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The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures doesn't like "Dreamgirls," the odds-on favorite film to win the next Academy Award for Best Picture.
The fan-based group, which screens films to members who pay a $600-a-year fee, snubbed the musical entirely. They chose Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima," a three-hour movie spoken in Japanese and distributed by Warner Bros., as their Best Picture.
The rest of the NBRMP's choices are not unexpected but nevertheless interesting. They also chose Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" as one of their 10-best films, keeping with their slavish devotion not only to the actor-director but also to Warner Bros., which has international rights to the film.
NBR also chose Warner releases "The Painted Veil," "Blood Diamond" and "The Departed." They rounded out their list with "Babel" and four films from 20th Century Fox: "The Devil Wears Prada," "Notes on a Scandal," "The History Boys" and "Little Miss Sunshine."
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In choosing this group, the NBRMP will have to answer a lot of questions. It completely omitted films from New Line ("Little Children," "A Prairie Home Companion"), Universal ("The Good Shepherd," "Catch a Fire"), Weinstein Company ("Bobby," "Miss Potter"), Sony ("Volver," "Marie Antoinette," "Stranger Than Fiction") and Miramax/Disney ("The Queen," "Venus").
There's going to be an outcry now like you can't believe.
This column reported last year that Annie Schulhof, the controversial president of the NBRMP, had close ties to Warner Bros. But we could never have imagined those ties culminating in these results. More to come. ...
Hilarious and sad. That’s what The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures has become in the last several years. The hilarious part is because the movie studios hate it but keep it going so they have an award to tout in newspaper ads. The sad part is that the members don’t know what they’re doing, and no one respects them.
When the NBRMP snubbed "Dreamgirls," "The Queen" and several other excellent 2006 films Wednesday, they were finally revealed for what they are: bickering fans and not professional film critics. Their choices instead for the 10 Best Pictures of 2006 included two Clint Eastwood films, "The Devil Wears Prada," "Blood Diamond" and "Little Miss Sunshine."
But who makes the final selections for those 10 films? It’s not the whole membership of the NBRMP, people who pay $600 (more than I had previously understood) to be part of this gang. It’s just a group of 12 called the Exceptional Photoplay Committee. That’s it.
The committee is led by Annie Schulhof, sister-in-law of former Sony CEO Mickey Schulhof. Her qualifications? She’s wealthy and has the time to run the organization.
After Schulhof, the committee list is harder to place. It’s a secret organization, kept that way because the members — with the exception of one, possibly two — are not film professionals. They are just rich fans.
On the possible list: “Senior” members like Eleanor Mizrack, Amy Green, Inez Glucksman, Sarah Merritt Eastman and Keith Edwards; as well as Rene Jordan, John Hockman, Jerry Coe and John Gallagher. Never heard of them before? Never seen their names in a newspaper ad or a bylined article about film?
Only Jordan, a film critic from Miami, has real credentials. Gallagher also holds himself out as a “film historian.” Edwards is listed in his NBRMP bio as an actor whose credits include "Playhouse 90" — from the halcyon 1950s — and working for extremely dead producers David Merrick and David Susskind.
Otherwise, the committee is left with just one actual professional: writer and teacher and actual film historian Annette Insdorf. Sources say she was in the room yesterday when the fight boiled down to "Iwo Jima" vs. "The Departed."
Not present was one other person who might have been more helpful in the discussion: Roy Frumkes. I’m told he was not invited to participate this year.
However the Top 10 was arrived at, one thing is certain: "Dreamgirls" was No. 11.
“It almost made it,” sighed a frustrated insider.
The Oscar-certain musical was thrown a sop: Jennifer Hudson, the standout of the year, was named to share the Breakout Performance award with Rinko Kikuchi of "Babel."
Paramount/Dreamworks, which produced "Dreamgirls," obviously screwed up their patronage of the NBRMP in some way. NBRMP members, you see, are treated like members of another specious group, the Hollywood Foreign Press.
The studios screen movies with Oscar potential for them privately, then provide the casts and directors for Q&As. There are usually lunches or dinners involved. Pictures are taken with the stars. Everyone leaves with something.
The real question now will be: Will the studios that were truly snubbed still pony up for wildly expensive tables at the annual gala? Will they sing, “And We’re Telling You We’re Not Going”? Will they pay $30,000 for a table, or just send their individual winners with publicists?
That would leave most of the underwriting this year to Warner Bros. and to 20th Century Fox. But with nearly a half-dozen films from each studio getting some kind of attention, those two companies could fill up the room nicely.
I told you last year that Annie Schulhof, the woman who commandeered the crazy National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, was determined to give prizes to Warner Bros. or anyone connected to it.
Now Warner Bros. has not only half of the Best Picture slots from the NBRMP, but also the Best Director slot and two of the main acting awards.
What’s interesting is that the NBRMP's full membership, which gets little say in what goes on, prevailed with the Best Actor and Actress awards to Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren.
Otherwise, their movies — “The Last King of Scotland” and “The Queen” — were totally ignored by the inner sanctum group that decides the Top 10.
The inner sanctum — known as the Exceptional Photoplay Committee — otherwise managed to find more spots for Warner Bros. with Best Ensemble ("The Departed") and Adapted Screenplay ("The Painted Veil").
It wasn’t enough that they gave the Best Picture Award last year to “Good Night, and Good Luck,” also a Warner Bros. picture. In 2003, it went to the same studio’s “Mystic River.” Of course, the NBRMP is also obsessed with anything Eastwood. In between his wins, they gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award.
I told you last year of Schulhof’s close friendship with Warner exec Dan Fellman. The Schulhofs and Fellmans are best social friends, sources say. When I spoke to Fellman last year he denied that they ever discussed the awards.
But at the last NBRMP ceremony in January 2006 I noted that Fellman “bounded to the stage to give the Best Animated Film award for 'Corpse Bride' co-director Mike Johnson (Tim Burton was a no-show).”
Fellman’s speech, I wrote, turned out to be twice as long as Johnson’s, and resembled listening to a Warner Bros. corporate press release.
This was followed by Warner chief Alan Horn giving an award to Warner Home Video expert George Feltenstein for his work releasing the Warner library on DVD.
Is Schulhof doing favors for friends? She could be doing them without being asked. Her interests certainly lie in the area, as many on the inside of the NBRMP say, of being some sort of “player” in the film business.
In 1998, Schulhof started a started a production company called Pipedream Films and immediately started handing out big cash prizes for screenwriting contests.
As yet, though, Schulhof’s only realized plot was in taking over the NBRMP and making it her own.
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