Monday, February 23, 2009

Feb. 23: No Hooray For Hollywood Films On Oscar Night

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Hollywood finally got the Academy Awards telecast right. Can it do the same with its movies?

We'll know tomorrow whether the success of India's "Slumdog Millionaire" at the Oscars and Hugh Jackman's great job as host translated into higher ratings for ABC. But another year has gone by without a Hollywood-made film that can be both a commercial and awards standard movie fans will want to see many years from now.

The last pure, made-by-Hollywood Oscar winner that probably meets the standard is 1997's "Titanic." Except for 2002's "Chicago," which was adapted from the Broadway hit, most American-made Best Picture winners in recent years haven't exactly had universally embracable themes, generated memorable box office or shown the promise of aging well. Because of that, ratings for Oscar telecasts have been sinking in recent years.

The movie industry has split itself in two. Major studios are no longer individual entities, but part of corporate conglomorates that concentrate only on the balance sheet for the next quarter. Therefore, their main focus is moneymaking franchises, superheroes and adaptations of Broadway hits and other things that have been successful elsewhere. Result: A lack of creative movies that can clean up both at the box office and the Oscars. Another result has been a waste and abuse by big studios of major - and famous - talents in acting, directing and screenwriting - talents that can get those studios back in both box office and Oscars with the right projects and support.

It's no accident that the Independent Spirit Awards, created as an alternative to the Academy Awards, now seem to have the same winners as the Oscars. That means the big Hollywood studios aren't doing their jobs when it comes to making memorable films. The independently made films are cleaning up with international talent and awards. But while word-of-mouth can put those movies on the red carpet and sometimes give them good box office, they still lack the promotional muscle of major studios.

How much longer is Hollywood going to tolerate having its biggest honor outsourced? Probably, and sadly, until the franchises stop making money. Until then, there's no Hooray for Hollywood's creativity.

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