Paul Giamatti deserves this hands down, but he wasnt even nominated, because the category isnt called Best Annoying Actor, now is it? Alan Alda is best known as the new Huell Howser of PBS, not as a movie actor these days. With so many good American performances this year, no ones gonna give Oscar to Clive Owen, a Brit. Its between Thomas Haden Church, best known as a dreadful TV actor, and Morgan Freeman, whos played God, the U.S. president and Nelson Mandela. Only idiots would deny him the Oscar. But if that big upset we spoke of earlier happens, Foxx wins for his work in the wrong film, Collateral.

Best Supporting Actress

No one plays blind or deaf, although there is a lot of hair dyeing. If the Academy decides to pull a Marisa Tomei, its Natalie Portman. But I doubt they can overlook her near-career-ending woodenness in Star Wars. This isnt Cate Blanchetts year. And Sophie Okonedo doesnt stand a chance. Laura Linney is Meryl Streep with a nicer nose. But Virginia Madsen will win, because Hollywood loves ex-sex-symbol survivors who, when their careers grew cold, had the good taste to avoid suicide.

Best Director

Theres a reason hack is part of his name, so dont consider Taylor Hackford for Ray. Alexander Payne is on the way up and Mike Leigh on the way down. Whats needed is middle ground. The East Coast is pulling for Marty. The West Coast is clamoring for Clint. If the Academy trends to Eastwood for Best Actor, they may give Best Director to Scorsese as a sop. If not, Clint wins.

Best Picture

Not in my lifetime will a movie about wine win the Oscar. Finding Neverland should never have been nominated. Well never know when the Academy will be ready to vote for a black film like Ray, or a blacker film like Hotel Rwanda, for Best Picture. (Thats right; Im saying racism is rampant in Hollywood.) Cmon, this town hated Howard Hughes -- there are still actresses who wont admit they slept with him -- plus, his Nixon slush-fund contributions make him non-P.C. The voters will cry Million Dollar Baby.

Nikki Finke is a writer for the LA Weekly.

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