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Should James Murdoch Be an Academy Member?

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The Academy earlier announced a cohort of 683 prospective new members who had been invited to join the organisation. Among them is James Rupert Jacob Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch and now Chief Executive Officer of 21st Century Fox.

Your initial reaction to the prospect of another Murdoch being invited to join the Academy will make you want to gouge your eyes out in disbelief, and you may not be wrong to think that but maybe not for the reason you expect.

In some respects, his invitation can be entirely justified and those thinking it is just an unfair attempt to woo a powerful exec may, well, okay there is probably an element of that, but no more so than in any other executive invitation. The rules around membership for the executive branch are specific enough to exclude most, but still allow a large amount of discretion.

The first requirement, as outlined here on the Academy’s website, is that an individual must ‘have been functioning for at least five years at a senior executive level and be a driving force  in the creation of motion pictures at an organization producing and/or distributing theatrical motion pictures’. Since 2011 Murdoch has been in either a COO or CEO role at 21st Century Fox and therefore fills the basic job criteria. But here’s where it gets hazy…

As well as this, the following condition needs to met. Either:

  1. have standing in, and made contributions to, the motion picture industry that reflect the high standards of the Academy OR
  2. have, in the judgment of  2/3 of the Executives Branch Executive Committee, otherwise achieved unique distinction, earned special merit, made an outstanding contribution, or demonstrated exceptional promise as a motion picture executive.

In other words, if you have not done enough to warrant an invitation by your own merit, but you have enough friends in the branch willing to nominate you, it’s still possible to receive an invitation. Of course once nominated the Board of Governors still needs to approve this, but this would likely be a formality. In addition to the above, ‘the organization at which the candidate has achieved the qualifying position should be a company which has been producing and/ or releasing pictures for the most recent five years, and has released at least three theatrical features (two for Animated features) during that span’ – so at least he clearly ticks that box.

Eligibility based on the above, whether you agree with the criteria itself or not, is clearly ok, but when you begin looking at Murdoch’s professional background it’s easy to question exactly what discretion is being used to approve his invitation.

Here are just some of the excerpts on 21st Century Fox’s biography of James Murdoch, regarding his roles at the company:

  • he has been a key driver of the Company’s domestic and international expansion
  • His significant operational experience also includes tenures as CEO of both BSkyB and STAR, India’s number one entertainment broadcaster
  • Mr. Murdoch had a broad purview across the Company’s global portfolio of businesses, and direct responsibility for its cable and broadcasting networks and properties
  • played an integral role in a number of strategic transactions, including the separation of the former News Corp into two distinct Companies, the combination of the Endemol Shine Group joint venture, the acquisition of the YES Network, and, through the creation of Sky Deutschland and the combination of Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia and BSkyB, the creation of the European entertainment leader Sky plc.
  • co-founded and chaired Rawkus Entertainment, a seminal Hip Hop independent based in lower Manhattan

No doubt Murdoch has been a prolific businessman within the publishing and broadcast industries, but even on the company’s own website there is zero mention of his direct involvement in the production of theatrical motion pictures.

What about his IMDB filmography then? Take a look below at the complete filmography of prospective Academy member James Rupert Jacob Murdoch:

James Murdoch Filmography

You will not find anywhere an example of Murdoch being actively involved in the delivery of a single motion picture, and if both IMDB or even Fox’s own biography of their CEO has nothing to brag about, it seems quite absurd that he is being considered for membership to an organisation which is famously elitist towards those that have made a significant contribution to the motion picture industry.

There is obviously an argument that his contributions at an executive level shape the industry within which films can be funded, produced and distributed in the most effective way possible. Valid point, but the real question here is not whether he deserves to be recognised for what he has done, but whether he deserves to be recognising others for achievements he is not qualified to judge.

The absolute truth is, we do not know if James Murdoch can vote for an Academy Award. Details of exactly which branches, and who within those branches, are eligible to receive a ballot are not published and the Academy are notoriously secretive about such specifics.

What is most concerning here is the invitation system for an organisation claiming to promote, educate and acknowledge achievements in the motion picture industry is not appropriately defined to restrict membership to those who have made specific contributions to the motion picture industry. As such people like Murdoch, who run a company that has a motion picture division but has little to deal with it, is allowed to join and potentially vote on awards such as Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Original Song, Production Design – on what basis can he be justified to know anything about this, and how can his inclusion in the Academy in any way validate or contribute to their objectives?

Make no mistake, this is not an attack on the Murdochs but an example of how by 2020, even with an entirely diverse, semi-vaginal membership, the Academy could still potentially be comprised of voters who have never made a film in their life. In which case they still have a long way to go before criticism of the awards’ credibility and fairness can be finally put to rest.

Oscar and film awards expert. American Beauty, Grease and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre are prominent DVDs on my shelf.

