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"My dear Academy, I must warn you against rewarding mediocrity."
"Streep continues her Oscar dominance, earning a whopping 14 acting nominations."
"The absence of Paul Greengrass' heroic 'United 93' is equally disappointing.
"Will 'Little Miss Sunshine' win over the Academy hearts and minds?"
2007 Academy Award Preview  

LETTERS FROM HOLLYWOOD

Dear Academy.

On February 25th, as you celebrate your 79th Annual Academy Awards, please consider these lessons learned from the 78th telecast:

Under no circumstances will an original song be performed with slow motion scene re-enacting zombies a la "In the Deep" from the Best Picture winning film, Crash. There will be no green screen body suit presentations as Ben Stiller awkwardly demonstrated, no big bow ties hiding beautiful actresses like Charlize Theron, and no early music before the winners open their mouths at the podium. Above all, please respect the mantra, that It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp. But don't let that sway you from evening the score. Three 6 Mafia 1, Martin Scorsese 1.

This year, you have chosen Ellen DeGeneres for your master of ceremonies. A fine choice, I might add. In fact, I am still tickled by her vocal performance as Dory, the short-term memory fish in Finding Nemo. Brilliant.

Best known as the host of the syndicated talk show, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," Ellen has earned three Emmys for Outstanding Talk Show and two Emmys for Outstanding Talk Show Host. And hosting duties are not unfamiliar territory, having hosted the Primetime Emmy Awards twice, including one onerous task after September 11th - a tell tale sign that she is up to the challenge.

Warm and funny, Ellen is an entertainer who will keep things fresh and moving. Her film credits include "EDTV," "The Love Letter," "Goodbye Lover," "Coneheads," and "Mr. Wrong." And everywhere, it seems, she has found success. From New York Times ' bestsellers to Emmy award winning television shows to HBO comedy tours and Grammy nominated CDs, Ellen DeGeneres is one terrific gal.

In a year that was dominated by Captain Jack Sparrow and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," 2006 marked a roaring return to commercial success at the box office. Over $423 million is enough to make any box office grinch yo-ho-ho. And if that wasn't enough, we were treated to fast cars ("Cars"), superhero mutants ("X-Men: The Last Stand"), ancient religious mysteries ("The Da Vinci Code"), lively museums ("Night at the Museum"), dancing penguins ("Happy Feet"), and the return of James Bond ("Casino Royale") and Superman ("Superman Returns").

Even more so, 2006 will best be remembered as the year snakes were found on a plane, a reporter from Kazakhstan named Borat came to America, Rocky Balboa returned to the ring triumphantly, and two noble tributes were paid to the men and women who gave up their lives and sacrificed courageously on September 11th - "United 93" and "World Trade Center."

What a remarkable year! And what an awards show to look forward to!

But my dear Academy, I must warn you against rewarding mediocrity. In particular, allowing the blatant yellow marketing campaign of Little Miss Sunshine to cloud your judgment like it has the Producer's Guild of America, the Screen Actor's Guild, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. After all, cute does not warrant great. And average will only diminish the prestige that you have taken years to build.

Furthermore, by spreading the wealth, you run the risk of diluting the meaning and the value of the awards. Case in point, if "Pirates of the Caribbean" were to win its four technical awards, it could feasibly walk away with the most awards for the evening.

And is that what you want? Parity over prestige?

As we head into the great wide open and sort through all the babel and ballots, I know that you will appreciate this Letter and do the right thing.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Sells

SURPRISING NOTES

  •   Kudos to one of the best young actresses around: Kate Winslet . At 31, she becomes the youngest actor to receive 5 acting nominations. Previously, Olivia de Havilland held that honor, when at the age of 33, she received her fifth nomination in for "The Heiress" (1949).
  •   Melissa Ethridge's "I Need to Wake Up" from An Inconvenient Truth represents the first song since "More" (from "Mondo Cane") back in 1963 to be nominated from a documentary feature.

  •    Alan Arkin 's 38-year absence from the Academy Awards is surprisingly, not a record. His absenteeism is matched by Jack Palance (38 years between "Shane" and "City Slickers") and surpassed by Helen Hayes (39 years between "The Sin of Madelon Claudet" and "Airport") and Henry Fonda (41 years between "The Grapes of Wrath" and "On Golden Pond").
  •   And what more can you say about Meryl Streep ? Breaking the record she set in 2002, Streep continues her Oscar dominance, earning a whopping 14 acting nominations. This time, for her leading role in "The Devil Wears Prada." Her closest competitors are Katharine Hepburn and Jack Nicholson, both of whom have 12 nominations each.
  • DISAPPOINTMENTS

  •   Apart from the glaring omission of "Dreamgirls" for Best Picture, the absence of Paul Greengrass' heroic United 93 is a major disappointment.

  •   Best Foreign Language Film, once more an abomination, overlooks Best Picture nominee and Golden Globe winner "Letters from Iwo Jima," Pedro Almodovar's "Volver," Zhang Yimou's "Curse of the Golden Flower," and Mel Gibson's Mayan epic, "Apocalypto."

  •    Thank you for Smoking, one of the most satirically brilliant books by Christopher Buckley, gets dissed even though it is by far, the best adapted screenplay of the year by writer/direction Jason Reitman. And the expert delivery by Aaron Eckhart, as Nick Naylor, Big Tobacco's chief spokesman? Terribly absent from the Best Actor field.

  •   Last but not least, there's Michael Sheen . Overlooked while playing opposite Helen Mirren, Sheen isn't getting any recognition for his incredible supporting performance in "The Queen." As Prime Minister Tony Blair, he is every bit as dynamic, if not more so, than Mirren herself!
  • SET YOUR CLOCKS

    The Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, February 25th at the Kodak Theatre and televised live on ABC Television Network at 5 p.m. PST.

  • Will Ellen DeGeneres convert the Academy over to American Express?
  • Will Sacha Baron Cohen make it to the podium and challenge the ABC sensors?
  • Will "Little Miss Sunshine" win over the Academy hearts and minds?
  • And with all parity, will any single film claim more than 3 awards?
  • These answers and more are waiting for you in my annual Oscar preview!

    2007 Academy Awards Preview (CONTINUED)

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