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"Engaging and witty, this New Jersey native is the perfect choice for hosting Hollywood?s biggest bash."
"2005 represented a dramatic shift in film production."
"The biggest disappointment from this year's Oscars is the glaring omission of 'Walk the Line.'"
"Will any film be able to break 'Brokeback's' back?"
2006 Academy Award Preview  

CRASHING THROUGH

On March 5th, the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles will play host to the 78th Annual Academy Awards. And one can only hope that they?ve learned a lesson from last year?s debacle and can clean up their act. After all, if you recall, last year?s ceremony was an embarrassment to the nominees, the award winners, and the audience that bared witness to the three hour tour. On the verge of becoming as trashy as the MTV Movie Awards, nominees were introduced as a group on stage and gradually voted off, while others were presented with their awards from the aisles. And believe me, nothing says ?class? like receiving an Oscar for costume design in front of your peers from the mezzanine. Tragically, the famed Oscar telecast lost a large chunk of the glitz, the glamour, and the prestige last year and it had absolutely nothing to do with Chris Rock.

This year, however, the Academy has selected a new host for its awards telecast, that of Jon Stewart. And I could not be happier. Stewart, anchor of Comedy Central?s "The Daily Show," has become one of the most influential political comedians on television today, winning 7 of 10 Emmy award nominations. With such campaigns as "Indecision 2000" and "2004," Stewart used "The Daily Show" to mock the Presidential races with biting satire. And his books, Naked Pictures of Famous People and America: A Citizen?s Guide to Democracy Inaction have gone on to the top of The New York Times? Bestseller?s Lists. And he?s certainly no stranger to film, having made appearances in such films as "Death to Smoochy," "Big Daddy," and "The Faculty." Simply put, Stewart is an entertainer. And much like Bob Hope and Billy Crystal, superb Oscar hosts before him, he has an uncanny ability to think on his feet. Along with his own brand of intellectual humor, Stewart is unafraid to jib and jab. But will he have enough spontaneity and freedom to do what he does best? Engaging and witty, this New Jersey native is the perfect choice for hosting Hollywood?s biggest bash.

Additionally, things appear to be a little more conservative and a little more focused than in year?s past. To kick things off, 50 students from Inner-City Filmmakers, a training and development program for socially and economically underprivileged children, will carry all 50 Golden Statuettes along the red carpet and to the staging area - a very nice, socially conscious touch. And speaking of the red carpet, the Academy has also decided to expand the torturous pre-show from 30 minutes to a full hour to give audiences the opportunity to get acquainted with the nominees and their good and poor fashion choices. But best of all, the Academy has chosen Robert Altman to be the recipient of an Honorary Academy Award, after a career that spans some 37 films, 16 of which were also written by him. A bridesmaid, never a bride, Altman earned 5 Academy Award nominations for "M*A*S*H," "Nashville," "The Player," "Short Cuts," and "Gosford Park." And he is a true, filmmaking pioneer.

As for the year 2005? It was mainly a disappointing year for Hollywood, obsessed with big production sequels and a lucrative horror niche. Films such as "Saw II," "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," and "The Ring Two" helped recoup some of the losses taken from such flops as "Stealth," "The Island," and "Kingdom of Heaven." And just when the summer looked like it might whimper, along came "Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith." "Sith" dominated the 2005 box office, raking in over $380 million, roughly $100 million more than its closest competitor, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" ($288). More specifically, 2005 represented a dramatic shift in film production as the major studios began to shy away from the risky, less bankable, independent oriented stories. And this shift is the reason why all of the Best Picture nominations are low budget, specialized projects. In fact, not a single one resides in the top 25 box office leaders for 2005.

At the head of the box office and leading all Oscar Best Picture candidates with the most nominations is "Brokeback Mountain," a slow moving, unorthodox cowboy romance. The film is being considered for Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, 3 Acting nods, Best Original Score, and Cinematography. And it has caused quite a stir over the last few months, lassoing in the majority of awards with the Broadcast Film Critics, National Board of Review, and Hollywood Foreign Press just to name a few. And without "Walk the Line," the other Golden Globe Best Picture recipient up for the night?s top award, the road appears to be paved for "Brokeback." But a few weeks ago, in a surprising upset at this year?s SAG awards, "Crash" took home the year?s honor for Best Acting Ensemble, proving that no film is safe. Not even way up on Brokeback Mountain.

SURPRISING NOTES

  •   This year's Best Picture recipients represent the lowest cumulative box office total in quite some time. In fact, it's important to note that a certain documentary about cute little penguins has earned more than each. Additionally, only two - "Brokeback Mountain" and "Munich" - were released in the month of December. And "Crash" was released all the way back on May 6th - a hopeful sign that the Academy may no longer be short sighted.
  •   Out of the three nominated films for Best Animated Feature - "Corpse Bride," "Howl's Moving Castle," and "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" - not a single one uses CGI as its primary form of animation. In fact, this is the first time this has happened since the category's inception in 2001. And only one non-CGI film has ever won: Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" in 2002.
  •   With nominations for "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" alike, John Williams surpasses Alfred Newman as the most nominated composer of all time, with his 44th and 45th Academy Award Nominations. Even more impressive? His astonishing total is second only to Walt Disney (59) himself.
  •   Over the past few years, the biggest surprises have occurred in the Best Actress category. From 13 year old Keisha Castle-Hughes of "Whale Rider" notoriety to Spanish speaking Catalina Sandino Moreno of "Maria Full of Grace." This year, the surprise comes from a quiet little film called "Junebug." In the film, Amy Adams gives a splendid performance as a pregnant young wife, whose eccentric energy keeps a family from falling to pieces.
  • DISAPPOINTMENTS

  •   By far, the biggest disappointment from this year's Oscars is the glaring omission of "Walk the Line" from the Best Picture category. While one could also make a case for "Pride & Prejudice," "The Constant Gardener," and "Cinderella Man," "Walk the Line" is inexcusable. Features two of the finest performances of the year in Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix, "Walk the Line" triumphs in ways the heavily nominated "Ray" failed. And the film also took home the Best Picture prize from the Hollywood Foreign Press.

  •   A change in the Original Song rules for 2005 requires a minimum scoring average for songs to be considered. This explains the lack of nominations in the category. Even though it's refreshing that "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," an original rap song from the underrated "Hustle & Flow" has garnered a nomination, many songs are missing, like "A Love That Will Never Grow Old" from "Brokeback Mountain," "There's Nothing Like a Show on Broadway" from "The Producers," "Wunderkind" from "The Chronicles of Narnia," and many more.

  •   Over the years, the Academy has done a fine job in selecting nominees for Best Documentary Feature. This year, the category is extremely competitive from cuddly penguins to athletic paraplegics to unethical corporate monsters. But the one thing that the category does not have is the year's Best Documentary - Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man."
  • SET YOUR CLOCKS

    The Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, March 5th at the Kodak Theatre and televised live on ABC Television at 5 p.m. PST.

  • Will Jon Stewart be able to loosen up the stuffy crowd with a mix of 'Daily Show' humor?
  • Will "Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" take home an Oscar for?Best Makeup?
  • Will "Crash" or any other film be able to break "Brokeback's" back?
  • And with all the independent films recognized and scarcely seen, will anyone truly care?
  • These answers and more are waiting for you in my annual Oscar preview!


    2006 Academy Awards Preview (CONTINUED)

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