In addition to his movie reviews, Roger Ebert has a regular column called "The Answer Man," where he answers questions from readers on a variety of topics regarding film. Not only is it an entertaining and clever feature, but on occasion it broaches issues of great importance. Two in particular from this week's column caught my eye, and I'd thought I'd share them with you, along with my own pithy responses to Ebert's responses.
Also because I haven't posted anything in a while ...
Q. I was rooting for "Brokeback Mountain" to win the Best Picture Oscar. I thought it was a great film. I haven't seen "Crash," but I'm curious now to see it and be able to make a comparison. I wish the Academy voters had done the same. For the major categories, there is no requirement that Academy voters have seen all nominees. Or that they've even seen any of the nominees. Or that the Academy member is the person actually filling out the ballot. The process is a sham.
If one of the Olympic ice skating judges missed one of the performances but then was able to submit a score that helped determine who won the gold medal, people would be outraged. The Academy should change its rules.
Bob Bartosch, Somerville, Mass.
A. Although the Academy requires members to see all five documentaries and all five foreign films before voting in those categories, there is no such requirement in any of the other categories. Perhaps it is time for new by-laws. It was widely reported that two Academy members refused to see "Brokeback Mountain" because of its gay subject matter, and anecdotal evidence that others also refused. Of course, some members no doubt voted for the film because of its theme. Members are free to vote however they want, but I think it is reasonable to expect them to see the films first, and I am awaiting apologies from Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine, who shamelessly went public with their refusals.
I had not heard about Curtis and Borgnine publicly stating that they avoided "Brokeback" solely for its content, although I do vaguely remember hearing about a comment from Borgnine about how gay cowboys didn't fly in his book. (I just did a Google search and found much more evidence of both of their "opinions" of the movie; guess I've been living under a rock, or at least a very large pebble.) I don't know if it's feasible to require voters to see all the eligible movies, but if I were the president of the Academy, I would suspend the voting rights of Curtis and Borgnine for at least a year for going public with their deliberate avoidance of a film in a category or categories that they voted for anyway. It's simply not fair to the process, and it makes the Academy look bad.
Question Number Two:
Q. I must take issue with your response to Jay Leno's question about whether Hollywood is out of step with the mainstream public. Your response was, "Maybe the moviegoing public is out of step with good movies." How incredibly insulting and arrogant! Your comment illustrates an obvious belief on your part that the people involved with financing, writing, directing and acting in films -- most of whom live in the unnatural and aesthetic environments of Hollywood and other cloistered situations -- know better than I and the rest of the public what WE want and need in entertainment! Many of us are TIRED of the continual diet of political, environmental and societal issues forced upon us by today's moviemakers. The overwhelming and continual box-office success of the lighter fare vs. the others proves my point.
Donna Larson, Princeton, Minn.
A. No, I think it proves my point. These 2006 films "won" their weekends or placed second: "Hostel," "Underworld: Evolution," "Big Mamma's House 2," "When a Stranger Calls," "Madea's Family Reunion," "The Hills Have Eyes," "Ultraviolet" and "Date Movie." Only three of these, by the way, were "lighter fare," unless vivisection and evisceration make you smile. During the same weeks, these films were not embraced at the box office: "The Matador," "Cache," "The New World," "Transamerica," "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," "Tristram Shandy" and "Tsosti." If I prefer the films on the second list, does that make me arrogant? Moviegoers "tired of the continual diet of political, environmental and societal issues" are finding lots of films that entertain them, and those of us who prefer more challenging films have to look a little harder.
Here's some insight from Daniel R. Huron, of Texas City, Texas: "I was reading a review of 'Syriana' from Reuters but I stopped reading, not because I was offended by their opinion, but because the reviewer insisted on commenting on its box-office potential. According to the reviewer, the film was unlikely to connect with the 'under-25,' 'mainstream audience' because it is so 'dialogue heavy.' My feeling is, who cares? Shouldn't a reviewer critique the film for what it is and not for its potential to make money?"
I can't add much to Ebert's response, except this: "Gentlemen's Agreement," "Inherit the Wind," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "Norma Rae," "Philadelphia," "The Best Years of Our Lives," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "The China Syndrome" ... and "The Defiant Ones," starring one Tony Curtis. I would bet that there were some Academy voters who did not see "The Defiant Ones" because they found the premise of its content - that blacks and whites can work together despite their differences - distasteful. Wonder if ol' Tony would have edged out David Niven for Best Actor in 1958 had that minority swallowed their pride and done their due diligence like they were supposed to.