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Year-End Oscar Buzz
December 29, 2004

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

In late December, some 5,800-odd people received ballots in the mail which empowers them to decide the nominations for the 77th Annual Oscars. These are the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The big question that looms is whether voters will follow the course of the Golden Globes and critics' awards and elevate mediocrity rather than rewarding excellence in cinema.

The Academy has designated December 31 as the last time a motion picture can begin its required seven-day run in Los Angeles if it seeks to qualify for nomination consideration.

It's a fact of celluloid life that a lot of studios and independent production houses release their Oscar-bait flicks at the last possible moment so a given picture will be fresh on the minds of the Academy members.

Critics, film writers, Oscar prognosticators, the critics' groups awards and the Golden Globes are the current sources of pre-Oscar P.R. and hype.

The flick du jour which is getting rave reviews from jaded critics was basically on no one's list until very recently. The formerly obscure film is called "Sideways."

After receiving the most Golden Globe nominations (seven) and being chosen as Best Movie by the three influential critics' awards in Boston, New York and L.A., praise for the supposed comedy has accelerated. The film tracks a road trip to Santa Barbara by two highly flawed male characters: one a ridiculous aging sociopath and the other a self-absorbed moody alcoholic wine aficionado.

Accentuating the vapidness of the plot is an amateur-sounding pseudo­jazz soundtrack that never seems to take a breather. Unfortunately, neither do the Hallmark-level wine/life metaphors.

Other movies touted as being Oscar-worthy demonstrate a sort of twisted affection that Hollywood seems to have for ugliness. Author and film critic Michael Medved pointed this out in his seminal work, "Hollywood vs. America," where he conveyed the idea that Hollywood's ethos, if any, oftentimes exalts the display of moral disorder on the movie screen. Some of this year's disorderly examples are "Kinsey," whose main character conducts research with individuals who sexually abuse kids; "Vera Drake," where a not-so-everyday housewife gives out free abortions to her friends; and "Finding Neverland," a biopic about someone who is thought to be a pedophile. All of it must make Kevin Bacon feel as if he's closer than six degrees of separation from a nomination, since he portrays a paroled child molester in "The Woodsman."

As it turns out, the audit firm that counts the ballots and bores us all to tears on Oscar night, PricewaterhouseCoopers, has to receive the nominations by Jan. 15. The nominations will be announced on January 25.

My advice to voters is ­ don't listen to the critics, the Golden Globes or the hype. Vote for real cinematic superiority. And maybe something beautiful will happen.

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Copyright © 2004
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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