The National Board of Review — a fan-based group that gives wacky awards early in the award season — is leaning toward Baz Luhrmann's loony Moulin Rouge for best picture.
It shouldn't come as a surprise: Last year Quills, a movie about the Marquis de Sade that the public and most real critics hated, won the NBR award.
The National Board of Review, the organization that makes a big deal of its proclamation around the first week of December, gained its clout by always being first. And with that name, the public tends to take them seriously.
But let's face it: The NBR is a funny deal at best. It has no professional journalists or critics. Instead, members pay an annual fee of $350 to see screenings and then have lunch with the stars of the movie they've just seen.
Then the movie studios themselves underwrite an annual shindig in January at which all the stars show up and the NBR hands them a phony-baloney award. Members have to pay from $175 to $400 per person to get in. That's on top of the membership fee.
And I will now tell you a little secret about last year's selection of awards. When one winner was announced in the NBR's final slate, people were aghast. Let me tell you, it wasn't possible that this particular person or the movie he was associated with could have won anything. Especially not this prize.
When I asked a top person at the NBR about this, they said, "When we finished up, we realized that we hadn't given anything to one studio. And they're one of our sponsors. So we figured why not?"
The only reason I'm not telling you the movie, studio and award is that it would only hurt the winner. Let him live in ignorant bliss. But it's a good point about the NBR.
Of course, reviewers aren't always right; very often they're more involved in a film's technique than in its instant gratification. The poorly reviewed Harry Potter is a case in point.
But you do come to rely on professional journalists, and more often than not they will independently form a consensus on a film. You know their names: David Denby of The New Yorker; Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly, Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel of Time, Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times, Leah Rozen of People, and many others.
Here, however, are some NBR names: Victoria Alexander, Glenn Andreiev, Lois Ballon, Carol Rapaport, Mirra Bank, Joel Belsky, Ross Claiborne, Barbara "Bobby" Cramer, Maxine Danowitz, David Del Valle, Sarah Eastman, Keith Edwards, Herman Fleet, Roy Frumkes, Kenneth L. Geist, Inez S. Glucksman, Marion C. Green, George Hartman, George S. Kaufman, Louis Miano, Robert Policastro, Buddy Radisch, Susan Nielsen, Annie Schulhof, Robert Sklar, Sam Sloves, and Dylan Skolnick.
Ballon, Rapaport and Policastro, are considered the group's leaders, a triumvirate who, according to sources, are currently pushing Luhrmann's wacky Moulin Rouge as their movie of the year.
The movie's been screened twice, once with Luhrmann as a guest. It finished first in the half-year balloting, according to insiders. DreamWorks' Shrek has also been screened twice. Members have already received screeners in the form of DVDs for Shrek.
Most NBR members tend to be over the age of reason. One, a college professor named Sam Sloves, who's in his late 30s, is considered "our baby member," says one source.
But this should come as no surprise. NBR issues a final list of about a dozen movies, making sure to include all big-name stars and major studios so as not to offend anyone.
"Practically all the movies have lunches or parties with the stars," says one member. How much this influences the members' voting cannot be underestimated.
The group had no fewer than 14 lunch guests in the month of October.
"I see dinner listed at 5 p.m. with Vanilla Sky," says one voter. "I'm voting for dinner."
In the group's online magazine, for example, Alexander wrote of this past summer's Planet of the Apes: "Unequivocally, the best plotted, acted, designed, and directed summer movie of 2001! From the opening shot, the movie careens with heightened aggression and sudden, raging violence. Nothing about the movie is typical and predictable. What a surprise! The screenwriters, William Broyles, Jr. and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal (said to have rewritten most of it on set), should be singled out for their cleverness and attention to detail. The story doesn't collapse and, for me, the denouement at the end equals the shock value of the 1968 classic. Damn!"
The NBR still has 30 more movies to see according to its newsletter. Final ballots are due the first week of December.
Michael Jackson's album, Invincible, is struggling on the album charts.
According to numbers supplied last night by Hits magazine's Web site, SoundScan says that Jackson sold only 178,583 copies of Invincible last week. That brings the total number sold to around 740,000 in three weeks.
For any other artist, this number would be terrific. But for Jackson, the self-named King of Pop, it's terrifying.
Invincible is said to have cost $30 million to make over a two or three year period. So far, even with an increased royalty rate I'm told Jackson negotiated for last summer, his take on Invincible is a measly $2.5 million.
He owes Sony Music between $200-$260 million from tax free loans. The loans have made it possible for Sony to place liens against Jackson for his music publishing assets, including the Beatles catalog. The catalog, estimated by sources who know its value well, is worth around $400 million.
According to sources I spoke with this week, Jackson also has about 120 people on his weekly payroll including workers at Neverland Ranch, publicists, caretakers, nannies and, one would hope, veterinarians. This may also include dermatologists and/or plastic surgeons.
Additionally, Jackson presumably pays the bills of the mother of his children, the former Debbie Rowe.
Sales for Invincible started at 360,000 for the first week, dropped to 202,000 the second week and are now another 7 percent off. What's startling about this is that Jackson had a big ratings success with his 30th anniversary solo concert on CBS last Tuesday, Dec.13.
But even that show didn't move fans out in big enough numbers to the record stores. Invincible finished in fourth place this week, behind Garth Brooks, Britney Spears and Shakira. Ironically, Shakira is on Jackson's label, Epic, but sold more copies with 206,785.
Meantime, it's not like it's so easy to sell CDs out there these days anyway. Paul McCartney's done everything to promote his new Driving Rain album short of dressing up like a real beetle and biting Yoko Ono in the ass. He's flogged the thing in concert, written special charity songs and issued press releases around the clock. Doesn't matter, as it turns out. Driving Rain clocked in with a very poor showing: 67,000 copies and a debut at No. 27.
It's too bad, too, because Driving Rain — like McCartney's Flaming Pie — is excellent, and deserves to be a hit. Somehow the public is not responding to his campaign though. I wonder why. … Anyway, Driving Rain is turning out to be a curse for its producer, David Kahne. He was just let go from his executive position at Warner Bros. Records by new WB leader Tom Whalley. Maybe Whalley didn't like his A&R people doing outside projects for other labels, in this case Capitol. If that's a trend, then DreamWorks Records' John McClain, who manages Sony act Michael Jackson, should look out too.
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