Awards News

Black Panther Aiming For Best Picture, Not Best Popular, According To Chadwick Boseman

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It’s Hollywood’s worst-kept secret; Marvel Studios’ chief Kevin Feige wants an Oscar. And not just a technical Oscar either. Following in the footsteps of Walt Disney, Feige’s ultimate goal is for one of his movies to win Best Picture. With Black Panther being a cultural juggernaut, the producer-extraordinaire sees it as his best chance yet and has reportedly hired veteran award strategist Cynthia Schwartz’s company – Strategy PR – to push for the nomination.

However, The Academy themselves threw a spanner in the works last month, when they announced the introduction of a brand new category at next year’s awards ceremony: Best Achievement in Popular Film. With Black Panther presently the highest-grossing film of the year domestically, and the second-highest internationally, it’s the clear favourite to win in the new category (at least, to the best of everyone’s knowledge – The Academy have, frustratingly, refused to define the new award). However according to King T’Challa himself, Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, that’s not the goal.

“We don’t know what [Best Popular] is, so I don’t know whether to be happy about it or not,” Boseman told The Hollywood Reporter, “What I can say is that there’s no campaign for Popular Film; like, if there’s a campaign, it’s for Best Picture, and that’s all there is to it.”

“A good movie is a good movie,” the Get On Up star continued, “and clearly it doesn’t matter how much money a movie makes in order for it to be ‘a good movie’ because if [it did], the movies that get nominated and win [predominantly low-grossing, highly-praised art-house fare] wouldn’t get nominated; and if it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter on both sides. For my money, the only thing that matters is the level of difficulty.”

“What we did was very difficult. We created a world, we created a culture … we had to create a religion, a spirituality, a politics; we had to create an accent; we had to pull from different cultures to create clothing styles and hair styles. It’s very much like a period piece. … So, as far as that’s concerned, I dare any movie to try to compare to the difficulty of this one. And the fact that so many people liked it — if you just say it’s [only] popular, that’s elitist.”

Chadwick has a point – the gross of a film has never, and should not, affect a film’s chances at winning Best Picture. However, whilst The Academy has made clear that a film can be nominated for both Best Film and Best Popular (frustrating many members who have then rightfully asked what the point is), they have somewhat written themselves into a corner when it comes to Black Panther. See, through a very specific sequence of events, The Academy have manufactured a situation where the most likely events to play out on the night will be Damien Chazelle’s buzzy First Man, a movie with an all-white cast and crew, winning Best Picture… whilst the all-black cast and crew of Black Panther accept the new ‘separate but equal’ award for Best Achievement in Popular Film. Yikes.

Black Panther is available on Digital, DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K now, and is rated 12A.

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Awards News

Danny DeVito To Receive Lifetime Achievement Award At The San Sebastian Film Festival

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Batman Returns star Danny DeVito is set to receive the coveted Donostia Award, honouring him for his career achievements, at the sixty-sixth annual San Sebastian Film Festival this September.

“The award recognizes a career of almost five decades related to acting in theatre, film and television, telling stories as an actor, producer and director,” the Spanish festival’s organisers said in a statement, “The Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner is known for his roles in television series Taxi and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and movies such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Terms of Endearment, Romancing The Stone, Twins, Ruthless People, and Tin Men.”

“He has also directed – and starred in – hugely emblematic films, including The War of the Roses (1989), Hoffa (1992), Death to Smoochy (2002), Throw Momma From the Train (1987), Curmudgeons (2016), Duplex (2003), The Ratings Game (1984), and The World’s Greatest Lover (1977).”

The San Sebastian Film Festival will run from the 21st to the 29th of September. Danny DeVito can next be heard in animated children’s flick Smallfoot, which will premiere on the 23rd at the Festival.

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Oscars 2018

THE BURDEN OF OSCAR: POLITICS AND FILM.

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2017 was not overly kind to Hollywood. A drop in cinema audiences. Dismal summer box office. Increasing competition from the rise of Netflix and compelling television shows. Decreasing ratings for movie awards shows. Justice League.
And please, nobody even mention Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey.

In short it all went a bit Pete Tong for La La Land last year.
In fact the La La Land /Moonlight mix up at the Oscars in February now seems a rare bright spot in the 2017 tinsel town calendar. Reading out the wrong best picture winner? Light relief! Oh, how we can laugh now at a ‘wrong envelope mishap’ in the wake of #metoo and #sheknew

So, where and when did the rot start?
I’d suggest November 2016. On 8th November to be precise. Hollywood was tux and gown ready to celebrate the presidential victory of the woman whose campaign many A listers had funded to the tune of millions. However, 60 million Americans had a different plan. Enter the Donald!
The rest is outrage history.

Hollywood has since used Twitter, late night chat shows the press and most of all, awards shows to bash Trump……….and by association the 60 million who voted for him. 60 million potential movie fans.

Some love the political content of awards shows. Some are infuriated by it. But for many the politics has just got old really quickly. All they want from their movie and tv stars is entertainment. Yet the one industry that has the power to bring polarised communities together isn’t managing it. Nor does the entertainment media help.

The dumbest question on the movie red carpet in 2017 was one that was repeated the most, earnestly each time as if it was something unbelievably profound: what do you think will Trump voters make of your film?
Alexander Payne when asked it at the Venice film festival was one of the few who refused to be baited. He said he hoped that he made films for everybody. Unfortunately for him, his film Downsizing didn’t exactly please everybody but at least he recognised that his role is as a filmmaker not political campaigner. Similarly, while other stars have lost fans due to their relentless political tirades, Frances McDormand has been gaining them by being funny, entertaining and making it clear that her politics are her private business. But Payne and McDormand are rare. Too many stars and filmmakers take the media bait or can’t resist lecturing the world on the cause du jour when it isn’t the time and place to do so.

That is the issue. There is a time and place to make earnest speeches, to berate, to demand change, to highlight injustice. The Oscars podium isn’t it.

I’ve been lucky enough to go to the Oscars. It was a terrific experience. It was everything I’d imagined the Oscars to be; glamorous, fun, starry and an escape from the norm. The dresses were colourful and gorgeous. The jokes were funny. Everyone was out to party!
Was it frivolous, unreal and superficial. Yep. And it was all the more wonderful for that because I’d come to the event from conducting a 15 day case in the High court about a paedophile ring. So I know about the real world, thank you. And so do the millions who watch the Oscars on television around the world. The Oscars is their escape from the real world, as it was mine.

Yes, the Oscars has always been political to a degree; Marlon Brando sending a Native American woman to collect his Oscar for The Godfather, Michael Moore leading the charge against President Bush and the Iraq war, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon highlighting Haiti and many more issues. But those were moments in a lengthy ceremony. The rest of the show remained light and fun. The atmosphere overall wasn’t somber, even funereal. In the last 3-4 years the politics has completely overshadowed the films and the film stars.

The Oscars now seems to be first about race, sexuality, political affiliation, hashtag movements with the actual work second.

The #oscarssowhite in 2016 campaign was the first year that I can remember when a cause dominated the coverage, pushing the films and actors in contention for the awards out of the limelight. But it has continued. Last year the subject was President Trump. This year it’s #metoo and #TimesUp.
Around Oscar time I get asked 3 main questions: which of the nominated films do I recommend? Who do I think will win? Who had the best dress?

The first suggests that being nominated/winning really does help a film’s box office. And since the Oscars is essentially an industry event at which the film business shows off its wares, that’s a good thing. The second shows that humans are a competitive lot at heart. It’s why we love sport. No one truly likes ‘participation prizes’. We want there to be a ‘best’ so we can endlessly argue about it for evermore afterwards.
And yes, the third question is every bit as legitimate as the first two. Hollywood is the epitome of glamour. Fashion is big business that employs many people. The Oscars brings the two together on a world stage. And yes, women get asked about their dresses because it’s what many people tune in to see. The men’s tuxedos are the same each year. They aren’t the draw.
Funnily, the questions that don’t crop up are ‘what does Chris Hemsworth think about Brexit’ or ‘ What are Rebel Wilson’s views on the fiscal crisis’.
Maybe, just maybe, people don’t really care.

As I write this, some media outlets are reporting that Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster will present the best actress award this year instead of Casey Affleck. He withdrew recently from the tradition of the previous best actor winner presenting the new best actress winner with her gong, most likely, because he didn’t want or need the media coverage that would have dogged him in respect of allegations of sexual misconduct which were subject to an agreement between him and two women. None of the trio are legally allowed to speak publicly about the agreement. No one outside their respective close circles and legal advisers knows what the terms of the agreement were. Affleck could have agreed terms because he’s guilty as hell and didn’t want a court trial to prove it. The women could have been lying through their teeth and didn’t want a court trial to prove it.

Or, you know, the truth could lie somewhere in the middle. As it often does. Point is, we will never know.

That, of course didn’t stop hysterical speculation last year on social media of what Casey Affleck was ‘definitely, absolutely, 100% guilty of” – because – wait for it- he always plays creepy guys on screen! And it wouldn’t have stopped it this year, specially in the wake of #metoo. So Affleck stepped aside.

If it’s true that Lawrence and Foster will replace him, has the Academy really thought it through? What’s the message here:

That it takes two women to replace one man?

That there are no men left in Hollywood who can even safely present a woman with an award?

That only women can present an award to a woman because gender segregation is where we’re at in 2018??!!

See, this is what happens when you add politics to the mix. You may think you’re doing something right but it can come out all wrong.

On Oscar night on Sunday, armed police and security guards will protect stars who will go on stage and speak passionately against guns. Actresses who cheered and gave standing ovations to convicted child rapist Roman Polanski will now speak passionately against sexual predators. The list is endless of hypocrisies Hollywood can be called out for, so the wise thing to do might be to leave politics outside the door and, you know, entertain on the biggest night of the glamour industry.

However, I’m not betting on it.

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